By Alan Murray and David Meyer
June 12, 2019

Good morning,

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says he didn’t set out to be an activist CEO. “I got labeled an activist CEO. This is not me. It’s not about me,” Benioff told members of Fortune’s CEO Initiative yesterday. “I got pushed by my employees into it. My job as CEO is to listen deeply to my employees and customers and to respond to them.”

My guess, knowing Benioff, is that his role wasn’t quite so passive. But whatever the reason, the Salesforce CEO moved into the vanguard of CEO activism in 2015, when he took a strong stance against Indiana’s “religious liberties” law, viewed as sanctioning discrimination against gays. Last year, he angered other tech CEOs with a strong stance supporting a new tax to combat homelessness.

Benioff’s example is being followed. Numerous CEOs at the Initiative said they feel compelled to speak out on certain social issues, in part because of demands from their employees. During one breakout session, more than half the CEOs present said the job of “Chief Reputation Officer”–defined as articulating and defending the values of the firm–takes up more than half their work hours. That’s certainly a change from decades past.

Also at yesterday’s meeting, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat described the process his bank is taking to close a 29% pay gap between men and women. The first step, he said, was to ensure equal pay for equal work. The bigger step was to commit to promoting enough women to eliminate the remaining gap. He is aiming for 40% women at the assistant vice president level at the end of next year.

“I’m 36 years at our company, and I’ve sat around the table with a bunch of, politely put, middle-aged white men and had groupthink,” Corbat told the group. “Part of what we’ve talked about is this necessity to start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

Other CEOs who participated in the day’s lively discussions on rethinking business’s role in society included Allstate’s Tom Wilson, EY’s Mark Weinberger, AB InBev’s Carlos Brito, Synchrony’s Margaret Keane and Hyatt’s Mark Hoplamazian.

More news below. And apologies to Anand Giridharadas for misspelling his name yesterday.

Alan Murray


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