I couldn't resist...I sent this note to the board of directors. (The link to the speech and her original explanation have now been removed from the Pepsi website, and replaced with a brief note of apology.)
Recently I have noticed some criticism of Pepsi's President's remarks at the Columbia School of Business commencement speech. I would like to thank you for making the text of the speech available on the Internet. I have now read both the speech and the explanation.
I am sure you are getting a lot of feedback from both reasonable folks and nutjobs, so I don't really expect a response. But thank you to whomever is reading this, anyway. I hope I am in the former, not latter, category.
I have sat through several commencements, a few of my own, most recently this past weekend, when my nephew received his bachelor's degree. Some are boring, or just too long. Some speakers are too caught up in politics, and they fail to realize that commencement addresses are occasions filled with pride for the graduates and their loved ones – speakers should be brief, funny, and most important – inspiring. Reproaching the audience about being ugly Americans is not exactly inspiring.
The president’s middle finger analogy for the United States is just plain offensive, and it shocks me that she would think otherwise. Giving someone the middle finger is a crude and inappropriate gesture. Too often people who suffer from road rage resort to it. Her explanation is not convincing – yes, there is no doubt that she meant the U.S. is important as the middle finger is to the hand, but it is also clear that her intention was to caution the graduates about the U.S. being the other meaning of middle finger – flipping the bird.
Over 20 years ago, I worked at one of the Pepsi flashcubes, along the platinum mile in Purchase, New York. I was a nobody, a temp. It was an OK job, not a bad place to work for a few weeks. Young as I was, I was amused by the backstabbing among those who were vying for management promotions. I am now a professor of education. Sometimes students who are in the school of business take my courses as electives. In my experience, plagiarism is a growing problem – and I am sad to report that when I have encountered academic dishonesty in my classes, it is often school of business students who are the perpetrators.
If she wanted to give advice – particularly in light of the recent business scandals that have plagued major corporations - she might have referenced the importance of being an ethical business person. Or considering the enormous salaries that are paid to individuals such as Pepsi’s president, she might have spoken of caring about the less fortunate, of giving back to society, of making a difference through service to others. Certainly she could have spoken about the importance of cultural sensitivity – but using the middle finger analogy was pathetic, particularly for someone in her high position, and for someone who has reaped enormous rewards from the U.S.
The true irony is that about the only worthy product Pepsi sells is oatmeal. If giving good advice was the point, what about some reflection on the evils of junk food? How do soda and potato chips benefit the United States – or for that matter, the globe?