These 1,200+ MBAs Have A Message For Fortune 500 CEOs

Warm light glows invitingly from inside Harvard Business School on a cold, winter evening..

Harvard Business School

The message from more than 1,200 graduates of some of the world’s best business schools: Put your employees first now.

In an open letter to all 500 CEOS of the Fortune 500, MBAs from Harvard Business School, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and many others asked company leaders to reduce their own salaries before reducing those of their employees.

“Retain them, re-deploy them if needed, and most importantly, pay them,” the letter reads, referring to employees. “Communicate routinely and candidly — daily if possible. Reduce your own wages before reducing theirs. If you must lay off employees, extend their health coverage and cover their premiums.”


Over the past four weeks, more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits — by far the most in U.S. history. Shelter-in-place policies and nationwide closures of non-essential businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic have caused chaos in many industries. Markets have tanked, and until people feel safe from COVID-19, it is unlikely the public will return to normal purchasing habits.

As a result of the constricting of normal spending — and the fear among their own employees of catching the virus — many businesses deemed essential have even given their own employees an impossible choice: Sit at home not getting paid or return to work, thus putting themselves or those they live with at risk. The MBAs’ letter highlights that issue by telling the story of “Valeria” — a frontline worker at a Walmart in Georgia.

“Although Walmart has offered its employees unlimited unpaid days off through April, most cannot afford to forgo wages, leaving them unprotected and uninformed about the risks they face,” the letter says.

“As Fortune 500 CEOs, you face urgent, difficult choices,” the letter continues. “You must set the tone for the corporate world’s collective response to COVID-19 by caring foremost for those closest to home — your employees. Doing so will strengthen long-term financial performance, investor support, customer loyalty, and future employee engagement. More importantly, it is the moral imperative in times of crisis.”


The letter, which was started by an MBA student at Harvard Business School, then outlines the CEOs from other companies that have already made adjustments. Leadership from places like Alaska Air, GE, and Lyft, for example, have announced plans to donate or forgo their own salaries. Best Buy and Starbucks have committed to paying employees for the next couple of weeks even if they’re unable to work. “With lives and livelihoods on the line, it matters to our collective health and safety how we care for our most vulnerable,” the letter reads. “Front line workers are the heroes of this crisis: keeping the nation supplied with food, medicine, gasoline, information, and more.”

By passing the CARES Act, in which the U.S. Congress allocated $500 billion to corporations, the letter says Congress has effectively “passed the baton” to corporate America leadership. “Now, it is your turn to prove to America that capitalism can be resilient in the face of an extended lockdown,” the letter states.

Obviously, as business students at some of the world’s most prolific business education institutions, those that have signed the letter know what they’re asking. “Any additional cost is daunting while company survival is at stake,” the letter says. “Yet, the cost of inaction is higher. Choices made today will define your reputation — both now and in the future.”

The entirety of the letter as well as names of those that have already signed it and schools they attend can be found here. The organizers of the letter from Harvard Business School say they plan on sending the letter to all of the Fortune 500 CEOs before May 1.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.