Sep 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: Harris veterans launch firm to protect CEOs from being canceled

Jon Henes

Jon Henes, CEO of C Street Advisory Group. Photo: Matthew Starr, via C Street

A group of Vice President Kamala Harris' campaign veterans is launching a strategy firm to help CEOs avoid getting “canceled” and to advise companies how to respond to changing cultural norms before they're faced with a crisis.

Driving the news: C Street Advisory Group, led by CEO Jon Henes, a former national campaign finance chair for Harris’ presidential campaign, will draw on the group's broad political network to help corporate America diversify its workforce.

  • “Young people know the difference between genuine change and window dressing," Henes, a 20-year veteran of Kirkland & Ellis, tells Axios. "You have to understand your own organization and make real, systemic changes."
  • “Change can be scary, and in today’s world, fear can lead to inertia,” he said. “But inclusive leadership and inclusive change will lead to incredibly valuable, value-driven organizations.”

Why it matters: C Street is entering an emerging, competitive market with financing from Antara Capital, a hedge fund backed by Blackstone — a sign that big financial firms view the diversity field as a growing industry.

  • It will compete with traditional crisis management firms, as well as strategic consultancies such as Teneo (founded by former aides to President Clinton) and WestExec Advisors (which started with Obama veterans and served as a government-in-waiting for the Biden administration).

The big picture: Both public and private companies face pressure from their employees and outside investors to take positions on a variety of controversial social and political issues.

  • But there is also a risk of backlash for so-called “woke capitalism,” not to mention pressure campaigns such as what Major League Baseball endured after it moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new laws that curbed voting access.

How it works: C Street plans to use diverse contacts in the business, legal, academic and political world to help CEOs and company boards make changes in their corporate culture and hiring practices.

  • The goal is to help immunize companies and top executives from the threat of “cancellation” or an employee backlash.
  • The firm will offer advice across four different areas: general corporate strategy; diversity, equity and inclusion; talent acquisition; and traditional crisis communications.
  • Minyon Moore, a former political director in President Clinton’s White House and one of Harris’ closest confidants, is on the board of advisers.

What we’re hearing: Alvin B. Tillery Jr., a professor of American politics at Northwestern University, will head the DEI practice.

  • Beth Kojima, a private equity and Goldman Sachs veteran, will be in charge of talent.
  • Melissa Prober, a litigator and former in-house counsel at the Clinton Foundation, will handle crisis communications and serve as general counsel.
  • Brian Mathis, a former Clinton-era Treasury official and investment adviser, is serving as a senior adviser.
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