As Nike’s former Vice President for Europe and Stakeholder Governance Trainer at IBGC, I see the recent developments in OpenAI as a significant milestone in contemporary corporate governance.
The rehiring of Sam Altman as CEO, the result of an unprecedented mobilization of employees, highlights the current trend of giving a voice to stakeholders — investors, employees, customers, governments, society and the planet. Today, they are strong because they have a voice, create movements and impact companies.
This movement echoes similar events in other large corporations, such as the strike that led to the dismissal of Disney’s then CEO, Bob Chapek, emphasizing the growing influence of internal stakeholders on business strategies.
OpenAI, operating as a non-profit entity that seeks to harmonize technological innovation and social and business benefits, may be unique, but it well represents the challenges of today’s governance, raising questions about the identification and role of relevant stakeholders.
In this context, business leaders are called to adopt a pragmatic and strategic stance. Contemporary governance requires companies to address social, environmental, ethical and geopolitical issues without pre-established decision-making models, while aligning stakeholder interests with sustainable business growth.
It is indisputable that opinions and perceptions shape business success. Traditionally, companies dialogue with a range of stakeholders through specialized departments, from Human Resources to Investor Relations. However, it is essential to recognize the interconnection and reciprocal influence between these groups in decision-making.
The recent decision by the OpenAI board impacted 700 employees, highlighting a gap in predicting stakeholder reactions.
This episode demonstrates that the strategy is not limited only to planning actions, but also to anticipating responses from everyone involved, as stakeholder trust is intrinsically linked to reputation and organizational stability.
Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune, reinforces this idea, stating that trust is currently the currency of greatest value.
Stakeholder trust in CEOs is critical. The Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that 84% of people expect CEOs to inform discussions and debates about pressing social issues. Contrary to the belief that only young employees drive the corporate purpose agenda, all age groups expect CEOs to be personally visible in sharing the company’s purpose and vision.
Additionally, 64% believe CEOs should lead social change rather than wait for government action. CEOs who remain silent on important issues face disapproval from 56% of respondents, demonstrating that transparency and authentic action are essential to maintaining stakeholder trust
Events at OpenAI reflect a microcosm of transformations in corporate governance and interaction with stakeholders. Luciano Montenegro, from the WTC Global Council, highlights the need for councils to be closely linked to the company’s stakeholders. Andiara Petterle, from the board of Assai and Melhoramentos and instructor at IBGC, reiterates this point of view, noting the growing power of stakeholders.
The combination of the ascending power of stakeholders, the challenges inherent in the governance of non-profit organizations and the imperative of pragmatic and strategic decisions, highlights the dynamics of the current business scenario.
The new era of business demands a detailed understanding of the forces at work and genuine engagement with the diverse perspectives and interests of stakeholders.