First Place Winner; 2022 DEI Global Case Writing Competition.
Cara Sabin (she), a Black woman, became the CEO of Sundial Brands in 2019. The Sundial beauty brands focus on the personal care needs of Black women and men. In 2017, Unilever acquired Sundial Brands in a deal valued at $1.6 billion, one of the largest beauty and personal care deals in the United States to date and the largest consumer products deal involving a majority Black-owned company. Key to the acquisition was that Unilever agreed to allow Sundial to operate as a separate, autonomous company.
As Sundial’s CEO, Sabin was the public face of the brand. She was regularly interviewed and her picture was used for in-store marketing materials. Her personal values aligned strongly with Sundial Brands’ mission and purpose. However, the company was still owned by Unilever, where the top executives were white men.
As part of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, customers started increasing their support for Black-owned businesses while calling for the boycott of white-owned businesses that marketed to the Black community. It was in this environment in June 2020 that Sabin reviewed online attacks on SheaMoisture, Sundial’s flagship brand, for being owned by Unilever.
Sabin needed to decide how SheaMoisture should address this crisis. Should she wait to see if it would blow over? If not, what was the correct communication strategy? As a Black woman, was she willing to incur the personal attacks that would inevitably occur if she responded?