LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May gives a speech in response to the Augar Review into post-18 education on May 30, 2019 in central London, England. (Photo by Daniel Leal- Olivas - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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By Alan Murray and David Meyer
June 4, 2019

Good morning from London.

I sat in on a fascinating behind-closed-doors conversation yesterday, at the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit, with 25 women who sit on the boards of some of the largest companies in Europe. They had agreed in advance not to focus on Brexit, because the conversation on that topic has become so circular. But try as they might, they kept coming back to it, with general agreement that the prolonged uncertainty is having a serious impact on their businesses. In the end, though, they felt the U.K. would muddle through, and the crisis would pass.

But what won’t pass so easily are the social divisions that underlie the crisis, which are driving political dysfunction not only in the U.K., but also in the U.S., France and elsewhere. While I can’t quote any participants by name (the boardroom session is called “confidential” for a reason,) I can tell you that they agree that companies urgently have to address these issues. One of the board members talked about the danger they would lose their “license to operate”—by which she meant public support. Companies and boards can no longer focus primarily on just serving shareholders, without running the risk of fomenting social disruption that could cause them serious harm.

Can board members take the lead in pushing companies to directly address social problems? One director said probably not. The leadership needs to come from the CEO. But if it is not, it may be time to get a new CEO.

First up on the MPW main stage yesterday was Cressida Dick, commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, who stopped by our event before heading off to oversee security at the state dinner for Donald Trump at Buckingham Palace. I asked Dick about San Francisco’s decision to ban the use of facial recognition in law enforcement. Her response was animated: “Facial recognition—properly overseen, properly regulated, properly circumscribed—is probably something our public would want us to be doing. Live facial recognition can be very useful.” She added that “the bad guys are adopting new technologies very rapidly;” law enforcement needs to do the same.

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

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