Thursday, March 3, 2022

Brewery CEO out after backlash to controversial vaccine comments

Vaccine mandates are a crime against humanity.

If you are not speaking out against them, you are a conspirator.
Those are the words Josh Stylman, the co-founder and now former CEO of Brooklyn, New York's Threes Brewing, recently shared on his personal Twitter account. He's also compared vaccine mandates to Jim Crow laws, the Nazi regime, and other historical atrocities. 

Following a public backlash to Stylman's tweets, Threes Brewing tweeted its response. 
We do not stand by our CEO Joshua Stylman's comparisons of the mandate to historical atrocities based on religion or race. We think the comparisons are inappropriate and inaccurate. 

The public backlash to Stylman, and by extension to the brewery, did not stop. Yesterday, 13 days after the brewery's initial response, it announced Stylman's resignation.

This decision was not made lightly, and comes after careful consideration. He believes that his fiduciary responsibilities as C.E.O. of Threes Brewing are in conflict with his duties as a parent and a citizen and is choosing to be able to speak his mind without concern that the team at Threes will be held responsible for his personal views.

I do not know what the backroom conversations between Stylman and the other owners looked like. It's possible that they terminated Stylman but permitted a save-face resignation in recognition of the seven years he gave the brewery to help build it to one of Brooklyn's most successful. What I do know, however, is that if Stylman's views conflict with those of Threes Brewery as a corporate citizen (and by all accounts it appears that they do), then the decision to part ways with Stylman should have been a no-brainer, should have happened weeks ago, and should not have waited for a public backlash.

Leaders must be held accountable when their leadership falls short of expectations. It appears that in this case, Stylman's leadership missed its target by a wide margin. Businesses need to decide if they want to associate with leaders who take views contrary to the image the business wants to portray. It's not just about losing business. In fact, given the wide philosophical and political divide in this country over vaccine mandates, it's possible Threes Brewing would gain as many patrons as it would lose if it supported Stylman's anti-vax views. It's about the type of corporate citizen a business strives to be. What do you stand for? What do you support? 

For example, also this week the City of Milwaukee fired one of its attorneys after she backed Vladimir Putin in an appearance on Russia Today TV. The city cited "job performance" and "poor fit" as the reasons for Jennifer DeMaster's termination. But it's pretty clear that the city decided that it did not want to be associated with someone supporting a war-mongering despot. 

Ukraine is nowhere near as controversial as vaccine mandates, but the lesson is the same. Employees are accountable for what they say, even on their own time and via their personal social media, because their comments have the ability to do real damage to a business and its reputation. Companies are well within their rights to terminate when the public views of an employee diverge from the philosophy of the business, Companies are well within their rights to terminate when the public views of an employee diverge from the philosophy of the business, as long as the public statements aren't otherwise protected by law. I just wish Threes Brewing would have taken a principled stand earlier over an issue that very much appears to matter to it.