Larry Fink’s Letter, WEF’s Business Risks, GE Split: CEO Daily for January 17, 2018
The letter BlackRock’s Larry Fink sent CEOs yesterday highlights themes familiar to CEO Daily readers. Here’s the key graph:
“We also see many governments failing to prepare for the future, on issues ranging from retirement and infrastructure to automation and worker retraining. As a result, society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
The irony, of course, is that many CEOs see the investor community as a key source of pressure to pursue short-term profit over all else—which often works against efforts to address social goals. Moreover, BlackRock’s heavy focus on index funds, which have to stay invested in the stocks in a given index, gives it less sway over companies than activists willing to dump a stock if their demands aren’t met.
Still, with $6.3 trillion under management, BlackRock’s call for companies to do a better job explaining not only their financial performance, but also the societal impact of their business, is a welcome one. Fink said the company is doubling the size of its “investment stewardship” team to engage with companies and boards on both strategy and purpose.
At Fortune, we’ve created the CEO Initiative for a similar reason—to help corporate leaders share best practices and develop common goals for addressing societal problems. The effort grew out of our meeting at the Vatican in 2016 and a follow-up in New York last September, and we will be gathering again in San Francisco June 25-26 this year. If you’d like to be a part of this effort, send me an email. We think it’s an important one.
More news below.
Ahead of its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week, the World Economic Forum has unveiled its Global Risk Report that lays out the greatest risks to business this year. Topping the list for American businesses? Inadequate protections against cyberattacks and potential environmental disasters stemming from climate change. Fortune
GE Headed for Splitsville?
GE CEO John Flannery on Tuesday said that the 125-year-old business is considering carving out its major divisions into separately traded units as it announced a $6.2 billion charge related to its insurance operations. A break-up for GE would spell a dramatic end for one of the U.S.’s oldest and largest conglomerates. Wall Street Journal
YouTube Turns to the Human Touch
Google’s YouTube has introduced another new approach in its on-going quest to please advertisers: human reviewers. The video streaming site says people soon will watch every second of the most popular videos eligible for advertising. It’s also tweaking the prerequisites for having a commercial channel. The changes come after brand backlash over ads running alongside offensive content. Reuters
Ferrero’s Super-Sweet Nestlé Deal
Swiss food group Nestlé on Tuesday announced the sale of its U.S. candy business—maker of BabyRuth, Butterfinger, and Crunch chocolate bars—to Italy’s family-owned Ferrero, best known for its Nutella spread. The $2.8 billion deal is the first big sale for Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider and points to Nestlé’s shift toward healthier products. For Ferrero, the acquisition is the latest in a string of deals doubling down on sugary snacks that’s come as its rivals retreat. Financial Times
Around the Water Cooler
Big Tech Break-Up?
The Wall Street Journal has tackled a huge question: Should the “monopolies” of Big Tech—Facebook, Google, Amazon—be broken up? The real test for antitrust regulators is whether tech giants’ size leaves consumers worse off. By that standard, WSJ concludes, “there isn’t a clear case for going after big tech—at least for now.” Wall Street Journal
Historically, the U.S. has had to do very little to attract foreign tourists and their money. But as more international travelers avoid America, 10 business associations, including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, are taking a more proactive approach, teaming up to reverse the U.S.’s growing unpopularity as a vacation destination. Bloomberg
Walmart, the fourth largest U.S. pharmacy operator, has introduced a tool to combat the nation’s raging opioid crisis—a packet that dissolves unused medication, making it easier to throw away. There are some startling stats behind the idea: 65% of opioid abusers get them from unwitting family and friends, and about one third of medications sold go unused, meaning they’re more readily available for abuse. Fortune
As governments around the world try to get a handle on cryptocurrency, France has appointed what Les Echos called a “Monsieur Bitcoin”—or Mr. Bitcoin—to develop a Gallic approach to the topic. It tapped Jean-Pierre Landau, a former Bank of France deputy governor, to lead a task force on cryptocurrency risks and, as Fortune‘s David Meyer writes, his stance on bitcoin is less than boosterish. Fortune