A customer pays for vegetables with his mobile phone at a stall in Qingdao, China. Mobile payments are rapidly replacing cash in China.
STR AFP/Getty Images
By Adam Lashinsky and Jeff John Roberts
June 12, 2019
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News flash: Capitalism is in trouble and CEOs get it. Sort of.

The annual meeting of Fortune’s CEO Initiative, a gathering of leaders who want their companies to be a positive force in the world, concluded Tuesday in New York City. CEOs generally are aware there’s a problem. Their companies don’t create enough jobs, their employees don’t have the right skills, the technology that made business so efficient is alienating its users, and there’s no consensus on how to make commerce more transparent and trustworthy.

These are the broad strokes of an exhausting and exhilarating day-plus of conversations among well-meaning business leaders, more or less aware of their problems and more rather than less interested in fixing them.

I moderated three plenary sessions Tuesday:

Raghuram Rajan, a University of Chicago economist, posits that a bottoms-up focus on community can right the imbalance that’s been created in the developed world from too much emphasis on centralized government and markets. (Watch our interview here.)

A “town hall” format lunch discussion surfaced few executives willing to own up to capitalism’s breach of trust with its less-well-off members. (Exceptions: Investor Tim Collins, who thinks another wave of political change is the answer, and Allstate CEO Tom Wilson, who suggests companies should publicly quantify their commitment to job creation.)

Journalist David Brooks earned a quiet-enough-to-hear-a-pin-drop reception and a standing ovation for his passionate paean to a life of meaning, which he dubs the “second mountain.” Brooks contends there are “first mountain” people and companies, those reaching hard for the brass ring and trying to win at any cost, and their second-mountain counterparts, those trying to be moral, good, and fulfilled, even at the expense of maximizing profits.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam.lashinsky@fortune.com

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