As one of only four black chief executives in the Fortune 500, Jide Zeitlin rejected the earnest but safe tone found in many corporate statements about the weekend’s unrest, offering instead a raw, heartfelt assessment of the problem of racism in the United States.
Zeitlin, the CEO since September of Coach and Kate Spade owner Tapestry, said in a wide-ranging LinkedIn post to staff on Monday that it had taken him several attempts to write the note because of how close the topic of racial disharmony is to him.
“I sat down several times to write this letter, but stopped each time. My eyes welling up with tears. This is personal. Over this weekend, over this last week, over a lifetime punctuated by sweltering summers of discontent,” wrote Zeitlin. That included time in the late 1980s as a Harvard Business School graduate when he worked in apartheid South Africa to help labor groups assist black miners and witnessed first-hand the suppression of black aspirations.
Zeitlin noted that a number of his company’s stores had been vandalized and pillaged over the weekend in different U.S. cities and mused about what kind of despair would lead people do to do that, but said those concerns were secondary.
“We can replace our windows and handbags, but we cannot bring back George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and too many others. Each of these black lives matter,” wrote Zeitlin of some prominent black victims of police brutality and racism at the hands of fellow citizens over the decades.
In his post, he noted that two of the most recent egregious cases of racism had taken place in Minnesota and New York, proof he said that this is part of an “American narrative,” not limited to any one region.
Ultimately, he said, U.S. corporations can’t progress until the country reaches fuller equality and inclusion. Pointing to Tapestry’s brands, which also include Stuart Weitzman, he said they were all founded in New York and moulded by that city’s diversity and the “random intertwining of divergent people and ideas,” something the whole country needs.
“We cannot succeed if the ideal that is America does not succeed, including in different and diverse ways globally. We cannot attract and engage talented colleagues. We cannot design beautiful and functional products. We cannot authentically engage with consumers around the world,” wrote Zeitlin.
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