By Geoff Colvin
November 13, 2015

If you bring together founders of the digital companies that are reshaping the world economy and the corporate aristocracy that has dominated commerce for decades, will they have anything to talk about? Turns out they’re ravenous to learn from one another, as we discovered at the recent Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. The established companies must learn to be revolutionary, and the successful disrupters must learn how to keep winning for the long haul.

Leaders of the corporate old guard included J.P. Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon (JPM), Siemens’s Joe Kaeser, IBM’s Ginni Rometty (IBM), Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf (WFC), and many others. Among the Silicon Valley stars were Alphabet CEO Larry Page (GOOG), venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, and Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer (YHOO).

One powerful lesson that emerged is that even in the age of digital disruption, human capital is the most critical asset—and the most difficult to manage well—for all the leaders. The forum’s agenda is at FortuneConferences.com, and you can watch sessions at the Fortune magazine YouTube channel.


Best advice about disruption

Joe Kaeser, President and CEO, Siemens AG.

Joe Kaeser, President and CEO, Siemens AGPhotograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

Fifty percent of our business has changed in the last 10 years. The key to surviving is having an ownership culture… You have to get to people’s pride.

Joe Kaeser, CEO, Siemens

Mike Ullman, Executive Chairman, JCPenney.

Mike Ullman, Executive Chairman, J.C. PenneyPhotograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

Only a baby with a wet diaper likes change. Everyone else resists change.

Mike Ullman, executive chairman, J.C. Penney (JCP)


Best demystification of a CEO’s role

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer, President and CEO, YahooPhotograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

Good executives confuse themselves when they convince themselves that they do things… Set a vision, listen to the team, and then get out of the way.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, on why listening to employees is her most important job


Best pep talk

Dimon just bet the equivalent of a year's salary and bonus that the bears are wrong.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.Photograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

Don’t be so damned depressed. We have all become risk experts and are afraid of our own shadow at this point. Move on. The world is going to be fine.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, arguing that CEOs remain too cautious in the wake of the financial crisis


Best description of startup culture

Geoff Yang, Partner, Redpoint Ventures

Geoff Yang, Partner, Redpoint VenturesPhotograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

Burn the ships on the beach! Having to succeed is a great motivator vs. not ­wanting to fail.

Geoff Yang, partner at Redpoint Ventures, on why startups have an edge over larger companies


Best defense

Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos founder and CEO

Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos founder and CEOPhotograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

We’re incredibly confident in the data that we’ve submitted to the [FDA].

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, responding to mounting criticism of her company’s blood-testing technology


Best call to arms

Larry Page, CEO and Co-founder, Alphabet Inc

Larry Page, CEO and Co-founder, AlphabetPhotograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

We’ve got to be more ambitious. We’ve got to do things that matter more to people. We’ve got to do fewer things that are zero-sum games, more things that really cause a lot of benefit.”

Alphabet CEO Larry Page, on how a company’s sense of purpose can improve employee morale


A version of this article appears in the December 1, 2015 issue of Fortune with the headline “Where Disrupters Meet Aristocrats.”

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