In the summer of 2021, an Exxon Mobil Corporation (ExxonMobil) executive was secretly recorded dismissing climate science that his company had publicly supported. ExxonMobil is a vertically integrated business with decades of financial performance to consider. Recent activity at the organization—including activist investor action to change the board of directors’ composition—coupled with years of confusion over climate science creates a complex situation with multiple stakeholders. By comparing ExxonMobil’s performance to Apple Inc. (Apple) and other technology companies, it provides context for the moment of the crisis and asks readers to consider how to manage the communication complication. Students are challenged to consider nuance in their arguments and balance short-term shareholder returns with longer-term organizational pursuits.
To challenge students to communicate financial performance and how actions of individual employees affect the perception of public companies. Through discussion, the case enables students to see nuance in arguments—like ESG—and challenges them to communicate clearly. It is designed for MBA and Executive MBA students in courses with approximately 90 minutes of class time, and includes a student activity in the accompanying teaching note, which works in-person and in a virtual classroom.