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What CEOs are learning from the COVID-19 crisis

April 1, 2020, 10:07 AM UTC

Good morning.

About 40 chief executives who are members of Fortune’s CEO Initiative gathered virtually yesterday for a discussion of how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting was under the Chatham House Rule, so I can’t quote particular participants. But the big takeaway for me was the degree to which this crisis is provoking business innovation. The general sense of the group was not just that we won’t return to normal soon, but that we won’t return to the old normal ever. Some general takeaways:

—Companies that previously had been slow to adopt to digital transformation now find themselves on a “burning platform.”

—The need for community is more important than ever, but the crisis is inspiring new digital methods for nurturing community that won’t go away.

—Responding to a crisis is “not about perfection,” which permits more innovation.

—“Work from home” rules have given everyone a better sense of the challenges working mothers face, and will spark progress in addressing those challenges in the future.

Two bits of wisdom for navigating the path ahead: Every organization should think about “what do we want to be when we come out?” And the emergence from crisis shouldn’t be thought of as a “great restart,” but rather a “great reset.”

Separately, Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian spoke to Fortune’s Susie Gharib yesterday about having to furlough most of Hyatt’s U.S. employees.  “It has been a very, very torturous time,” he said.  “The way I would describe it is a conflict between our purpose as a company, which is to care for people, and the things we have to do because we are charged with ensuring the financial future of Hyatt.”

And GM CEO Mary Barra wrote a post responding to President Trump’s tweet attack on her—without ever actually mentioning the president. “In a time of crisis, we have to transcend the personal and come together for the greater good,” she wrote. 

More news below.

Alan Murray


'Very, very Painful' 

President Trump said Tuesday that coronavirus deaths in the country could reach 240,000 and warned of "two very, very painful weeks" to come. The U.S. now has more cases than any other country, with a higher death toll than China. In Asia and Europe, that meant markets were opening even lower after yesterday closed a bad quarter. AP

About that quarter 

It was bad. As Fortune's Anne Srader's writes, "There's one positive thing to say about Q1 and the stock market: It's finally over." It was officially the worst first quarter ever, and the worst quarter overall since 1987. The Dow fell about 23% in the last three months, while the S&P 500 dropped about 20%—and volatility was unprecedented. Fortune

The return of China's factories

In March, China's workers returned to factories—but it's not back to normal yet, with production slow as global demand has suffered amid the spread of the virus to the rest of the world. The Caixin China manufacturing purchasing managers index hit just above 50, the mark for expansion rather than contraction, but one expert warned that the "bounce" in March had to be put in the context of the previous month's steep contraction. WSJ

Uber Eats Expands 

As Uber's ride hailing business has been hit by coronavirus measures, its food delivery business is booming—accelerating a push into delivering groceries, toiletries, and cleaning products across the world. That comes as established supermarket delivery services have become overwhelmed by orders in recent weeks, creating large backlogs. The Uber Eats push—which had already been trialled in Australia—will involve partnering with supermarket giants and delivering smaller orders of essential goods in about half an hour. FT


Don't forget about climate change 

Lest we forget, the world was facing a crisis even before coronavirus: climate change. Now, people who work at the intersection of climate change and business—like Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England until just earlier this year—are asking where this leaves the fight to lower emissions. Could this be an opportunity to reimagine economies for a net-zero age—or a potentially fatal loss of momentum? Fortune 

To make a ventilator

John Carlson, a former Johnson & Johnson executive who now oversees medical manufacturing for multinational Flex, talks about the challenges of making ventilators—quickly—as well as all the other components that companies must now race against time to produce: from IV systems to wall vacuum systems. The company is now doing things in days that used to take weeks or months, he says. Fortune

Liquor companies step up 

Bars are empty, and bartenders are out of work. But liquor companies from Bacardi to Jameson Whisky are stepping up with six- and seven-figure donations to industry groups that provide aid and support for restaurant workers and bartenders, and their families. But as for many industries right now, the real questions are not only is it enough (it's not), but whether this could lead to systemic change—including more job security—in the industry longterm. Bloomberg 

Lockdown for a travel blogger 

You're a travel influencer—who suddenly can't travel. How do you survive? A diversified portfolio, says Instagram influencer Lindsay Silberman. In the Fortune series "The Coronavirus Economy", she talks about how she's turned to other areas of her business, from makeup to home videos, while stuck at home—and how she polled her followers to see what kind of content they wanted: reality, or escapism. (They chose escapism.) Fortune 

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn