Tech and media moguls at the Allen & Co. Sun Valley conference started their first full day of sessions Wednesday with a potentially touchy panel about politics in the workplace.
After a casual outdoor breakfast, Stripe’s Patrick Collison, Shopify’s Tobias Lutke, Flickr’s Stewart Butterfield and former American Express CEO Ken Chenault discussed how companies should respond to current events without crossing the line.
They spoke in front of an outdoor crowd that included some of the world’s most powerful people — including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who wore reflective silver aviators and sat alongside his girlfriend Lauren Sánchez.
Chenault — a rare African-American attendee at the overwhelmingly white conference — argued that companies had a responsibility to take political positions on issues like voting rights, a source said.
That put him at odds with Lutke, who on Wednesday expressed views similar to those he issued to Shopify employees in May, telling them via a memo to stay focused on the company’s mission instead of social issues.
“Shopify is also not the government. We cannot solve every societal problem here,” Lutke wrote, according to Business Insider, reminding them that the company is “not a family.”
While attendees appeared sympathetic to calls for embracing social justice issues in the workplace, some showed “concern about distraction, productivity losses, and cultural upheaval inside teams” if companies take strong stances on social issues, one source said.
“No way to know where the audience was on this,” the source added. “People tip-toe around it because it is political kryptonite.”
Another panel on “Crime and Reform” was later held with New York Police Department Chief of Department Rodney K. Harrison, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and Alice Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate who was released from a life sentence for cocaine trafficking after being pardoned last year by then-President Donald Trump.
The session focused on ways to reduce crime without increasing use of prisons, an attendee said.
CNN host Van Jones— who was attending alongside fellow anchor Anderson Cooper — emphasized the same message afterward, taking the stage and urging attendees to “invest in solutions other than prison.”
The ongoing crime surge in cities may have dulled attendees’ receptiveness to calls for criminal justice reform, a second attendee said.
“A lot of people are coming in from New York and San Francisco where there’s been an increase in crime,” the attendee added.
After the discussion, attendees left the amphitheater and walked across the resort to enjoy a lunch of salad, glazed shrimp and fruit cobbler next to Sun Valley’s duck pond.
After lunch, Bill Gates’ scandal-plagued money manager Michael Larson took a walk with Yousef al Ottawa, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the US and a close friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Larson — who was accused of making sexist and racist remarks at work, showing some colleagues nude photos and bullying others in a May New York Times expose — refused to answer questions when approached by a Post reporter.
Larson’s boss Bill Gates — who is facing scrutiny for alleged workplace misconduct amid a messy divorce from his wife Melinda — is scheduled to address the conference later this week to talk about climate change, a source said.
Another power pair spotted taking an after lunch stroll was NBCUniversal Jeff Shell and film producer powerhouse Brian Grazer.