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The CEO’s Job Is Tougher Than Ever

November 18, 2019, 2:21 PM UTC

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The 2019 Fortune Global Forum convenes this morning in Paris. It is a paradoxically challenging time for businesses and their chief executive officers, the prime movers of this gathering.

In the U.S., at least, the economy is strong. Its technology industry is globally dominant and facilitating useful (and fun) advances unimaginable even half a generation ago. Unemployment is epically low.

Yet the rest of the world’s economy is slowing, notably Germany’s and China’s. And even in the States, as Geoff Colvin writes in his compelling new feature in Fortune, President Trump is not nearly as good for business as most in corporate life believe—or as the president and his supporters frequently tout. Colvin argues persuasively that Trump’s inconsistent, deficit-growing, and trade-disrupting ways portend poorly for the U.S. economy.

CEOs have a tougher job than ever. On the one hand, they are easy targets as poster children for global income inequality, what with their princely pay packages that are many multiples of their own workers, to say nothing of their fellow citizens. At the same time, they have uniquely formidable political and commercial power to address the world’s problems, a mantle they are cautiously embracing.

Plenty of the CEOs (and other leaders without the title) who’ll speak at the forum have full plates. Alex Gorsky’s Johnson & Johnson is contending with reputation-damaging lawsuits. Kevin Sneader’s McKinsey & Co. has been stepping in it around the world and continues to fight a brand-damaging battle in the U.S. over its bankruptcy business. Ken Hu’s Huawei is a corporate proxy for U.S.-China trade tension. They and many others have ample opportunity to chew over the state of play. Paul Polman, who ran Unilever, thinks CEOs have a unique role in reimagining capitalism, for instance.

My own interview slate is full, including Huawei’s Hu; Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard professor who put the pernicious phrase “surveillance capitalism” into our lexicon; and a trio of European regulators responsible for containing the influence of America’s tech behemoths.

Meanwhile, the scrutiny of business is edging into pop culture. Last week I saw the rhapsodically reviewed new film Ford v. Ferrari, a fun and beautiful movie whose chief villains are the 1960s stuffed-suit executives of Ford Motor, which is undergoing a tough contemporary transformation of its own. (Fortune has the inside track on Ford’s electrified update of its most iconic car, the Mustang.)

Watch for complete coverage of the Fortune Global Forum. And, if the time zone suits you, the entire event is being livestreamed.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


The whole shebang. The Supreme Court will hear a case pitting Google against Oracle with absolutely staggering ramifications for the tech industry. The justices will consider whether application programming interfaces, or the software triggers that make a program work but also allow for inter-compatibility, are covered by copyright law, as an appeals court ruled.

Back to basics. After messing up on a wide range of investments in the United States, including Uber and WeWork, SoftBank Group chairman Masayoshi Son has turned his focus to Japan. In an $11.5 billion deal, SoftBank is buying messaging service Line and combining it with Yahoo Japan, which it already owns.

No soup for you. Despite what some people say, the streaming world is not going to become the cable bundle all over again. On Friday, Disney-controlled Hulu raised the price–again–of its package of online channels. It's up to $55 a month from $45, and it was only $40 back in January.

Thanks, but no thanks. The board of HP rejected Xerox's initial bid for a merger but said it was open to further talks. “We remain ready to engage with you to better understand your business and any value to be created from a combination," CEO Enrique Lores and chairman Chip Bergh wrote in a letter released on Sunday.

Non-shocker of the year. Nearly 80% of U.S. adults are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about how companies use their digital data, the Pew Research Center said on Friday. And 81% of adults say they have little or no control over the data companies collect.


The Global Positioning Satellite system is surely one of the modern wonders of the world, making all kinds of journeys safer and more efficient (and letting us track our runs and bike rides with insane precision).

But something weird and unsettling is happening to the GPS systems of ships navigating in the port of Shanghai. Mark Harris at Technology Review delves into the mystery of a GPS weapon that doesn't jam the system but sends out false readings that appear real. Todd Humphreys, director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, is one expert on the case.

Humphreys examined the data, but the closer he looked, the more confused he became. “To be able to spoof multiple ships simultaneously into a circle is extraordinary technology. It looks like magic,” he said. In September, Humphreys showed a visualization of the data at the world’s largest conference of satellite navigation technology, ION GNSS+ in Florida. “People were slack-jawed when I showed them this pattern of spoofing,” he said. “They started to call it crop circles.”


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A couple of years ago, my wife and I shrunk down the contents of our closets, book shelves, file drawers, and a few other nooks and crannies. Yes, we were among the Marie Kondo followers seeking to tidy up and simplify our lives by shedding possessions that didn't "spark joy." Now Kondo is returning to the scene with a kind of strange play given her brand. It's an e-commerce shop stocked only with items that give Kondo joy, such as a Japanese clay pot called a donabe. Then again, Kondo has some on-brand advice: "I know it's an odd thing for a founder to say, but I know they're lovely products, but don't overbuy! Tidy first, and then consider the products."

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman


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