Kind founder to leaders who don't know how to address racism: 'Figure it out...even if it's not perfect'

Daniel Lubetzky, CEO, Kind
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

As protests against the treatment of black Americans and the killing of George Floyd sweep the nation, corporations and business leaders have been speaking out to condemn police brutality and systemic racism.

Executives and companies, from Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall to Ben and Jerry's to Apple CEO Tim Cook, have sent emails to employees and released statements regarding Floyd and ongoing racial injustice in America.

Despite the outpouring, many are grappling with what to say.

Count among them Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of snack company Kind. He sent an email to Kind employees too on May 30. But Lubetzky admits he almost let the difficulty of it stop him.

Like everyone else, Lubetzky watched as protests first erupted over the killing of Floyd.

"I tried to write a note [to Kind employees] and words were completely failing me. It was so hard for me to write about this. I just couldn't finish that note," he tells CNBC Make It.

Then Lubetzky received an email from one of his black team members.

The employee reminded Lubetzky that "social injustice is running rampant," and it would send a "powerful message to the Kind team" if Lubetzky addressed it.

"I know we will take great comfort in your words. I can tell you that several of us are not OK right now," the employee wrote. "It has been an emotional roller-coaster for all of us filled with fear, anger and disappointment."

"Martin Luther King Jr. has said many great things, and this one resonates with me now: 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,'" the employee wrote.

The email "pushed" Lubetzky out of his comfort zone to "figure it out, even if it's not going to be perfect," he says. 

"She had so much impact, because it's possible that had it not been for her, I would've not ended up writing my note and comforting my team members," he admitted.

It taught Lubetzky an important lesson about leadership: "Even when words are failing you, it's very important for you to find those words and speak up. Your team needs that from you more than you realize," he says.

People need an "acknowledgement of what they're going through."

So "every organization, leaders, during this time, should speak with empathy, perspective and encourage introspection and personal commitment for us to be agents of positivity," Lubetzky says. "A lot of people are going through a lot of pain, but they don't know they can reach out to their CEO and express that."

In the email that Lubetzky sent, he addressed the killing of Floyd, systemic racism in America and the need to "build bridges to prevent the horrors of the past from repeating themselves."

"I sincerely feel that we have a historic duty to stand up against division and hatred," he wrote. "In the end, none of these problems will be solved without ALL OF US rising up to stand together with concrete actions and determination."

In response, Lubetzky says he got a lot of emails from black employees, which showed him "that I cannot even begin to appreciate how hard it is for them," he says. 

One Kind employee "wrote to me about how his 8-year-old daughter is scared when he goes out because he is an African American male. He faces race discrimination and his daughter is worried about him going out because his fate may be different than mine" as a white man, Lubetzky says.

Right now, "there's a need for empathy and critical listening that is increasingly absent in our discourse," Lubetzky says.

Lubetzky who founded Kind in 2004, says he already utilizes Kind and its affiliated philanthropy platforms "to try to build bridges." Kind's mission of giving back, as well as Lubetzky's Kind Foundation, PeaceWorks FoundationOneVoice Movement and Lubetzky Family Foundation were all inspired by Lubetzky's father, who survived the Holocaust, he says.

However, he knows Kind can still do better.

Lubetzky points to recruiting, for example. 

"I was reading ways to fight injustice, and one of them was recruiting from minority colleges and institutions. I actually don't know if we affirmatively do that," he says, so he sent a note about it to Kind's head of HR. "Are we doing enough to try to recruit from outside our own networks to provide opportunity to people that come from different backgrounds?" It's an area of opportunity for the company, he says. 

Kind, which had about 500 employees as of October and was reportedly valued at over $4 billion when Mars bought a minority stake in 2017, declined to disclose any diversity numbers regarding its staff and executives to CNBC Make It. A spokesperson for Kind said the organization has numerous diversity organizations for employees, but did not give examples.

Lubetzky also says he plans to "double down" on promoting empathy, understanding and respect via a new platform he has in the works.

"In conjunction with very inspirational leaders that I look up to, we're building a platform to give a voice for private sector leaders and business leaders and foundations to join forces in uniting us," he says. Kind did not say whether the platform is specifically designed to target racial inequities, but Lubetzky says that more detail will be released in about a month.

There is an opportunity to "increase our understanding of each other," Lubetzky says of Kind.

"It's not just a culture that has to welcome diversity in every regard – including skin color, religion and gender – it also has to encourage and respect different perspectives and different thoughts and thrive in those differences.

"It's very important to create an environment where people feel comfortable being who they are," Lubetzky says.

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