The 2016 US presidential election was one for the ages.
The battle for the presidency was one of the most polarizing in recent years, and perhaps in US history. And the outcome, the election of Donald Trump to serve as the 45th president, shocked the world.
Nowhere was the shock more apparent than in the tech world, which had largely thrown its weight behind Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
On Twitter, venture capitalist Shervin Pisheva and Dave Morin, an investor and early Facebook employee, called for California to secede from the US Technology journalist Joshua Topolsky tweeted, “A Trump win is the end of America as we know it.” And those were some of the tamer tweets.
But while criticism of Trump’s election victory was widespread on social media among techies, one tech CEO managed to spark a real firestorm with an email that he sent to his more than 1,000 employees. Matt Maloney, the CEO of Grubhub, a Chicago-based publicly-traded online food delivery company, wrote in his email:
“While demeaning, insulting and ridiculing minorities, immigrants and the physically/mentally disabled worked for Mr. Trump, I want to be clear that this behavior – and these views, have no place at Grubhub. Had he worked here, many of his comments would have resulted in his immediate termination.”
He concluded his email:
“Further I absolutely reject the nationalist, anti-immigrant and hateful politics of Donald Trump and will work to shield our community from this movement as best as I can. As we all try to understand what this vote means to us, I want to affirm to anyone on our team that is scared or feels personally exposed, that I and everyone else here at Grubhub will fight for your dignity and your right to make a better life for yourself and your family here in the United States.
If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here. We do not tolerate hateful attitudes on our team. I want to repeat what Hillary said this morning, that the new administration deserves our open minds and a chance to lead, but never stop believing that the fight for what’s right is worth it.”
The email was interpreted by many as a not-so-subtle attack on Grubhub employees who may have voted for Trump, and some suggested that it was a potentially illegal form of political discrimination that could open the company up to lawsuits.
The backlash was swift. On Twitter, thousands tweeted with the hashtag #boycottgrubhub, and a website with a petition to “Delete GrubHub!” was launched at deletegrubhub.com. Individuals also took to the App Store, where they left negative reviews for the Grubhub iPhone app.
Even the tech press was critical of Maloney, with The Verge’s Nick Statt writing “This is the wrong way for a CEO to respond to Donald Trump’s election win.”
Not surprisingly, Grubhub was forced to respond to the controversy. On Thursday, Maloney issued a statement that read, in part:
“Some of the statements in my email…have been misconstrued. I want to clarify that I did not ask for anyone to resign if they voted for Trump. I would never make such a demand. To the contrary, the message of the email is that we do not tolerate discriminatory activity or hateful commentary in the workplace, and that we will stand up for our employees.”
But damage had already been done. On Friday, shares of Grubhub’s stock fell by nearly 5%, continuing a slide that began on Thursday.
Will the backlash create lasting damage to Grubhub’s business and its brand?
That remains to be seen. Historically, social media backlashes fizzle out, and companies move on with life. So it’s entirely possible that Maloney’s ill-advised email will soon be forgotten.
But given the high level of emotion on all sides of Election 2016, it’s also possible that Grubhub will lose customers and be known to some as “that company whose CEO asked Trump supporters to resign,” which demonstrates why the more muted and conciliatory statements from other tech CEOs like Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos were probably well-advised no matter how these tech titans felt personally.
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