Sonnenfeld, who founded the nonprofit Chief Executive Leadership Institute, said he fielded calls from CEOs asking “why we didn’t have them on the right list and what they needed to do to clarify or adopt a firmer position.
In addition to soaring inflation and a falling rouble, Russians find themselves with a declining market: Prada stores have closed, TikTok has suspended operations in their country, and automakers like Rolls-Royce , Toyota and Volkswagen have stopped shipping vehicles to Russia. Even WWE, the wrestling entertainment company, said they would shut down their operations there.
The gutting of the Russian economy has shattered the image President Vladimir Putin has created for himself of portraying himself as an all-powerful leader with things under control, Sonnenfeld said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post on Monday.
And with Russian state media echoing Putin’s definition of the war as a “special military operation,” Sonnenfeld added, the corporate withdrawals provide a tangible message that the attack “is not just a small military operation”.
Even among those on the list of “companies that have cut Russian operations,” some take a tougher stance against the invasion than others, Sonnenfeld said. According to the listing, BASF SE, a German chemicals company, said it would ‘suspend new relations with Russia’, while other companies including Apple and Chanel closed stores or cut supply chains. . FedEx is halting all shipments to Russia and major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, have said they will cease operations there, leaving billions of dollars on the table.
Although some companies may argue that leaving Russia would hurt employees there who are alienated from Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, Sonnenfeld said “the idea is not to downplay the pain.”
He said leaders and board members should move beyond the idea that “there is somehow a win-win solution” and recognize that forcing an economic collapse on the Russian people is part of preventing a harder result for him.
“It’s one step away from open war,” he said. “It’s a last ditch effort. You’re helping these workers by not having [the West] drop bombs and shoot them.
Among those on the list of companies maintaining business as usual are big brands such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. Sonnenfeld said McDonald’s was “the glaring anomaly baffling all its peers” because it remained operational in Russia even though it controls more than 85% of its restaurants there, unlike companies such as Starbucks, which are hampered by franchise obligations.
A McDonald’s representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its operations in Russia.
Sonnenfeld said he has compiled other lists of corporate involvement in issues such as gun safety or former President Donald Trump’s misrepresentations regarding the 2020 election.
“We’re used to seeing the value of business leaders speaking the truth and taking a stand,” he said. “CEOs need the approval of their peers,” he added, noting that they often try to avoid standing alone on issues or policies.
Cosmetics company Estée Lauder was on the list of those maintaining operations in Russia. On Monday, he announced that he would close all the stores he owned there and stop shipping products to the country.