As woke Buzz Lightyear crashed and burned at the box office, as Bud Light spilled its suds before Kid Rock’s rattling submachine gun, it’s never been so obvious—that if you are a company and go woke, you will go broke. Yet as CEOs double down and triple down on ignoring their customers’ values in favor of liberal ideologies, one investor has found a chink in their corporate armor.
For over three decades, investor Thomas Strobhar, 70, from Dayton, Ohio, has adopted shareholder activism to gain pull over which charities don’t receive donations from the companies he invests in. He supports pro-life, Catholic values and has confronted over 150 companies using his tool of choice, shareholders’ resolutions, to ensure that Planned Parenthood gets as little money as possible.
Shareholders’ resolutions are 500-word suggestions that all shareholders owning at least $2,000 worth of shares in the company are allowed to make. One need only have the guts to stand in the spotlight before a few thousand people at a shareholders’ event and read slowly and carefully. Strobhar makes sure the font is big and bold.
Strobhar proved the effectiveness of his strategy at an AT&T event in 2014. Receiving thousands of letters of complaint, yet refusing to budge in their support of Planned Parenthood, the company heads listened as Strobhar suggested they stop donating to the abortion giant. Feeling the shareholder heat from that moment, they did just that. They never said as much publicly, but within 30 days the facts became clear. A New York Times headline at the time read: “Caving to Extremists, AT&T Hangs Up on Planned Parenthood.”
More recently, Strobhar confronted Disney, which last year attacked a bill signed by Ron DeSantis that would prohibit sex ed from being taught to K-3 children. Strobhar drafted a statement that said Disney’s decision “could alienate millions of our current and potential customers,” adding, “As we have learned, virtue signaling has its costs.”
The simple reason such resolutions work is because shareholders are the owners, and have a say in what is in the company’s interests. “Shareholder contributions are supposed to create goodwill and make people warm and fuzzy,” Strobhar told The Epoch Times. “This was doing just the opposite, hurting sales, hurting market value, hurting shareholder value, and I thought this could be a possible breach of their fiduciary responsibility.” It interests the shareholders to see that donations are done responsibly and ethically.
Yet, CEOs don’t always listen—even to shareholders. While Strobhar has swayed many companies to change their practices on giving—including Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway, Ford, General Mills, American Express, Kroger, and Target, to name a few—some, like Starbucks, remained stalwart. At a corporate meeting, Strobhar vocally opposed their promoting same-sex marriage. The then CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, said, “It’s a free country” and “[y]ou can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company.” This Strobhar read as a dereliction of his duty as it encouraged investors to not invest.
Strobhar explains this stubborn wokeness in companies like Starbucks as they clash with conservatives, customers, and shareholders alike, calling it an “elitist mentality.” “Whatever they think, all the good-thinking people of the world people should think like them. They are in a position of power, and they are egged on by liberal groups all the time,” he said. “They seem to kowtow to every liberal issue, and conservatives be damned, basically.” Those conservatives are the majority, he believes.
As recently with Disney, companies have accused Strobhar of using the company’s charitable giving process to generate opposition against organizations he dislikes. Disney called Strobhar out for being pro-life and opposing same-sex marriage, calling him “a proponent with a narrow focus” who has “previously submitted numerous similar proposals.” Strobhar said what he is doing is no different from what the left has always done.
That it has been effective, none can deny. The minute effort Strobhar has put into presenting and submitting his shareholders’ resolutions has seen vastly disproportionate results with sometimes multimillions of dollars being diverted away from Planned Parenthood. The investor from Ohio who does this solo and has made a huge impact also watches on with amusement as companies lawyer up to face his suggestions—or simply back down. “It takes a little bit of time but it’s not that much, and it’s fun knowing what lengths they’ll go,” he said. “Disney hired outside legal counsel, because they didn’t think their staff was sufficient.”