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CEO Daily: Thursday, March 24

Fortune’s annual list of the World’s Greatest Leaders is out this morning, and you can read it here. You’ll see it includes none of the current candidates for President. That’s not an accident. The U.S. political system is broken, and we see little reason to think the current contenders can fix it.

Start with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It’s stunning that, well into the 21st century, the two candidates generating the most enthusiasm are throwbacks to the 20th. One is channeling a fascist strongman, the other running as a self-styled socialist. Neither has the vision or skills to take us into the future, but both have tapped into the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the recent past. The failures of government since the financial crisis have handed supporters of these candidates their strongest talking point: Could it get any worse?

Hillary Clinton talks about building bridges instead of walls and built a record of bipartisan cooperation in her post–First Lady life as a senator and secretary of state. But by mimicking her primary opponent – and opposing the trade agreement she once championed – she has alienated even those business leaders who once supported her. Then there’s Ted Cruz, who celebrates, even as he exacerbates, Washington’s dysfunction.

The good news is that Fortune’s search for great leaders was not in vain. Even in Washington, we found some—including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While unyielding in their competing worldviews, they each have that key quality of empathy essential for today’s challenges. From the business world, we’ve included Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who recognizes that the current political climate also demands a different kind of business leadership.

Top of the list? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. His company got pummeled in a New York Times story last year depicting Amazon as a sort of high-tech sweat-shop, where the pressure caused workers to break down at their desks in tears. But leadership comes in various flavors, and the Bezos strain is yielding world-changing results.

Also today, Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, has a worthy suggestion for how Hillary Clinton could remake herself a real leader. Read it here. More news below.


Alan Murray

Top News

Starboard wants to unseat Yahoo board

Hedge fund Starboard Value LP is seeking to remove the entire board of Yahoo, setting the stage for a battle over the future of the faded Web giant. The activist investor plans to announce on Thursday it will nominate nine directors to Yahoo’s board, The Wall Street Journal has reported, a move that makes good on a threat it made this year to attempt to shake up the board if it felt the company wasn’t making changes fast enough. The move adds pressure to Yahoo and Chief Executive Marissa Mayer as they attempt to turn around or sell the beleaguered company. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

San Francisco may point to tech slowdown

San Francisco’s commercial real estate market may be foretelling a slowdown in the city’s heated technology-driven economy as office subleasing, an early indicator of past downturns, is at the highest level since 2010. The amount of available space from subleases in the city jumped to 1.9 million square feet last month, a 46% increase from the end of the third quarter, according to a report. Bloomberg reports the five-year frenzy for San Francisco office space may be cooling as venture-capital investments decline and tech firms slow their hiring from a breakneck pace. Bloomberg

Ackman’s hedge fund down 25% in 2016

The billionaire investor’s firm revealed on Wednesday that in just the first 11 weeks of 2016 the publicly held portion of his fund, which is traded in Amsterdam, has tumbled 25.2%. The huge losses, which amount to billions of dollars, are also causing the normally outspoken investor to retreat from the public a bit. On Wednesday, it was also reported that Ackman plans to skip the annual Sohn Investment Conference in May, where he was been a regular speaker for years. Much of the losses in the Pershing Square Holdings portfolio stem from his bet on Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a drug company that has seen shares fall since the middle of last year on allegations of account fraud and price gouging. Fortune

Amazon achieves gender pay equality, under pressure from an activist shareholder to disclose its policies on gender pay equality, said on Wednesday its female employees earned as much as their male counterparts, according to a survey it recently conducted. The disclosure comes as U.S. companies face criticism on the issue of pay equality, especially in the male-dominated technology sector. The online retailer disclosed the results of its study after pressure from Arjuna Capital, the activist arm of investment firm Baldwin Brothers, which has been pushing it to report the difference between men’s and women’s pay and the company’s plans to close any gap. Reuters

Around the Water Cooler

Musk’s hyperloop idea moves forward

Hyperloop Technologies’ futuristic high-speed transportation system is one step closer to becoming reality, as the company applied this week for nearly $9.2 million in tax incentives to create a testing facility just north of Las Vegas, local media has reported. The state is expected to grant the tax incentives after a meeting is held with the governor’s Office of Economic Development. Hyperloop will reportedly build a 20,000-square-foot facility in addition to a two-mile long test track to demonstrate that its sci-fi technology is workable. The idea of hyperloops were surfaced by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, as he floated the idea of creating a system that would create an entirely new form of transportation. Fortune

Toyota reveals new Prius

Toyota has introduced another version of the Japanese auto maker’s iconic hybrid, a vehicle it is calling the Prius Prime. Revealed at the New York International Auto Show, the new Prius is a glammed up, more efficient plug-in version of its predecessor. “With the Prius Prime’s 22 miles of electric range, over 50% of Americans could get to work and back home, without using a drop of gas,” touted Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of Toyota’s U.S-based division, during the vehicle’s debut at the New York Auto Show. The car is also loaded with a suite of apps and sports energy-conserving quad LED headlights. Fortune

Starbucks CEO weighs in on election

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz gave an impassioned plea for civility in the run up to the November presidential election, calling it a critical test of Americans’ morality. Schultz told an an annual meeting of Starbucks shareholders on Wednesday that he feels enormous pain at the harsh and coarse tenor of political discourse and growing cynicism among the electorate. And though he stopped short of naming names, or saying who he supported, he made it clear he felt that the tone of the current presidential primary races was unworthy of America. Fortune

Blackstone vet planning huge blank-check IPO

Chinh Chu, a veteran dealmaker who ended a 25-year career at Blackstone Group last year, is preparing to launch an acquisition company that could raise up to $1 billion in a U.S. initial public offering, Reuters has reported. If successful, the offering would be the largest for a blank-check company – a firm that has no assets but raises money in an IPO, which can be used, often alongside debt, to buy other companies. While U.S. IPO volumes are down 93% year-to-date, for acquisition companies like the one Chu is planning, volume is up 26% over the same period. Reuters