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Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year is out this morning, and before I spoil the surprise, let me just say this is much more than a popularity contest. Fortune data editor Scott DeCarlo does a multi-year screen of all public companies to see who the top contenders are, and then lets the editors weigh in on their business impact.
And now, drum roll please, this year’s winner is: Satya Nadella, who has engineered an amazing turnaround at Microsoft that has left us all in awe. To see the others on the list…including the woman who nabbed the number 2 spot…go here.
Meanwhile, I’m in Paris at the Fortune Global Forum, where I said yesterday that there hasn’t been a time in my four decades as a journalist when the world of business seemed so on the cusp of such great promise and such great peril…at the same time. New technologies are allowing companies to completely remake their business models…or face being disrupted by others. Employees, customers, and investors are demanding that companies rethink their very purpose in society…or risk losing their operating licenses.
There’s a sea of uncertainty out there, with enormous opportunities and enormous risks waiting on the far shore. And that has framed the rich discussions at this week’s forum.
The first three CEOs on the stage focused on the opportunity:
- Novartis’ Vas Narasimhan said we are on the edge of using machine learning to take on “some of our greatest challenges, like cancer, genetic diseases, and hopefully Alzheimer’s.” He said he expected CRISPR gene-editing technology would enable us “to cure a whole range of [genetically-based] diseases….it’s just a matter of time.”
- UPS’s David Abney said his company had received the first FAA license to experiment with drone delivery, which he predicted will become a reality, in certain controlled situations, within the next year. “Time is just not going to be the factor that it has been over the years. Things that used to take weeks, it has now become days, and it will become hours.”
- Huawei’s Ken Hu played to the local audience by saying that 5G will lead to better wine: “The French people will be able to use A.I. and and satellite imagery to help them decide which grapes are ready for harvesting.”
But McKinsey CEO Kevin Sneader and Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel focused on the challenge to both jobs and incomes in the future. “The transition is very concerning,” Sneader said. “Like every industrial revolution, you can paint a picture that there will be more jobs. The issue is the transition…The real challenge is how do you reskill at scale in a way that realizes that some people are going to have to do things very differently.”
And former Unilever CEO Paul Polman warned the crowd about the need for businesses to have the “moral courage” to take dramatic action to address the two existential challenges of our time—climate change and rising inequality.
You can read more comprehensive coverage of the forum here. But let me pass on three more tidbits here:
- Accenture CEO Julie Sweet said she has a sign hanging in her home that says: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
- Dassault Systems CEO Bernard Charlès, talking about how AI is needed to make biomedicine development more efficient, said: “If airplanes were done this way, a company would do 100 airplanes, throw them up in the air, see which flies, and say ‘this is the one I am going to produce.’”
- GE Healthcare CEO Kieran Murphy, asked about the possibility of a spin out for his company, said: “At some point—we don’t have a timetable—we will probably emerge from under GE. We are big enough to stand on our own two feet.”
Apologies for the longer-than-usual note. More news below.
American Express is paying companies tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to accept its cards, in a bid to catch up with Visa and Mastercard in the acceptance stakes. AmEx investors have been pressing the firm to close the gap, and the payments show its difficulties in doing so. Wall Street Journal
President Trump has said he will "strongly consider" testifying in the impeachment proceedings against him. Democrats doubt he will, though. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said at the Fortune Global Forum in Paris yesterday that the U.S. does have "Ukraine's back" in its struggle against Russia—the alleged withholding of military aid to Ukraine is of course at the center of the impeachment probe. Reuters
KPMG has withdrawn its sponsorship for an entrepreneurial mentorship scheme that is fronted by Prince Andrew. The move came after a disastrous interview in which the prince (largely unsuccessfully) sought to defend himself over his association with the late pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein. AstraZeneca is also reviewing its sponsorship of the program. Guardian
The U.K. Conservative Party was, as reported yesterday, going to promise corporate tax cuts after the upcoming election. But then it did a last-minute u-turn, shelving the plans in order to maintain plausible pledges on public spending increases. The business lobby said it was fine with the decision as long as growth was promoted and companies' costs were somehow lowered. Financial Times
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
European airlines are feeling pressure from "flight shame," Air France CEO Anne Rigail said at the Fortune Global Forum in Paris yesterday. Rigail said the phenomenon—where passengers shun air travel because of the carbon emissions—isn't so strongly felt in Asia and the U.S. But that said, Booking.com chair Gillian Tans is reported to have said Chinese tourists are increasingly looking for more sustainable travel options too. Fortune
Tata Steel has announced up to 3,000 imminent job cuts in Europe. The company says most of the departing roles will be office-based and no plants will be closed. European CEO Henrik Adam: "We plan to change how we work together to enable better cooperation and faster decision-making. This will help us become self-sustaining and cash positive in the face of unprecedented severe market conditions, enabling us to lead the way towards a carbon-neutral future." BBC
UPS CEO David Abney said yesterday at the Fortune Global Forum in Paris that the logistics giant won't need to shed jobs due to its increasing use of automation—as long as the company keeps growing. The issue has caused friction between management and drivers' unions before. Fortune
TikTok chief Alex Zhu says he would reject a personal request from Xi Jinping to hand over user data or take down a video. The Chinese-made short-video app has been the subject of U.S. lawmakers' skepticism due to its provenance, though it says it stores U.S. data locally with backups in Singapore. TikTok is also looking to branch out into more markets. South China Morning Post
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.
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