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A record number of amicus briefs were filed in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case over affirmative action at the University of Michigan. But a few briefs particularly swayed the Court’s majority, including one signed by 65 companies that made the corporate argument for diversity. Jon Botsford, the general counsel at Steelcase, Inc., played a key role on the brief. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase is the world’s largest manufacturer of office furniture. Fortune has ranked it as one of the country’s most admired companies for its social responsibility. And for more than a decade the company has had an African American Diversity Network to conduct training sessions and dispense advice. Steelcase’s president and CEO, James Hackett, is also a longtime associate of former University of Michigan president Lee Bollinger. Another Michigan-based business, General Motors Corp., filed an amicus brief backing affirmative action when the case was still at the trial level. But Bollinger, Hackett, and Botsford decided to enlist more corporate support. They drew up a document with the pro bono help of attorneys at Chicago-based Jenner & Block, where Botsford once worked as an associate. Then they went hunting for signatories. Botsford, Steelcase’s GC since 1999, says he believes in the cause. “There is a social aspect to [diversity], but we think it also makes good business sense,” he says. “We are the most global company in our industry, and [it] can help us compete on a global level.” Not everyone supported Steelcase’s crusade. “We attracted attention from white supremacy groups, or other groups on the opposite end of the spectrum on this issue,” Botsford says. “[They] threatened boycotts against the companies that signed on to the briefs.” Fortunately for Steelcase and its cosigners, nothing came of these threats. And the slings were made easier to bear when the companies ended up on the winning side.

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