Skip to Content

CEO Daily: Friday, 10th March

Good morning.

How do you get on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list? It starts with heart, says Mike DeFrino, CEO of Kimpton Hotels. “We believe strongly that if our employees are loved and embraced and feel safe and secure, then they are going to treat our guests the same way.” Transparency is also important, says Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture North America. “Transparency leads to trust.” And listening to employees is critical, says Anthony McBride, who runs human resources at Edward Jones.

Those were some of the takeaways from our event last night celebrating the 20th edition of the list, which you can find here. One of the surprises of this year’s list was the appearance, for the first time, of Delta Airlines. If you spend much time traveling, you have to have wondered, as I have, whether there could be a worse job than having to explain flight cancellations to a crowd of angry travelers, or dealing with drunk passengers on a long flight. But it turns out Delta employees don’t just tolerate it, they love it. Part of the reason is a generous profit-sharing plan. Last month, the company handed out more than $1 billion in bonuses—which amounted to 10% of the company’s pretax earnings. You can read more about how Delta wins over its employees here.

Separately, two chieftains of the food world stopped by my office at separate times yesterday—Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld and Ingredion CEO Ilene Gordon. Both talked about how rapidly food tastes are changing, and how trends that started in the developed world—fresh, natural, non-GMO, gluten-free ingredients—are starting to spread to emerging markets as well. “The Internet is an equalizing force,” said Rosenfeld. “Ideas are moving far more rapidly from one part of the world to another.” Gordon agrees. Her company makes gluten-free and GMO-free ingredients and artificial sweeteners for food companies, and she says “the trends are accelerating.” When she became CEO of Ingredion eight years ago, high-fructose corn syrup accounted for 25% of the company’s sales; today it’s only 10%. (By the way, if you missed Beth Kowitt’s story on the search for the perfect sweetener, you should read it now, here.)

News below. Enjoy the weekend. And at some point, take time to read Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter’s fascinating and fresh take on why the U.S. political system is broken.

Alan Murray

Top News

Bonds Finally Wake up to the Rate Threat

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to confirm a robust improvement in the job market at the start of the year, with a rise of some 190,000 non-farm jobs in February. The risk is to the upside after a thumping beat from the ADP private hiring survey on Wednesday. Barring a surprise shortfall, or an equally surprising softness in earnings, the report is expected to set the seal on an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve next week. The bond market woke up from its slumbers yesterday, with yields rising sharply across the board to their highest since mid-December, while the 2-year hit 1.38%, its highest  since November 2008.  Fortune

Clashes After Korea Confirms Park’s Impeachment

Korea’s Supreme Court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, triggering street clashes between her supporters and opponents in which at least two people died. As with Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, the impeachment shows how popular tolerance of corruption since the Great Recession has fallen. The main question now is whether Korea will emulate Brazil in jailing its most powerful businessman, too. While the details of the cases of Marcelo Odebrecht and Samsung’s Lee Jae-yong differ, both cases reflect the fact that the bribing of officials is invariably a two-sided process. The heads of Korea’s chaebols have generally avoided jail time in the past, being able to convince judges of their status as systemically important individuals. Lee, facing charges now indirectly validated by today’s court ruling, may not be as lucky as previous generations of business leaders.  Fortune

Hancock Runs Out of Road at AIG

AIG CEO Peter Hancock resigned, succumbing to pressure from shareholders unimpressed by his turnaround plan. He leaves less than a month after the company posted a $3 billion loss due to an unexpected charge related to a unit that Hancock had led in the past. That ensured the company missed the financial targets the board had set him for 2016. Hancock will stay on while AIG looks for a successor. Activist investor and presidential advisor Carl Icahn, who had called for Hancock’s head back in 2015, said he fully supported the actions taken by AIG’s board. Fortune

The Glut Ain’t Over

Crude oil prices settled below $50 a barrel for the first time since December as data showing record high U.S. inventories revived fears that the market is taking longer than thought to rebalance. A big industry conference in Texas this week has also stirred fears that the rebound in shale production may test Saudi Arabia’s patience and cause it to change its mind about supporting prices with artificial output restraint. The current agreement between OPEC and other big producers is due to expire in June. A fall in prices had been almost pre-programmed due to extremely long speculative positioning by hedge funds, who hurriedly pared their exposures yesterday. Prices are off yesterday’s lows this morning. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

The ECB Turns a Corner, the Euro Will Follow

Despite a week of disappointing data from Germany and France, the tide is slowly turning in Europe too. Mario Draghi subtly shifted the ECB’s guidance at yesterday’s press conference to play down the prospect of any further stimulus and leave open the chance of a rise in interest rates before the end of 2018. The markets are pricing in action well before then, so something will have to give in the coming months. With mainstream, centrist governments still the likeliest outcomes of Dutch, French and German elections, the odds are that the ECB will get more hawkish with every political risk that disappears. Any further dollar advances against the euro will become harder, accordingly. Fortune

AirBnB Tops up Its Warchest

AirBnB completed a $1 billion funding round that valued it at $31 billion. A Reuters source said the company posted a profit before interest, taxes, and depreciation in the fourth quarter and expects to do so again this year (although no indication of net profit was forthcoming). With cash flow improving, the latest capital raising appears aimed as much at funding acquisitions as anything else. Last month alone, it bought high-end rental company Luxury Retreats for a reported $300 million and also finalized a deal to buy payments startup Tilt. Fortune

Connecting You Now, Mr. Stephenson

The Federal Communications Commission confirmed it is investigating the outage on AT&T’s network that prevented some 911 calls on Wednesday. AT&T said it was still investigating the cause of the outage, but a Reuters source said that a software error had been responsible. “Every call to 911 must go through,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, after a call with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. The FCC fined T-Mobile $17.5 million for two separate but related outages in 2015, the last comparable incident. There was more bad news for AT&T (and other carriers) Thursday as T-Mobile ratcheted up the competition for customers, saying it would allow users on its unlimited data plan to use 7% more data before hitting them with slower download times. Fortune

Water’s Advance is Soda Pressing

Time for a celebration! Crack open the…mineral water. According to data from the consultants at Beverage Marketing Corp., Americans drank more bottled water than carbonated soft drinks last year—39.3 gallons of water compared to 38.5 gallons of soda. The milestone was passed after several U.S. cities voted for a soda tax in November, against a background of growing concerns about the health impact of sugary drinks. Soda consumption has now fallen over 20% on a per capita basis from a peak of over 50 gallons a year around the turn of the millennium.   Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;