Trump’s executive order on immigration spurs CEO backlash

By Tina Irgang

The CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Facebook, Google and a number of other high-profile companies have spoken out against President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, citing moral objections, but also the fact that the order’s travel restrictions could have adverse effects on their businesses.

On Jan. 27, Trump signed an order that blocks refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, with Syrian refugees blocked indefinitely. Those with passports from Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen also will be denied entry for 90 days.

Almost immediately, CEOs started speaking out about the potential fallout for their businesses. “CEOs’ concerns about the travel ban focused on both its potential impact on highly valued employees and confusion sown by its implementation, including mixed signals over whether it would cover legal permanent residents — those with so-called green cards — from returning to the U.S. from abroad,” reports Politico. (After some green-card holders were detained at airports over the weekend, the administration clarified that the order was not intended to apply to them.)

In a statement Jan. 29, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced his company was “developing plans to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Schultz said the initial focus would be on hiring those who have worked with U.S. troops as interpreters or other support personnel. (Several news outlets over the weekend reported that such support personnel had been denied entry into the U.S. after the order took effect.)

In a similar move, Airbnb announced it would be offering free housing to refugees and those affected by the executive order’s travel ban. Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos declared his company was exploring both legislative and legal options to oppose the order, the LA Times reports.

Google takes the lead

Google has been among the most vocal companies in opposing the ban. CEO Sundar Pichai has said the order affects some 100 of the company’s staff, the LA Times reports. Over the weekend, co-founder Sergey Brin participated in a protest at San Francisco International Airport, where he told the crowd that he had first come to the U.S. as a refugee from the Soviet Union, according to Forbes.

Meanwhile, employees of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, staged a walkout on the afternoon of Jan. 30. Forbes reports that an estimated 2,000 employees participated.

The tech industry is likely to be among the hardest hit by the executive order, given its reliance on overseas talent, notes Politico. However, companies in other sectors also saw potential for their operations to be disrupted. On Jan. 29, Lloyd Blankenfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, issued a memo to employees that read, in part, “If the order were to become or remain effective, I recognize that there is potential for disruption to the firm, and especially to some of our people and their families. I want to assure all of you that we will work to minimize such disruption to the extent we can within the law, and are focused on supporting our colleagues and their families who may be affected,” as reported by Business Insider.

The leaders of Ford Motor Company also spoke out, just a week after meeting with President Trump at the White House, where Trump pledged to crack down on regulations affecting the auto industry. “Respect for all people is a core value of Ford Motor Company, and we are proud of the rich diversity of our company here at home and around the world. That is why we do not support this policy or any other that goes against our values as a company,” Ford said in a statement quoted by Politico.

Uber faces backlash, Musk seeks consensus

Companies also faced customer backlash related to the executive order, with some Twitter users calling for a boycott of Starbucks over its refugee announcement, as reported by Business Insider.

However, the biggest amount of pressure was arguably felt by Uber. Shortly after New York’s cab drivers began a work stoppage at JFK Airport to protest the executive order on Jan. 28, Uber NYC announced it had turned off surge pricing for airport trips.

Considering Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s decision to serve on President Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum — a group of business leaders who will meet with the president regularly — some app users interpreted the move as a tactic to undermine the cab drivers’ strike.

“In light of [Uber CEO Travis] Kalanick’s position on Trump, and his company’s long history of scrapes with progressives, many people were unimpressed by Uber’s offer to provide travelers a cheap way out of the chaos at JFK,” as Slate puts it.

The hashtag “#deleteUber” soon began trending, and hundreds of users tweeted screenshots of their deleted accounts, the article goes on to say.

Meanwhile, Uber’s main ride-sharing rival, Lyft, issued a shrewdly timed statement denouncing the refugee ban, reports CNBC.

Apparently responding to the pressure, Kalanick “tweeted on Sunday a repudiation of Trump’s executive order and set up a legal defense fund for drivers who may lose work as a consequence of it,” Forbes reports. Kalanick also added his name to a letter opposing the order that had been signed by more than 400 New York-area CEOs, founders and investors, Forbes adds.

Meanwhile, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, another member of Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, asked his Twitter followers to make specific suggestions as to how the executive order could be amended, so that he can share them with the president.

“Many people negatively affected by this policy are strong supporters of the U.S. They’ve done right, not wrong, and don’t deserve to be rejected,” said Musk, according to USA Today. Musk also said “there is no possibility” the administration would agree to retract the order altogether, but that it might consent to a modification, reports Quartz.

Whatever the outcome of this current controversy, it’s clear that the evolving relationship between the country’s top CEOs and the Trump White House will be intriguing to watch.

Tina Irgang is SmartCEO’s managing editor. Contact her at