Communication & Alignment

Bush, Assange, YPO & Controversy

Last weekend, I attended the YPO Global Summit in Denver, Colorado.  As a member of both Vistage and YPO, each organization helps me achieve different professional and personal aspirations.  (How they are so different is a good subject for another blog post, but I digress).  The conference was a terrific opportunity for CEOs to connect and network, but as many of you may know, it was not free from controversy.

President George W. Bush was scheduled to be the keynote speaker on the closing day of the conference.  Certainly there were many members who attended and traveled both from within the U.S. and abroad to hear the former President talk about his time at the White House and address the issues of the day.  The day before the scheduled appearance, however, YPO facilitated a conversation via satellite with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange – a late addition to the conference agenda.   Upon hearing that YPO granted Assange an audience at the event, President Bush abruptly canceled.  His spokesperson David Sherzer stated, “The former president has no desire to share a forum with a man who has willfully and repeatedly done great harm to the interests of the United States.”

So here’s the question:  Did YPO use poor judgment by inviting Julian Assange to speak at its global conference?  Or did YPO show courage?  Was it wrong of President Bush to cancel the speaking appearance?  Or did it demonstrate that he’s true to his values?

Let’s look at both sides:

From a YPO perspective, they were appealing to a global audience in a nation that trumpets the benefits of democracy, open society, and free speech.    One might ask, “Where better than the United States to feature an open dialogue with a man who while some regard as a high-tech terrorist, others believe to be a modern-day hero in the age of transparency?   YPO seems to believe these are exactly the kind of engagements a world-class leadership organization should be facilitating for its members.

From President Bush’s point of view, he would see it as completely inappropriate to appear on the same program as Julian Assange.  Assange actually represents one of the few things Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell can agree on – that Julian Assange is a danger to the US and to many countries around the world.   On top of all that, he has failed, to date, to answer for sexual assault charges in Sweden.

YPO handled the news of the President’s cancellation as best could be expected.  They communicated the whole truth about what happened and why to its members and arranged for Tom Brokaw to fill-in as the keynote for the final day in Bush’s stead.  They also received international coverage and exposure because of the controversy.

There was a roaring debate on the floor of the conference, which I’m sure will continue for quite some time, as to whether inviting Assange was worth losing the President.   What do you think?  Bad idea or not?   How do you see it?

Category: Communication & Alignment Leadership Leadership Competencies

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Avatar About the Author: Ruby Randall
  1. Dave

    March 6, 2011 at 3:56 am

    It was a bad idea. Not really a controversy…it wasn’t hard to figure out it was sticking a thumb in your keynote speaker’s eye. Not a YPO class move.

  2. Dave

    March 6, 2011 at 3:56 am

    It was a bad idea. Not really a controversy…it wasn’t hard to figure out it was sticking a thumb in your keynote speaker’s eye. Not a YPO class move.

  3. Brian

    March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    The relationship between a keynote speaker and the hosting organization is intended to be mutually-beneficial, and is (in effect) a commitment between the two. By including Assange on their agenda, YPO chose to disregard the prior commitment they made with the President.

    Remember when we were kids? Imagine you invited a good friend to go to the movies. You then found out that a girl you really like also wanted to go and you invited her too, even though you knew your friend and this girl didn’t get along. Your friend declines your invitation, having been informed (by your actions) that the girl is more important than your friendship.

    YPO may have enjoyed taking the girl to the movies, but at what cost?

    Disclaimer: I am a Vistage employee, and while my comments can naturally be assumed to have bias, they represent my opinion rather than me promoting my employer. Commitments matter, especially in business.

  4. Brian

    March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    The relationship between a keynote speaker and the hosting organization is intended to be mutually-beneficial, and is (in effect) a commitment between the two. By including Assange on their agenda, YPO chose to disregard the prior commitment they made with the President.

    Remember when we were kids? Imagine you invited a good friend to go to the movies. You then found out that a girl you really like also wanted to go and you invited her too, even though you knew your friend and this girl didn’t get along. Your friend declines your invitation, having been informed (by your actions) that the girl is more important than your friendship.

    YPO may have enjoyed taking the girl to the movies, but at what cost?

    Disclaimer: I am a Vistage employee, and while my comments can naturally be assumed to have bias, they represent my opinion rather than me promoting my employer. Commitments matter, especially in business.

  5. Paul Diamond

    March 8, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Why do our leaders and former leaders love to triumph democracy and freedom of speech as our highest ideals, yet when that freedom to express ideas goes against the government’s agenda they are no longer so embracing of this ideal? Why can’t we hear Assange point of view along side the former President. Seems like Bush was being a Prima Donna and he couldn’t embrace the most American of values: freedom to express a diversity of ideas.

