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Fortune’s Most Memorable Interviews This Decade

December 3, 2019, 9:15 PM UTC

Since 1930, Fortune journalists have interviewed influencers from every corner of the business world. The access we get to ask questions—especially when anyone can share his or her unchecked thoughts via social media—is part of what makes our work valuable. These conversations are the heart of what we do, and they run the spectrum: Some are candid and insightful; some are contentious and pressing. As we prepare to enter into our 10th decade of reporting, we’re sharing a few of our most memorable interviews from the past 10 years.


Indra Nooyi—Sept. 21, 2017

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi's exit in October will leave behind only 24 female Fortune 500 Ceos.
Photograph by Spencer Heyfron

PepsiCo’s CEO Opens Up About Trump, Amazon, and That Kendall Jenner Ad
In my 10-plus years at Fortune, I’ve interviewed a lot of executives. But I’ve never spoken to one as candid as former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. My most in-depth interview with her took place for our Most Powerful Women in Business issue in 2017. Her honesty as she grappled with a volatile political environment and her own decisions as a working mom was incredibly refreshing. —Beth Kowitt, Senior Editor

Adam Neumann—July 11, 2016

Adam-Neumann-Fortune-Brainstorm-Tech-2016
Photograph by STUART ISETT for Fortune Brainstorm TECH

Onstage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen
Angry that Fortune had earlier named WeWork one of three unicorn startups to bet against, he articulated his case, then challenged me onstage at a Fortune event to change my mind in front of the audience. (I refused.) —Andrew Nusca, Digital Editor

Kamik Chin, Luz Arellano and James Brown III—Dec. 20, 2018

Photograph by Andre Wagner for Fortune

The Shrinking Middle Class: Tales From New York City
This is a series of three interviews for a photo essay, a collaboration with photographer Andre Wagner. It appeared in Fortune’s Shrinking Middle Class issue, which to me was one of the most memorable Fortune issues in a long time because it goes outside of Fortune’s typical realm of big business—while still emphasizing economics and industry. These interviews candidly peeked inside the lives of everyday, struggling New Yorkers, brought to life with the help of Andre’s beautiful photography. It’s a story that I think many people were surprised, but grateful, to see featured in Fortune magazine, and I think for that reason it really stands out. —Aric Jenkins, Staff Writer

Hunter Harrison—June 30, 2017

Photograph by Melissa Golden for Fortune

Investors Are Wagering $12 Billion on This 72-Year-Old Railroad Savior
I’ve interviewed everyone from fugitive Marc Rich to Donald Trump during his early-’90s comeback phase (“I hated your recent story on me,” Trump wrote to me when the story appeared), but this encounter ranked near the top as a blend of raucous entertainment and an up-close view of an authentic legend. On the Friday before the July 4 weekend in 2017, I interviewed septuagenarian railroader Hunter Harrison at his mansion in an exclusive golf course community in West Palm Beach. Months before, Harrison had retired following a spectacularly successful run saving Canadian Pacific, and parachuted into the top job at CSX; the announcement alone added several billion dollars to CSX’s market cap overnight. Harrison, resplendent in an electric-red jumpsuit, held forth for three hours, recounting his teenage days splashing in Elvis Presley’s pool in his native Memphis; his apprenticeship in a control tower fueled by coffee, cigarettes, and Tums; and his occasional battles with his Canadian Pacific backer Bill Ackman, when “Ackman’s Harvard-ness was oozing out of his pores.” During the entire interview, Harrison breathed through tubes attached to an oxygen tank, explaining that though he needed a little respiratory help, he was fully capable of upending CSX’s traditional approach to running a railroad with his daring, disruptive strategy of point-to-point delivery. Disrupt he did, and CSX prospered. Just six months later, Hunter Harrison died suddenly, and the business world lost one of its great characters, and great visionaries. —Shawn Tully, Senior Writer

