Navigating SheaMoisture through a Racial Awakening: Cara Sabin’s Authentic Leadership

by: Stephanie Robertson, Jeremy Petranka

Publication Date: July 27, 2022
Length: 16 pages
Product ID#: 7-510-628

Core Disciplines: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, Leadership/Organizational Behavior, Social Impact, Strategy & Management

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Teaching Note

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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?

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Identify the key stakeholders to which SheaMoisture had a responsibility while developing its crisis response.
  • Identify the type of crisis SheaMoisture was facing based on its level of responsibility, and determine the appropriate type of crisis response strategy.
  • Develop an appropriate crisis response strategy based on Situational Crisis Communication Theory.
  • Analyze the actual crisis response strategy Sabin enacted.
  • Examine the ways in which the type of crisis and the response strategy would have differed if SheaMoisture’s executive team was not representative of its customer base.
  • Appreciate the need for diversity in both understanding a diverse customer base and in reacting to changing customer expectations with respect to social justice.