Red Bull Fires North American Executives Following Racism Controversy

Employees reportedly criticized the company's 'public silence' on Black Lives Matter

two red bulls going head on with red bull underneath
Red Bull employees first protested the brand's lackluster response to the Black Lives Matter movement in a June 1 letter. Red Bull

Red Bull has laid off North American executives CEO Stefan Kozak, CMO/president Amy Taylor and global head of culture marketing Florian Klaass, the energy drink brand confirmed to Adweek today.

The news follows weeks of internal controversy surrounding Red Bull’s response to the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement, which was first reported by Business Insider. In a June 1 letter addressed to Taylor and Kozak and signed by over 300 Red Bull employees, workers criticized the brand’s “public silence” and asked for actionable next steps “to ensure we take meaningful action in the fight to end racial injustice.”

Three weeks later, employees leaked a slide from a February U.S. culture marketing team meeting that depicted a world map meme labeled with racist stereotypes. Klaass approved the use of the meme, Business Insider reported.

The map is a variation on a meme called “The World According to Americans.” The version used in the Red Bull presentation, which was included in Business Insider’s report on the incident, had “they make our stuff” written over China, “they do our laundry” over Mexico, “zoo animals come from here” over Africa and “evil-doers” over part of the Middle East, among other problematic stereotypes.

On June 26, according to Business Insider, Red Bull’s board of directors wrote a memo in response to the letter from employees, saying, “We reject racism in every form, we always have, and we always will. Anyone who knows anything about our company knows this.”

Red Bull provided a statement to Adweek, confirming the exits of all three executives, but the statement did not dispute the Business Insider story nor did it provide reasons for the departures of Kozak and Taylor.

Red Bull’s statement did attribute Klaass’s departure to downsizing within the department. The brand is cutting down on culture marketing programs, focusing efforts on “where it makes most impact.” Red Bull BC One, Red Bull Dance Your Style and Red Bull Batalla de los Gallos will remain, but the brand will discontinue many others.

Until replacements can be found for Taylor and Kozak, Red Bull said Alexandre Ruberti, evp of sales for Red Bull North America and president of Red Bull Distribution Company, and Marc Rosenmayr, evp of operations, finance and IT for Red Bull North America, will together lead Red Bull North America.

Klaass, Taylor and Kozak did not respond to Adweek’s requests for comment by the time of publication for this story.

@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.