Bending the curve of capitalism

June 23, 2020, 10:05 AM UTC

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Good morning.

When the history of stakeholder capitalism is written, Paul Polman will have a lead role. He became CEO of consumer goods giant Unilever back in 2009, and over the subsequent decade he was the leading proponent of a new kind of capitalism–one that focused explicitly on big social problems like climate change and inequality. That’s why I was eager to have him as a guest on our podcast, Leadership Next. He is, in some ways, the embodiment of our theme.

You can hear the full interview with Polman this morning here. But for CEO Daily readers, let me share this excerpt:

“Governments in this world right now have a little bit of a hard time, and global governance is broken. Populism, xenophobia, nationalism…all these things are going in the wrong direction. Meanwhile these issues are piling up. Cybersecurity, financial markets, climate change…coronavirus. These are global issues that need global coordination.

“I believe it is the duty of the private sector to step up and fill that void and be responsible. We are not elected bodies, but we do have to fill that void. And it’s in the interest of business. And increasingly, business understands that.”

Polman takes it a step further than most of his big business colleagues by declaring the current system broken. “There are two forms of a capitalism that live next to each other and frankly they are in conflict,” he said, citing long-term “stakeholder” capitalism as pitted against short-term “shareholder primacy.” It will take “major changes to our economic system to bend the curve of capitalism.”

And a news tidbit out of next week’s episode of Leadership Next, which features an interview with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. Chesky told Ellen McGirt and me that bookings in the U.S. in the last couple of weeks have actually exceeded last year’s levels. “It may be pent-up demand,” he said. “We don’t know…(but) it is recovering way faster than any of us imagined.”

That also could mean the home rental company is back on track for an IPO this year. Stay tuned.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Visa suspensions

The Trump administration is temporarily suspending a range of visas, including the high-skilled H-1B, as of tomorrow. The restrictions, designed to protect jobs for unemployed Americans in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, will last through the end of the year. The tech sector in particular is outraged, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai (who comes from India) tweeting: "Disappointed by today’s proclamation—we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.” Wall Street Journal

SoftBank assets

SoftBank has announced plans to sell around $21 billion worth of T-Mobile U.S. stock, as part of the Japanese conglomerate's wider effort to reduce its debt load. SoftBank: "Given the current situation where there is a concern for a second and third wave of spread of COVID-19, (SoftBank Group) believes that it needs to further enhance its cash reserves." Bloomberg

Wirecard arrest

Markus Braun, until last week the CEO of German payments hopeful Wirecard, has been arrested on suspicion of false accounting and market manipulation. Wirecard's share price has tanked following the revelation that $2.1 billion of the cash on its balance sheet probably doesn't exist. The company's entire former management board is reportedly under investigation. Financial Times

China deal

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro yesterday appeared to suggest that the trade deal between the U.S. and China was "over", before President Trump stepped in (via Twitter, naturally) to insist that it is "fully intact." Navarro subsequently said his comments had been taken out of context. The episode briefly freaked out the markets, but they soon shrugged it off. Fortune


Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry's corporate response to George Floyd's killing stood out for its forthright language—"it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning"—and that's very much in line with the firm's history. Fortune spoke to Chris Miller, the brand's head of activism strategy (now there's a job), to find out more. "There are moments when it feels like it's important simply to go on record—to stand and be counted," he says. Fortune

BeiDou launch

China has launched the final satellite for its BeiDou 3 constellation, which will allow it to no longer rely on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). The third version of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) comprises 35 satellites, providing global coverage. Apart from GPS, other rivals include Europe's Galileo and Russia's GLONASS. BBC

India and China

Some good news on the geopolitics front: India and China have agreed to take measures to stop their soldiers clashing over disputed border territory, following a deadly clash last week. Commanders had a marathon meeting yesterday on the border and reached a "mutual consensus to disengage." Reuters

LGBTQ workers

YSC Consulting CEO Eric Pliner, whose firm was involved in the momentous Bostock case that last week saw the Supreme Court back workplace protections for LGBTQ people, writes for Fortune that it is now up to companies to protect their workers. "Legal protection is a helpful but incomplete precursor to crafting truly hospitable environments for LGBTQ employees and others with historically marginalized identities," he writes. "The court’s decision has opened the door for leaders to engage with these critical components of identity and culture in a much more sophisticated and powerful way." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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