African Americans make up about 14 percent of the US population, but they only have a little more than 9 percent of the voting population. Without policies like early voting, there are substantial disparities in turnout. Yet, despite these huge differences, about 6 percent of American voters lean Republican. What does this mean about the political spectrum in the US?
The ballot is the primary tool for determining the course of a country, and we see the same in politics. We saw the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as a historic event for the United States. But if you’re just looking at a simple change in black/white turnout, that would tend to limit the scope of change. And that’s why we see Obama, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, and other politicians being scapegoated. Republicans didn’t change any policy—they changed the political frame.
You said that losing your company is like being fired, but for you it was like losing your family. What did you do to cope?
I brought my teams together and worked to maintain our culture. I was bold in being clear with people, because it takes a special leadership to explain that a loss is a loss no matter how you slice it.
Did your team struggle to adjust to a different company culture and work ethic?
As a leader, you’re going to pick and choose when to lean into changes. It’s a balance between letting the team do what it’s good at and learning from a team’s mistakes. Every business team, from a consumer package wholesaler to a cabinet maker, has a life cycle. You’re working to get them out of the phase of where you have to instill change, and then you’re transitioning to doing what they’re great at. We’re at the stage where we have to transition to learn from each other and be successful.
Did you see any benefits in the decreased level of harassment or retaliation you got as a result of your lawsuits?
We’ve become a desirable employer, so we started the new year with a different volume of application, and we’ve filled all of our positions with that environment.
You filed a class-action lawsuit against your company to fight pay discrimination, as well as lose access to paycheck deductions for union dues, and establish guidelines for employee privacy. Some of your peers in business have been penalized and fired by their boards. You chose instead to voluntarily resign. How did you come to this decision?
I was getting harassed, so I was getting the support from higher-ups at UPS, but there were still some people who were unhappy with what I had done. One of the things I wanted was the dignity and support of having it go through my company—even if it was unanimously. I said, “I’ve got to do this.”
You established the Mobility Fund to encourage small-business owners to hire veterans. You also joined business leaders in pledging to hire at least 100,000 workers under the age of 40 by 2025. What made you decide to start these initiatives and what drove you to end them?
I’ve spent my career with the ultimate proxy of work: ideas. That’s why I don’t have a job in the US. I’m a merchant seaman, which requires me to develop ideas, to defend ideas, and to grow ideas into companies. What kept me from giving up, being persecuted, and being discouraged—because I’ve got billions of ideas that I could keep feeling like I’m not able to succeed in America—was a belief that big ideas will win. That’s the key to me. I believe that the more opportunity you create for people, the more opportunities they will build businesses, the more jobs they will create, and the more decisions they will make. That’s my story.
Why did you decide to resign as an executive of a large global corporation?