  6. Paul Diamond

    March 8, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Why do our leaders and former leaders love to triumph democracy and freedom of speech as our highest ideals, yet when that freedom to express ideas goes against the government’s agenda they are no longer so embracing of this ideal? Why can’t we hear Assange point of view along side the former President. Seems like Bush was being a Prima Donna and he couldn’t embrace the most American of values: freedom to express a diversity of ideas.

  7. David Belden

    March 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Maybe the question is why would YPO invite W?

    • Goalsforyou2002

      March 23, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      Did YPO and W have conflicting goals?

  8. David Belden

    March 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Maybe the question is why would YPO invite W?

    • Goalsforyou2002

      March 23, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      Did YPO and W have conflicting goals?

  9. Wizdmkeepr

    April 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Congratulations! As it relates to CEO’s, you couldn’t ask for a better lesson of the times we find ourselves in, and why transparency, responsibility and accountability are so critical. Never before have our actions as corporations and individuals had such important and dramatic consequences for our environment, and on the lives of our brothers and sisters across the globe. While I agree that the invitation would definitely change the nature of the message from Mr.Bush, unable to share his typical talking points, I don’t share his sense of moral indignation about this being an inappropriate invitation – this organization is about exposing people to ideas and vital conversations.
    Mr.Bush, incidentally, has admitted to violating US and international law regarding torture, but has yet answered any of the calls for charges – I don’t agree with the argument that Assange should somehow be considered morally inferior and barred from speaking because of charges – it’s part of the game, and he still gets his day in court.

    In this day and age, we should expect to be called out on our actions, expect to be held accountable, expect to be taken to task on what we as corporate leaders say and do – let’s run our businesses, and our country, in a way that we don’t need to be ashamed or taken back by anything that comes our way. Bush had an opportunity to meet this challenge head on, in a vital environment of his peers, yet declined and instead made justifications as to why he didn’t follow through on his commitment to address the audience – I’m not judgin, I’m just sayin…

    Anita Roddick, billionaire founder of the Body Shop, was an evangelist about the necessity of corporations to serve the public interest and the well-being of the communities they operate in, instead of serving private greed. Sadly, in more cases than not, this is just not the case. It’s easy to say Bush was disrespected by the invitation, and yet, I say these are the kinds of debates and conversations we should be expecting of those who are in a position of power, especially as it relates to the actions and policies of our corporations and governments – let’s make sure we are not blinded by a self-serving sense of patriotism wrapped in the “interests of the United States” and instead work in the interest of all Humanity.

    Thanks for the article ruby – good questions…

  10. Wizdmkeepr

    April 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Congratulations! As it relates to CEO’s, you couldn’t ask for a better lesson of the times we find ourselves in, and why transparency, responsibility and accountability are so critical. Never before have our actions as corporations and individuals had such important and dramatic consequences for our environment, and on the lives of our brothers and sisters across the globe. While I agree that the invitation would definitely change the nature of the message from Mr.Bush, unable to share his typical talking points, I don’t share his sense of moral indignation about this being an inappropriate invitation – this organization is about exposing people to ideas and vital conversations.
    Mr.Bush, incidentally, has admitted to violating US and international law regarding torture, but has yet answered any of the calls for charges – I don’t agree with the argument that Assange should somehow be considered morally inferior and barred from speaking because of charges – it’s part of the game, and he still gets his day in court.

    In this day and age, we should expect to be called out on our actions, expect to be held accountable, expect to be taken to task on what we as corporate leaders say and do – let’s run our businesses, and our country, in a way that we don’t need to be ashamed or taken back by anything that comes our way. Bush had an opportunity to meet this challenge head on, in a vital environment of his peers, yet declined and instead made justifications as to why he didn’t follow through on his commitment to address the audience – I’m not judgin, I’m just sayin…

    Anita Roddick, billionaire founder of the Body Shop, was an evangelist about the necessity of corporations to serve the public interest and the well-being of the communities they operate in, instead of serving private greed. Sadly, in more cases than not, this is just not the case. It’s easy to say Bush was disrespected by the invitation, and yet, I say these are the kinds of debates and conversations we should be expecting of those who are in a position of power, especially as it relates to the actions and policies of our corporations and governments – let’s make sure we are not blinded by a self-serving sense of patriotism wrapped in the “interests of the United States” and instead work in the interest of all Humanity.

    Thanks for the article ruby – good questions…

  11. Thanks to each of you for posting your thoughts. Even at the event, passions about this topic were strong and opinions polarized. I love hearing your diverse perspectives.
    PS – Wizdmkeepr, I too admire Anita Roddick’s passion, courage, talent and dedication to her cause.

  12. Thanks to each of you for posting your thoughts. Even at the event, passions about this topic were strong and opinions polarized. I love hearing your diverse perspectives.
    PS – Wizdmkeepr, I too admire Anita Roddick’s passion, courage, talent and dedication to her cause.

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