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Jeff Bezos is the most important business leader of our times, and if you want to know how he got that way, you can find it in the very first letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. His message: focus on the long term, obsess over customers, make bold not timid choices, set a high bar in hiring, and you will create “an enduring franchise.”
Ever since, Bezos–modeling Warren Buffett–has laid out his business thoughts each year in a crisp annual letter to shareholders. Today, PublicAffairs and Harvard Business Review Press are announcing plans to publish Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, which brings together 23 years of these annual letters, plus notable interviews, writings and speeches, and a 10,000 word introduction penned by Walter Isaacson–biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Leonardo DaVinci. Isaacson puts Bezos “in the same league as my other subjects.”
CEO Daily got an early look at the book. A few excerpts:
“You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”
“Our shares are down more than 80% from when I wrote you last year. Nevertheless, by almost any measure, Amazon.com the company is in a stronger position now than at any time in the past.”
“We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall.’…Some have the clarity of angels singing…Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.”
You can read more about the book, scheduled for publication in November, here.
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Separately, I spoke with Dow CEO Jim Fitterling earlier this week, in advance of Dow’s release this morning of aggressive new sustainability targets. They include a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and a goal of having 100% of its products sold into packaging be reusable or recyclable by 2035. More broadly, the report says Dow aims to be “the most sustainable materials science company.”
I asked Fitterling the question I hear some environmental advocates ask: If the goal is to be the most sustainable materials science company, why not abandon petrochemicals altogether? His response:
“I don’t think they have a very good perspective on what petrochemicals do for their life. Could you buy a Tesla, insulate their homes, have safe foods packaging? If you get out of petrochemicals, you get out of pharmaceuticals, so you don’t treat COVID-19, you don’t have gowns, masks, gloves. It is a false test.”
I also asked about the collapse of plastic recycling, driven in part by the fact that falling oil prices have made virgin plastic less expensive.
“We have to create the circular economy. Everything we make that gets used should be reusable or fully recyclable….I don’t think that can be done by the private sector alone.”
And here’s the most remarkable thing he told me, in response to my question about how much of his time he spends on these difficult social issues:
“Right now, I am spending half of my time on ESG–circular economy, global warming, COVID-19, racial justice, flood recovery in Michigan. For where we are right now, it’s where I need to be spending it.”
That’s the definition of stakeholder capitalism. Like it or not, it is happening. More news below.
Editor's note: Thank you to the many, many readers who wrote in yesterday to point out that the FDA quote about hydroxychloroquine said the opposite of what I said it said. I had accidentally truncated the quote, thus reversing its meaning—I omitted the first part, which said it is "no longer reasonable to believe that" the drug's potential benefits outweigh the risks. Apologies for the error!
A cheap, widely available drug called dexamethasone has been shown to reduce deaths among those who are seriously ill with COVID-19. British researchers found the steroid cut deaths of patients on ventilators by a third, and deaths of those on oxygen by a fifth. The World Health Organization has welcomed the findings, with director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulating "the government of the U.K., the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the U.K. who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough." New York Times
The European Commission has opened two antitrust investigations into Apple: one about the 30% commission Apple makes developers pay for each sale on its platform, and one about how Apple Pay is the only mobile payment service that gets to access the company's tap-and-go functionality. Apple counters the complainants in these cases "simply want a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else." Fortune
Marilyn Booker, Morgan Stanley's former diversity chief, has sued the bank and CEO James Gorman over "race and gender discrimination, retaliation and unequal pay." She says she was fired at the end of last year after promoting a plan for improving the experience of minority employees (Morgan Stanley apparently has only 100 black financial advisors out of a total of 16,000, and only 41 black managing directors out of thousands). The bank says she was simply sacked as part of a wider round of layoffs. Financial Times
Analysts have weighed in on the worrisome incidents at the Chinese-Indian border and on the Korean Peninsula. They say war between China and India is unlikely, despite violent clashes between the countries' troops. But tensions between North Korea and South Korea are likely to escalate after North Korea literally blew up the liaison office where it conducted meetings with representatives of South Korea. CNBC
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
Working while black
Fortune asked black employees what they wanted their non-black coworkers, supervisors and executives to know about inclusivity in the workplace. Here's Bryan, 51: "For many years, I've worked in corporate America. As I slowly moved up the corporate ladder, I began to notice there were fewer black employees until I was the only one…Eventually, I myself resigned because I learned I was being paid less than half of what my white colleagues earned. When I confronted HR and my manager about it, they blatantly lied to me." P.S.: We're still looking for more submissions. Fortune
PepsiCo chair and CEO Ramon L. Laguarta has written for Fortune about what the beverage giant is doing to dismantle systemic racial barriers: "Today, I am announcing the next step in PepsiCo’s journey for racial equality: a more than $400 million set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo. These initiatives make up a holistic effort for PepsiCo to walk the talk of a leading corporation and help address the need for systemic change." Fortune
New Zealand's quarantine program is now in the hands of its military, following a massive blunder that saw two British arrivals leave isolation without being tested for COVID-19—which, it subsequently turned out, they had. "It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has recently been feted for her government's success in wiping out the coronavirus. Guardian
European car registrations only fell 57% year-on-year in May, compared with a 78% drop in April. That's good news for the sector—or at least what counts as good news these days. Another positive sign is that car sales in China (a key market for European automakers) rose last month for the first time in a year. Of course, that may not be enough to clear the massive inventories that are piling up. Bloomberg
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.