Floyd Marinescu had been studying the idea of universal basic income for a couple of years when Doug Ford took over the premier’s office in 2018 and cancelled Ontario’s pilot project. The CEO of C4Media saw how a guaranteed basic income could help abused women, exploited workers, and the sick and encourage entrepreneurism. And he saw how his own successful business was disrupting the labour market, over time making it harder for Ontario workers to survive. So he publicly challenged Doug Ford, something most CEOs were loathe to do about anything. In doing so, Marinescu and the more than 120 CEOs who signed an open letter supporting universal basic income changed the policy narrative, helping to build grassroots support for a program that government would be hard-pressed to enact alone.
I have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and one thing they have in common is a mindset of abundance and opportunity. Universal Basic Income would give millions the sense of security they need to start a company. Business and creativity would boom. https://t.co/3c125QVP8Y
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYangVFA) February 21, 2019
Marinescu and Pythian CEO Paul Vallée, who co-led the CEO group, are among a new generation of Canadian CEOs who believe they have a role in civil society, and as owners of their own companies are unhampered by many of the risks with which CEOs of publicly traded companies grapple.
Through their advocacy, this CEO group is changing the narrative of universal basic income. By presenting a business case for it, they have made it harder for governments to dismiss the idea, and armed politicians who support the idea, arguing that what is good for the poor can also be good for business. And if that’s the case, exactly whom is Doug Ford protecting by cancelling the pilot project before the data is even in?
Universal basic income is just one of myriad issues that would be more richly discussed if CEOs spoke up publicly and challenged the common narrative. But it takes a commitment to the greater good and broader economic prosperity from CEOs mired in short-termism, and the courage to challenge government leaders prone to vindictiveness to get to better outcomes.
Because most of the CEOs who joined Marinescu and Vallée own small to mid-sized private companies, they are also free of shareholders, boards and other stakeholders that stop leaders of bigger public companies from stepping into the fray of a discussion that doesn’t directly affect the success of their business.
There are signs that more CEOs are getting on board with a growing trend of CEO activism, though. Witness the discussion RBC CEO Dave McKay and Enbridge CEO Al Monaco had at the Canadian Cub in Toronto this week about energy policy. They discussed the opportunity of national prosperity that would come with a proper national strategy on energy, and the consequences of not having one. Yet McKay and Monaco’s call to action is more easily dismissed than that of Marinescu and Vallée, because both of their companies’ fortunes are directly tied to building pipelines.
That is not to say that McKay and Monaco should not be speaking out – quite the contrary. But we also need CEOs from consumer goods companies, manufacturing and agriculture to speak out about energy policy. Energy and transportation infrastructure matter to all businesses and people. CEOs from other industries are thus less easily dismissed in the discussion because they are advocating for a more successful society for everyone.
Too many of our public debates pit interests of people against the interests of business. Yet so often, what’s good for business is also good for people. We need more CEOs to follow the lead of Marinescu and Vallée and explain why.