Red Bull shook up leadership after controversy over Black Lives Matter

Alma L. Figueroa
  • Red Bull has been through a series of executive-level changes over the past two months due to internal tension over the energy drink giant’s diversity efforts and its response to Black Lives Matter.
  • The company’s North American CEO and CMO were fired while working to expand outreach to the Black community.
  • Insiders said the turmoil reflects a cultural divide between Red Bull leadership in Austria and the US, its largest market.
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In July, energy drink giant Red Bull fired three top executives, including its North American CEO and CMO, and dissolved the cultural marketing divisions that organized events like live music festivals.

These moves came after internal tensions over Black Lives Matter went public and an offensive slide from a company presentation that was first published by Business Insider drew attention from major media outlets like The Wall Street Journal.

The departed execs had been working on a plan to increase Red Bull’s diversity and outreach to the Black community, but insiders said that project’s future is now in doubt.

An interim team has been named to run the organization in North America while Red Bull seeks new leadership.

The turmoil came as Red Bull’s sales continued to grow. The company said it sold nearly one can for every person on earth in 2019 and bounced back from a brief coronavirus-related dip to gain market share over chief rival Monster this year.

In recent weeks:

  • More than 300 employees signed a June 1 letter addressed to North American CEO Stefan Kozak and president, CMO Amy Taylor that questioned the company’s “public silence” regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. It asked for more detail on how the company, which has often partnered with Black celebrities, would support its Black employees and the Black community at large.
  • Employees later leaked a slide from a February corporate event that used a world map that described India as “call centers,” Africa as “zoo animals come from here,” and the Middle East as “evil doers.” Employees said colleagues warned organizers not to use it and made complaints to human resources.
  • Three weeks after the leak, Red Bull’s corporate leadership in Austria fired Kozak, Taylor, and global head of music, entertainment, and culture marketing Florian Klaas, whose team was said to have chosen the slide. It also dissolved the teams that organize sponsored music festivals and other cultural events. Insiders called the firings acts of retaliation. “We reject racism in every form,” Red Bull’s board wrote in an all-staff memo.
  • An internal video from June 17 laid out the diversity programs Kozak and Taylor were developing when they were fired. They included collaborations with Chance the Rapper’s charity and a consulting firm that specializes in diversity as well as new employee resource groups.
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