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Silence 'is not an option' for CEOs

12 November 2021

Richard Edelman, CEO of global communications firm Edelman, spoke on the second day of the APEC CEO Summit about the trust landscape, and how in recent years business has become the most trusted institution across the world.

 Introduced by PwC Chair Keren Blakey, Mr Edelman described how government and the media now trail behind business in a trust survey from 28 countries around the world.

“Business is the most trusted because it’s the only one seen as both ethical and competent. Historically it was competent but not ethical,” he told CEOs.

One of the major trends he has seen over the past 20 years has been a dispersion of authority away from elites. “We saw a decline in 2008 with the great recession, we then saw in 2016 and 2017 a crisis in trust related to populism.”

Historically, he said, people trusted their traditional societal leaders such as CEOs, journalists and political leaders but now it’s becoming experts like scientists, local employers, and peers. Employee newsletters are more trusted than the mainstream media, and societal leaders are not trusted to do what is right.

And that means that “employees are the most important stakeholder for the first time. Historically this has been investors, clients and customers. But now how you treat your employees becomes a vital part of whether you’re able to sell products, and whether you’re able to attract talent.”

He said loss of trust in the media was a “sad story.”

“It’s a bit like an aeroplane running out of gas. People say they no longer read mainstream media, they rely on social media even if they don’t trust it. And ten times more people share fake news than real news.”

More and more, the labour force is choosing to work for employers that reflect their values, and CEOs ignore this at their peril, Mr Edelman remarked.

He said that people will leave an employer if they disagree with the company’s values, and the majority of those surveyed choose employment based on their beliefs.

“One in three have left a job because you remain silent. Silence is not an option. CEOs have to speak up and represent the best of the world.”

Mr Edelman concluded his presentation by urging CEOs to speak up on challenging issues such as human rights and sustainability, and embrace the idea of allowing employees to speak up too.

“Make them feel you are advocating for them, then they will stand with you.”



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