Jerome Powell is proving to be the perfect leader for the coronavirus moment
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Here’s yesterday’s quote of the day:
“None of us has the luxury of choosing our challenges. Fate and history provide them for us. Our job is to meet the tests we are presented.”
That was Fed Chairman Jay Powell, speaking at the Brookings Institution, just a short time after announcing an extraordinary new program to buy risky corporate debt as part of a $2.3 trillion rescue package. Fortune’s Bernhard Warner called it a “stunning” announcement that puts the Fed in “completely uncharted water.” Analysts had worried that the Fed was out of ammunition. As it turns out, it still had unexplored corners of its armory waiting to be deployed.
Powell is proving the perfect leader for the moment. The speed at which he has responded to the crisis has been breathtaking, and the boldness of his moves go far beyond what anyone could have predicted. But most of all, he has done his job with a steady temperament that inspires confidence.
That temperament, of course, also has enabled Powell to withstand a multi-year onslaught of abusive attacks from President Donald Trump, who appointed him: “Clueless,” “a horrendous lack of vision,” “a golfer who can’t putt,” “no vision.” And then this: “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?”
Yet Powell has ignored the Twitter insults and quietly done the job as he sees best. My guess is, when the crisis is over, he will be seen as one of its heroes. He has taken the Fed to places his predecessors never imagined it could go, and done so with a remarkably smooth hand. He has met the test he was presented.
Separately, former CDC Director Julie Gerberding—now an executive vice president at Merck—met virtually with members of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women community yesterday. Among other things, Gerberding echoed a point I raised in this column last week: the extraordinary explosion of activity in the world’s pharmaceutical and biotech industries driven by a determined effort to find COVID-19 therapies and vaccines—without the usual obsession over protecting intellectual property and maximizing prices and profits. In the pharma industry, “we are almost experiencing an outbreak of partnerships,” Gerberding said. “That’s a good thing. They are looking for how do we solve the problem as fast as we can, and everyone is scrambling to contribute.”
More news below.
Another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, meaning the U.S.'s jobless roll has spiked by 16.8 million in a three-week stretch. The April jobs report will start to show the nation's true unemployment rate, but Fortune analysis pegs the real rate at 14.7%—the highest level since the early years of World War II. Fortune
Deal or no deal?
Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, a 23-nation coalition agreed in principle on Thursday to slash oil production as a monthlong feud and plummeting demand from the coronavirus crisis crushed prices. But after 11 hours of talks, Mexico abruptly left the table, putting a final deal at risk. Negotiations among Group of 20 energy ministers are expected to continue today. Wall Street Journal
Costco v. corona
Costco, the U.S.'s second-largest retailer and a consumer spending bellwether, announced a monthly sales increase of 12% yesterday as shoppers stocked up for pandemic lockdowns. That figure would've been a blockbuster result in normal times, but it was lower than analysts' projected 24%. Dig deeper into the results, as Fortune's Phil Wahba did, and you'll find wider warning signs about the fallout of measures many retailers are taking to limit COVID-19 spread. Fortune
Out of ICU
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is out of intensive care after spending three nights there with persistent coronavirus symptoms. He's still in the hospital for monitoring but is said to be in "extremely good spirits." Guardian
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
Trader Joe's tradeoffs
Employees of Trader Joe's are slamming the grocery store chain's inconsistent effort to protect workers amid the coronavirus. A new Bloomberg feature reports that "the very things that make the company different—small spaces, free samples, no self-checkout or online delivery—are also making it difficult to navigate working there in the coronavirus era." A spokesperson says Trader Joe's follows CDC guidelines; its approach to safeguarding employees and customers is evolving as the "unprecedented situation" does. Bloomberg
Singapore is the latest to crack down on video-conferencing tool Zoom by banning its teachers from using the platform for online instruction. The move follows "very serious incidents," which reportedly include obscene images appearing on screens and strange men making lewd comments during a streaming geography lesson for teenage girls. Zoom, once a darling of the coronavirus era, is now plagued by security flaws, which CEO Eric Yuan apologized for last week. Reuters
Happy (virtual) Easter
Christians the world over are preparing to celebrate the most important day on the church calendar, many without the ability to gather to worship. Church leaders are turning to technology for virtual fellowship; priests in Italy, for instance, are using WhatsApp groups to reach parishioners. The Pope himself has endorsed such substitutes. "It’s a time for inventing, for creativity," he said this week. Financial Times
As some medical facilities struggle to keep up with the coronavirus surge, Chicago's Rush University Medical Center says it's prepared; that's by design. A 830,000-square-foot building on its campus, dubbed 'The Tower,' was constructed in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks specifically for a deadly pandemic. Washington Post
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Claire Zillman.