Pony Ma—Dec. 6, 2017

Pony-Ma-Fortune-Global-Forum-2017
Photograph by Vivek Prakash for Fortune

Onstage at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou
I interviewed Pony Ma, co-founder and CEO of the Chinese gaming and Internet giant Tencent, at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou. Ma rarely gives interviews, and I had good reason to believe mine, in front of an audience of Western and Chinese CEOs, would not go well. In a pre-conference meeting he was reserved, giving one-word answers to my questions. Onstage, however, Ma lit up. Speaking to me through simultaneous translation, the CEO was the opposite of reserved. He criticized competitor Alibaba (whose founder, Jack Ma, isn’t related to Pony Ma), for behaving like a miserly landlord and spoke expansively about how widespread the use of Tencent’s WeChat service has become. What might have been an awkward, cross-cultural conversation turned into an illuminating and entertaining onstage interview. —Adam Lashinsky, Executive Editor

John Legere—Feb. 15, 2018

CEO John Legere on his Segway at a staff event at T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Wash., headquarters.
Photograph by Ian Allen for Fortune

Inside T-Mobile’s Big, Brash Comeback
I had seen T-Mobile CEO John Legere in action for years before I scored a long, sit-down interview with him in his office for a feature story on the company. Sharp and funny in public, he was even more energetic and passionate, as well as occasionally profane, in private. But the highlight of the interview was when he picked up a talking “corporate yes-man” doll from his desk and had it start saying things to a voice-activated Furby Chewbacca doll. As the two toys got stuck in some kind of crazed feedback loop, Legere struggled to turn them off. “This is so typical,” he said to me and then finally got one turned off. There was no trick to it, no man behind the mask. He was the same zany, slightly wacky guy all the time. —Aaron Pressman, Technology Reporter

Anita Hill—Oct. 2, 2018

Anita Hill-Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit 2018
Photograph by Fortune Most Powerful Women

Onstage at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
The interview happened just days after Dr. Ford’s testimony at the Kavanaugh hearings, which so eerily mimicked Prof. Hill’s testimony 27 years earlier. Also one of the most powerful standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed. —Kristen Bellstrom, Features Editor

Jack Dorsey—Sept. 19, 2013

<a href="https://fortune.com/company/twitter" target="_blank">Twitter</a> Goes Public On The New York Stock Exchange
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The Pride of St. Louis
On the eve of Twitter’s IPO (fall of 2013), I flew to St. Louis to interview Jack Dorsey in his hometown. It is always fascinating and telling to watch and interview a subject in an environment that’s more natural than an office, especially when it’s one where they are surrounded by their family. I will always remember meeting Dorsey’s uncle and his parents, who were visibly proud and excited to have their prodigal son home, and to see the reception Dorsey received in St. Louis. This was back before we realized what Twitter would become—the role it now plays in politics and media, for better or worse. I also remember Dorsey telling me he would be heading to Marfa, Texas, after his trip to his hometown, in order to pick up a pair of snakeskin boots he had ordered the year before. —Michal Lev-Ram, Technology Reporter

Elizabeth Holmes—Nov. 2, 2015

Elizabeth-Holmes-Fortune-Global-Forum-2015
Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune Global Forum

Onstage at Fortune’s Global Forum conference in San Francisco
By the time Elizabeth Holmes and I sat down on the stage in San Francisco, she was under full-scale attack from the Wall Street Journal. But she was still in denial, somehow convincing herself that the extremely well-documented attack was unfair. When I showed the video from her TED Talk, where she fraudulently suggested she could do comprehensive testing from a single finger prick of blood, she got angry. I consider this interview a case study in serious pathology. —Alan Murray, President and CEO

Steve Schwarzman—Sept. 17, 2019

Steve Schwarzman Maps an Arc From Mowing Lawns To Advising Trump
David ‘Dee’ Delgado—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman on Hong Kong’s Unrest, the Rise of Bitcoin, and Fundraising as an “Out-of-Body Experience”
It was important because it’s a wide-ranging conversation about Blackstone’s dealings in China, the ethical challenges surrounding artificial intelligence, the rise of cryptocurrencies, and whether he sees a looming recession on the horizon. Schwarzman is also poised to step away from Blackstone and hand the reins to his successor, Jon Gray. —Polina Marinova, Term Sheet Writer

