It's Complicated: When A CEO's Personal Position Becomes Public : All Tech Considered The new CEO of Mozilla was forced to step down amid controversy over his anti-gay-marriage donation in 2008. How much should the public judge chief executives for their private views?
NPR logo

It's Complicated: When A CEO's Personal Position Becomes Public

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
It's Complicated: When A CEO's Personal Position Becomes Public

It's Complicated: When A CEO's Personal Position Becomes Public

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The new CEO of the internet company Mozilla is already out of a job. Just two weeks after being named chief executive, Brendan Eich stepped down amid outrage over a political donation from his past. As NPR's Elise Hu reports, Eich's problems emerged when his private views came into conflict with his very public role.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Brendan Eich wasn't just the short-lived CEO of Mozilla, which makes the Firefox Internet browser, he was a co-founder. He also created Javascript, a programming language on which much of the modern Web is built. So his passion for the Web and its users he's always made clear, as he does in this 2013 interview.

BRENDAN EICH: I'm trying to get the Web evolving and working on making sure the user is king or queen of their experience.

HU: Putting users first, openness and inclusiveness a core to Mozilla's beliefs and operations. Mozilla's technology is created in public. And as it became clear when Eich was named CEO, Mozilla's debates get quite public, too.

ANIL DASH: This is an organization that is extremely transparent.

HU: Anil Dash is a technology startup founder and a longtime Mozilla community member.

DASH: A number of employees had said, I, you know, I don't feel comfortable being led by this person.

HU: At issue was a $1,000 donation Eich made in 2008. He supported Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that define marriage as between a man and a woman.

DASH: It's been polarizing because this seemed in contradiction to a lot of the values of openness that the organization that he helped create has espoused.

HU: Suddenly, values of equal rights and free speech were pitted against one another. Eich tried to separate his personal views from his stewardship of the company, but Mozillians questioned whether he was fit to lead. Another Internet company waded in to the uproar. The dating site OKCupid called for a boycott of Mozilla's Firefox browser over Eich's personal views.

AMY SEPINWALL: It's really important to think about the nature of the issue in question.

HU: Amy Sepinwall is a professor of business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. She says equal rights issues touch the lives of employees in ways other political positions may not.

SEPINWALL: The CEO's convictions do redound to the corporation. They are a reflection on the corporation. And as a result, he can't claim refuge or seek refuge in the thought that this is something that he did in his private capacity.

HU: But should a personal position cost a leader his job?

TYLER COWEN: I think it's a dangerous trend when we start judging companies or CEOs by their political views.

HU: Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University.

COWEN: I worry that this will spread to more and more issues. And, again, even if you support gay marriage, as I do, the next time around, it may be your issue that's targeted and you may end up wondering, well, how much can I really speak freely? Should I write this blog post? What should I put on Twitter? Should I make a political donation? We're entering a world where, in many ways, privacy is disappearing.

HU: Anil Dash, the Mozilla supporter, says the larger lesson is more specific to this company in this moment. It wrestled with its issues out in the open, and Eich, who didn't recant his gay marriage position, responded by resigning.

DASH: What this does is introduces the idea within the tech industry that there is a sort of communal responsibility and that leadership can be something that is evolving to respond to a community in the same way that software does.

HU: The company's future is now one without its co-founder. Brendan Eich didn't just step down as CEO, he left Mozilla too. Elise Hu, NPR News.




Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.