It seems like almost an almost trivial thing to unravel all that the Mozilla Corporation has done but the recent appointment of CEO Brendan Eich is threatening just that. The Mozilla Corporation is responsible for Firefox Mozilla browser, currently the third most popular browser after Internet Explorer and Google’s Chrome.
It turns out that Brendan Eich donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8, legislation in California that supported the ban of gay marriage. Mozilla employees reacted badly to the revelation but then others outside Mozilla, including the software company Rarebit, announced that they would have nothing to do with the platform as long a Eich was CEO.
Unlucky in love
Since then, the campaign calling for Eich’s resignation has grown, with dating site OkCupid announcing that they would prefer their users not to access the site using Firefox.
Eich himself has never apologised for the donation and for all intents and purposes still believes that gay marriage is wrong. A post by him apolgises for the hurt caused by his actions but only discusses his support of equality within Mozilla, not for their right to get married.
The CEO is everything
What this incident reflects more than anything is the cult of the CEO. In an organisation of 600 employees, perhaps all of whom do not support Eich’s position on gay marriage, it is the views of the leader that outweigh all else. The emotional significance that everyone places on the role of CEO is universal. The loss felt when Steve Jobs died was not just because a man who had done great things had died but the belief that Apple would flounder without his guidance. Microsoft took 5 months to replace former CEO Steve Ballmer and the market reacted positively by boosting their shares.
The research on whether CEOs play any significant part in a company’s performance is equivocal at best. The CEO then plays a largely different role in an organisation and in many ways publicly symbolises the values of that organisation.
The damage of bad first impressions
What most CEOs are really like is never usually considered by the public. Steve Jobs was allegedly an unpleasant human being in many ways but this was largely overlooked by adoring fans mainly because it was revealed after people had formed a largely positive view about him. Brendan Eich on the other hand was publicly unknown apart from this one bad first impression and this is the key to why Brendan Eich is unlikely to regain public support.
Social psychology has shown that first impressions are formed instantaneously with minimal cognitive effort. Negative first impressions are extremely powerful and very hard to overcome, even if followed by repeated positive actions. For Eich, there is little he will be able to do to redeem the first impression created by the uncovering of his anti-gay marriage donation. He can only hope that people will move on and forget him altogether. Not a great option for a CEO.
Will he last?
A petition calling for Brendan Eich’s direct statement of support for gay marriage or his resignation has now collected 69,000 signatures. Given that Eich has resisted directly retracting his anti-gay marriage stance, it seems unlikely that he will issue that apology unless more companies join OkCupid in their boycott of Firefox forcing the hand of the board and they make the decision for him.