Kenneth Feinberg—July 1, 2019

Jesse Rogala | Fortune

Putting a Price on Suffering
I interviewed Feinberg for the production of my feature video on the Larry Nassar scandal. Feinberg has been the go-to adjudicator/mediator for every major victims settlement won from the U.S. government, starting with Agent Orange and including, but not limited to, 9/11, the 2009 recession, and the BP oil spill. —Jesse Rogala, Video Producer

Satya Nadella—July 27, 2019

Satya-Nadella
Ted S. Warren—AP

Satya Nadella Cheated at Civilization. Now He Wants to Conquer Cloud Gaming: A Q&A With Microsoft’s CEO
This was a very wide-ranging interview that covered Nadella’s interest in growing Microsoft’s gaming business, which he said is core to the overall company, contrary to what many analysts used to think. I thought it was interesting because he was revealing to us the changing strategy of the gaming business, and how he came to the decision to make it a core focus that feeds into Microsoft’s overall cloud strategy. In the interview, he discusses his ambitions to make Microsoft a giant consumer tech company, which most observers tend to overlook as they view the company as enterprise-focused. I also enjoyed doing the interview because it was different from all the many “turnaround interviews” Nadella has done in the past few years, and it was an opportunity to ask him questions he’s never been asked. I also got him to admit he cheated in the video game Civilization, which I found very funny. It shows a playful side of his personality that doesn’t typically come through in Nadella-related stories. —Jonathan Vanian, Technology Reporter

Hikmet Ersek—June 19, 2019

Hikmet-Ersek-Fortune-Brainstorm-Finance-2019
Photograph by Rebecca Greenfield for Fortune

Onstage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Finance conference in Montauk, N.Y.
I interviewed Ersek a day after Facebook announced Libra, the social network’s wildly ambitious digital payments plan. Western Union’s share price had plunged on the news—becoming one of the worst performers on the S&P 500 index. I asked Ersek how he planned to face off with Libra—and cryptocurrencies, generally—which advocates and optimists say will reduce remittance fees to near-zero, and thereby pose a potentially existential threat to his money transfer business. (I noted that Western Union missed out on another important technological revolution when it neglected to purchase Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patents in the 19th century.) Ersek replied that he believes in the future of blockchain tech for payments processing: “Western Union definitely won’t miss [out],” he said. But referring to Libra, Ersek presciently called into question the longevity of a currency “which is overruling the central bank currency.” Since then regulators, perceiving a threat to monetary sovereignty, have heaped substantial doubt on Libra’s fate. —Robert Hackett, Senior Writer

Marvin Ellison—Feb. 24, 2016

JCP store, JCP CEO, Marvin Ellison
Nancy Newberry for Fortune

The CEO Who’s Reinventing J.C. Penney
Former J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison spoke movingly of his upbringing in Brownsville, Tenn., a poor two-stoplight town between Memphis and Nashville that was segregated well into the 1980s. He described how his father at one point worked three jobs at once, too proud to take government assistance. The Ellison family, which performed as a gospel act, would shop twice a year at J.C. Penney, something Ellison said made him deeply understand lower-income shoppers. —Phil Wahba, Senior Writer

Steve Cohen—Oct. 20, 2016

Photograph by Gillian Laub for Fortune

Inside Billionaire Steve Cohen’s Comeback
It was the first interview Steve Cohen did with anyone since his infamous insider-trading scandal, which shut down his hedge fund three years earlier. —Jen Wieczner, Senior Writer

Charles Schumer—Feb. 1, 2016

Sen. Charles E. Schumer Teams Up With Comedian Cousin Amy to Make Gun Laws Safer
It was refreshing to hear the powerful Democratic leader speak about local New York issues like broadband, and also to hear him talk about his work on gun control with celebrity actress cousin Amy Schumer. —Jeff Roberts, Senior Writer

Playlist: Watch some of the most memorable interviews from this decade

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