"This is highly inappropriate from a CEO of a publicly traded company. Using a work platform as a personal diary, especially when stock performance has been so mediocre. Negligent leadership. Would never touch these shares."
— @CanadaIsFreedom, Twitter
"#StopBuyingMapleLeafFoodProducts #Canada because #McCain is in bed with the #IranianRegime. Please Retweet."
— @singerskates, Twitter
"While Iran shoots grieving protesters, Michael McCain pushes regime propaganda."
— Headline, thepostmillennial.com
Like many pundits, politicos and Canadian personalities, I was rather surprised to find in my Twitter feed on Sunday a series of angry tweets from the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Michael McCain.
As The Canadian Press reported, Mr. McCain took over the Maple Leaf Foods Twitter account for what he called his "personal reflections" after learning a colleague had lost his wife and child when Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran airport on Jan. 8, in what Iranian officials have described as an accident. All 176 on board were killed, including 57 Canadians.
"I am very angry, and time isn’t making me less angry," he tweeted. The Canadians on board are "collateral damage" from the behaviour of "a narcissist in Washington," he said, adding "we are mourning and I am livid."
Though it’s not unprecedented for CEOs and heads of companies to be outspoken, it’s rare a CEO will co-opt his company’s social media platform to make such an emotional and unsolicited commentary. No doubt his anger and sorrow at the deaths affecting a company staffer are genuine, but laying the blame for the destruction of flight PS752 at the feet of U.S. President Donald Trump — clearly, that is who he was referring to — is making an unusual statement in corporate world affairs.
Maple Leaf Foods employs more than 12,000 people — including at the hog processing plant here in Brandon — and conducts business across North America and in Asia. Just last April, the company announced plans to spend US$310 million to build a 230,000-square-foot processing plant in Indiana to make its new meatless products. As reported by the Financial Post, the plant is expected to create 460 new jobs, with construction completed by the end of 2020.
McCain also sits on the board of directors for Royal Bank of Canada, which — the National Post reports — has a significant presence in the United States. So whacking a hornets’ nest with a big political stick in the form of a highly public condemnation of the U.S. president is perhaps a less than prudent move for an international corporate leader.
And the proof is in the ... uh ... bacon. On Monday, Maple Leaf Foods stock fell just under one per cent, as a Twitter backlash ensued, with the hashtag #boycottMapleLeafFoods trending on the social media site. You can see the tone of commentary at the top of this editorial.
A few of the pundits who weighed in on Tuesday suggested that Mr. McCain and the Maple Leaf brand would not ultimately suffer from his one-off commentary. CBC business columnist Don Pittis suggested that his spirited defence of a Maple Leaf staffer would more than likely endear him to company employees as they would know that "McCain has their backs," and that consumers, especially in Canada, would more than likely be glad to see a company executive take a moral stance.
"It is very possible shareholders will benefit in the longer term."
But this is not the first time that Mr. McCain has expressed public dislike for the current U.S. president. In July 2018 on the Herle Burly podcast hosted by David Herle, the Financial Post reports that McCain stated that he abhorred what Trump "stands for."
When Herle pointed out that Maple Leaf had plants in the U.S., McCain said that he would "be as critical if I was right there, front and centre, as I am here and damn the torpedoes. The consequences, the hate mail, the tweetstorms — I don’t give a shit."
We do, in fact, agree with much of what Mr. McCain had to say. The whole reasoning behind the drone strike in Iran was — quite literally — on "Trumped"-up assertions of an impending assault that were, in reality, far from likely. The people on the Ukrainian flight did not need to die — though nor did Iran need to make such an egregious decision to shoot it down.
Whatever the case, in the future it might be better for Maple Leaf if the CEO used his own personal Twitter account to fire off a round of anti-Trump vitriol, rather than the corporate one. A one-off commentary is one thing. But repeated use of corporate social media for the CEO’s personal commentary and politics will only make shareholders unnecessarily jittery.
» Matt Goerzen