Last week, former Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci declined the chief executive’s role at Tata Group-owned Air India citing the “coloured narrative” against him on social media platforms.
On February 14, Tatas announced Ayci’s appointment as CEO of Air India after taking over the state-owned carrier in January. But the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, urged the government to stop his appointment citing his alleged political links in his home country.
Companies need to include risk and contingency management processes – for employees and appointees – to prevent these from disrupting corporate decisions, experts say.
To be sure, they are already undertaking extensive background and social media checks for every role, especially CXO levels. Companies are also doing due diligence on appointments, advertising campaigns, logos or corporate communication.
But executive search firms say there is concern now that overseas talent could get spooked by how things have played out in Air India’s case.
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Virtual media’s reach is far more intrusive and viral than physical media, says Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults.
“People leave footprints that can be traced back. In the past, appointments had to be professionally acceptable, but today they have to also be socially, politically, economically and even religiously acceptable in various scenarios,” Bijoor says.
Companies are constantly learning from such events and upgrading their policies, says Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive VP, Teamlease Services, but some unanticipated “outlier” events can occur despite the best protocols.
“This has to be treated as a rather unique circumstance under which the incident has happened. However, most companies, especially conglomerates, have internal processes and protocols for evaluating candidates,” Chakraborty says. “They tend to perform background checks and due diligence through partner companies who specialize in tracking digital footprints and presence of appointees. More so, in the case of leadership roles.”
Overseas hires provide fresh perspective and are suitable for the kind of overhaul that Air India required, according to an executive search professional working at a global HR consulting firm.
“I do see foreign candidates, especially for top posts in Indian businesses, becoming more wary after this incident,” the person – who did not want to be named – told ET. “In the past, firms like Indigo have hired candidates from out of India. And many of these foreign candidates had a tough time acclimatizing to the work culture here. This sort of vicious trolling and social media outrage will play on their minds heavily before they sign on the dotted line.”
Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal’s appointment was also met with a fair share of outrage due to his political ideology, after Twitterati dug out his tweets from 2010 on the alleged racism and Islamophobia in America.
Last year, journalist Alexi McCammond was forced to walk away from the role of editor-in-chief at Conde Nast’s Teen Vogue Magazine after racially insensitive tweets from her teenage years surfaced online.
Companies should plan for various best and worst-case scenarios because social media is increasingly unpredictable, says brand strategist Meeta Malhotra. “It is less about mastering the channel and more about planning for these scenarios.”
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