Businesses Have A Responsibility To Lead: My Never Stand Still Conversation With DICK’S Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack
We recently hosted DICK’S Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack at PayPal’s VP+ leadership team meeting in San Jose. I knew I also wanted Ed to join me for a #NeverStandStill episode so that his inspiring message could be shared more broadly.
Ed has long proven his business acumen, growing his family company from two to more than 850 stores, but my deep admiration for his leadership really took shape just over a year and a half ago. Many of us remember the devastating day in February 2018, when a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, took the lives of 17 people. Like all of us, Ed was shaken by the images coming out of Florida. But it became more personal for Ed after he learned that DICK’S Sporting Goods had sold the perpetrator a gun in the months leading up to the tragedy. Although that weapon was not used in the Parkland shooting, Ed knew he needed to take action to reduce gun violence in the United States. Within a couple days of the Parkland shooting, Ed forever removed assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines from his stores’ shelves and raised the age requirement to 21 for purchasing guns at the DICK’S Sporting Goods family of stores.
In our Never Stand Still discussion, we discussed the growing need for businesses to take action on those issues where they have experience and how Ed eventually fell in love with the family business he never intended to run. Here a few of my takeaways:
Instead of saying “someone should do something,” be the person who affects change.
After the news broke about Parkland, Ed—like many of us—was shaken. But he realized he could do more than grieve. “I was saying ‘Somebody’s got to do something, there’s got to be some change,’” he shared. “It finally dawned on me that I needed to be somebody to take a stand, because we have real expertise here.”
The same feeling came over me in 2016 when PayPal reversed our plans to build an office in North Carolina after the state passed a discriminatory law, or just this past year when PayPal offered interest-free loans to furloughed workers during the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. It’s impossible to fix complex issues in our society with just one person or one decision—but we can create significant movement if we have the courage to stand up for our values and inspire others to do the same.
Decisions based on your values are easy to make.
People have often asked me if standing up for our company’s values is a difficult decision.The reality is, it’s not. If you’re making a decision because your belief system depends on it, you have to make that choice. It may feel controversial to some, but Ed and I agreed that it’s essential that more corporations think about their increasing responsibility in society and advocate for positions where they have expertise. Addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues will require it.
When Ed decided to increase DICK’S Sporting Goods’ restrictions on gun sales, he knew there would be consequences. In fact, the company’s stock did go down and their sales initially suffered. But Ed only saw one choice. He told his CFO, “We’re a public company and we have to guide what’s going to happen. So you should do your work and figure out the impact it’s going to have…but this is what we’re going to do.” And he told me, without any hesitation: “We’d do the same thing again.”
Surround yourself with people who can be a sounding board.
When Ed took over DICK’S Sporting Goods from his father, the company was a fraction of the size that it is now. Even then, one of Ed’s first decisions was to create a Board of Directors. “I knew that I didn’t have all the answers,” he said. “You have to have some people that you can talk with and guide you…you need a sounding board. If you start believing your own BS, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble.”
In my career, I’ve benefited from mentors like Gail McGovern who I’ve relied on to give me honest advice and tell things to me straight. And at PayPal, I’m lucky to have such a strong executive leadership team, a committed Board of Directors, and passionate global colleagues who all steady my compass. PayPal is stronger because of the power of this diverse thinking.