Franklin CEO speaks out against racism in light of Cooper firing

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Franklin Templeton’s zero-tolerance policy on racism led to the swift firing of its former head of insurance investment, Amy Cooper, according to the head of its parent company.

Jenny Johnson, chief executive officer of Franklin Resources, said the company is reviewing its diversity and inclusion efforts after a viral video of the employee surfaced last week. In it, Cooper called the police on her mobile phone to say that an African-American man was threatening her and her dog in New York’s Central Park. The man, Christian Cooper, said he had earlier asked her to leash her dog.

“The facts were undisputed in this case, and we were able to make a quick decision,” Johnson said at a Bloomberg virtual conference Tuesday. “The U.S. is in a lot of pain right now, and our African-American colleagues are in a lot of pain.”

Cooper’s altercation occurred the same week as the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. Floyd’s killing and other fatal police encounters have fueled protests worldwide and prompted executives from most major banks and investment firms to speak out. Behind the scenes, it’s driving conversations in an industry that wants to be viewed as more socially responsible, even as it struggles to deliver on promises to improve diversity within its ranks.

“We can’t control everything, but we can control the environment in which we operate our companies,” Johnson said. “And it starts with leaders ensuring that discrimination is not tolerated and that we create an environment that absolutely feels inclusive for all employees.”

The company’s staff and clients were supportive of its decision to terminate Cooper, but a small segment felt it was unfair, Johnson said.

Prudential Financial’s asset manager is meeting with black employees this week to listen to their concerns and express support during an “incredibly painful time” for the community, PGIM CEO David Hunt said at the event. Prudential is based in Newark, New Jersey, and is a major employer in the city where more than 86% of the population is black or Latino, he said. He called on more business leaders to speak out.

“We all need to publicly condemn racism and prejudice in every form,” Hunt said. “Silence cannot be an option.”

Bloomberg News
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