Nike CEO John Donahoe interviewed by Sara Eisen at the CNBC CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, California.
Randy Shropshire | CNBC
As a political battles between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney, Nike CEO John Donahoe said it’s important for corporations to pick their battles, but fight for the values that are part of their brands.
During a sit-down interview at the inaugural CNBC CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, California, Monday night, CNBC’s Sara Eisen touched on the DeSantis controversy and Donahoe was asked if he was worried about Nike becoming a target.
“Aren’t you worried that if Ron DeSantis becomes president, he’ll go after you as a corporate wake?” Eisen asked Donahoe about the expected Republican presidential candidate.
In response, Donahoe said companies should not weigh in on every political kerfuffle but should be a strong voice when their brand values are under attack.
“I think Bob did a great job with it,” Donahoe said of the Disney CEO Bob Iger.
“If it’s the core of who you are and your values, then no, you stand by your values,” he said. “If it’s commenting on some political issue that’s behind someone’s back, then we can have that personal feeling, but we don’t comment on it with our brand and the public.”
Iger was not leading Disney when, in February 2022, he publicly criticized Florida Republicans’ controversial bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation, which he and other critics called the “Don’t Say Gay.”
his tweet that the bill would “put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people at risk” put more pressure on Disney’s CEO at the time, Bob Chapek, to break his silence on the law.
After Disney came out against the bill, DeSantis and his allies targeted the Orlando-area special tax district that has allowed Walt Disney World to self-manage its operations for decades. The battle went on for more than a year, and it continued even after Iger returned as CEO in November after Chapek’s ouster.
Donahoe points to three values that are central to the Nike brand: racial and social justiceyouth sustainability and participation in sports, especially young women.
When it comes to racial and social justice, Donahoe said Nike built its brand in partnership with some of the most iconic Black and brown athletes in history, such as Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
“Also, our core consumer for the Nike brand, the Jordan Brand, the converse brand, is the urban Black and brown communities – where the sneaker culture started,” Donahoe explained. “And so, we listen to our athletes and our consumers about what they care about and they care about racial and social justice and so we look at that as the core of who we are, the core of our identity.. . courage to speak.”
The company is focusing on youth participation in sports as young women are dropping out of athletics at an “alarming rate,” Donahoe said.
“It turns out that one of the biggest reasons that girls drop out is that they don’t have female coaches when they get to puberty,” Donahoe said. “Therefore, we are trying to train 20,000 female coaches, mothers and other former athletes to become youth development coaches.
Going forward, Donahoe said that “the leader” in the industry, Nike needs to set an example for change because otherwise, “it won’t happen.”