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We need more leaders like George Marshall—in both politics and business

July 6, 2020, 10:27 AM UTC

Good morning. 

I used the July 4th weekend to finish David Roll’s masterful biography of George Marshall. It’s 600 pages long, but well worth the investment for any serious student of leadership. Marshall was the master at taming his own emotions and ambitions in service of the greater good, both as a military leader and as Secretary of State and Defense. In doing so, he was able to become a principal architect—perhaps the principal architect—of the post-World War II world. After reading Roll’s carefully researched book, it doesn’t feel hyperbolic to hear late Harvard President James Conant call him “a soldier and statesman whose ability and character brook only one comparison in the history of this nation”—George Washington.

So it was dismaying—if not entirely surprising—to learn that President Trump had proposed Generals MacArthur and Patton—but not Marshall (or Eisenhower) for his garden of heroes. The former were undeniably great generals; but the latter were also great men, and exemplars of the notion of servant leadership. Regular readers know we try to avoid politics in this newsletter. But we believe deeply that leadership matters—perhaps now more than ever—and crave more like Marshall in both business and politics.

Since CEO Daily was dark Friday, some feedback this morning, also on leadership. Our report on last week’s Fortune and McKinsey CEO discussion, focusing on the importance of purpose in today’s business, provoked some cynicism, as usual.  

If any of the sentiments these CEOs shared in your call yesterday are real, then I have the answer: change the primary purpose of your business to be the holistic fulfillment of the people involved (as opposed to profit)—Anything short of that is simply lip-service that will last until the end of this news cycle.” —DT

I don’t want to come across as too cynical because I do think some CEOs really do believe what they’re saying about stakeholders over shareholders, and others probably at least half believe what they’re saying, BUT how much has the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio increased at their companies over the past 30-40 years, or even the past decade, or even during their tenures as CEO?” —CL

But at least some readers see emerging evidence of a real change in business leadership—a view I share.

Without romanticizing their sentiments too much, it’s nice to see such expressions that are from them as individuals, rather than from an obligated media post. It’s hard for me as a recent grad to find good role models in the business world at this time, so thank you for shedding some light!” —AS

More news below.

Alan Murray


Chinese market surge

The Shanghai Composite Index is back at its highest point since February, 2018—a surge analysts say has likely been helped by the state's emphasis on the importance of a "healthy bull market." If that market surge has found hope that the country's economy is rebounding, its also found plenty to ignore—within China and beyond. Lockdowns are coming back to parts of Spain and Australia. Meanwhile, Texas is struggling with a surge in cases, and the world at large broke a new record for new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, according to the WHO. NBC

Airborn COVID-19 

The WHO has maintained that coronavirus is spread by large droplets, expelled by coughs or sneezes, that quickly fall to the floor. But a growing raft of scientists—239 in 32 countries—are pushing for official acknowledgement of the growing evidence that the virus is less likely to be transmitted by surfaces, and is instead airborne: hanging in the air for longer, and potentially requiring masks to be worn indoors even if people are socially distanced. New York Times

Buffett's next deal

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has made its biggest deal in four years, scooping up Dominion Energy's natural gas pipeline and storage assets, for $4 billion, along with the assumption of $5.7 billion in debt. It represents Buffett's push further into the energy sector, just as the industry is shedding assets, battered by low prices and emissions targets. Fortune

Uber and Postmates

Uber is expected to announce a $2.65 billion all-stock takeover of food delivery service Postmates this morning, as the take-out battle continues. The takeover is expected to help Uber gain ground on the U.S. market leader, DoorDash, and comes on the heels of the company's failed bid to acquire GrubHub (that got scooped up by the Netherlands' Takeaway Just Eat.) Fortune


Covid-19's long road 

An investigation by the Sunday Times builds on leads that COVID-19 originated in bat caves near the southern Chinese city of Kunming, where Chinese researchers traced the deaths of a group of men who had worked on a mining project from a mysterious, SARS-like respiratory illness, and sent a sample back to a lab in Wuhan seven years ago. But there was little transparency in the ensuing years over the men's deaths, or what caused them. Sunday Times 

Hong Kong emigrants  

Since Beijing introduced its new national security law for Hong Kong in May, thousands of the city's residents have applied for foreign immigration documents. The city already has a huge number of dual passport holders, and other countries—including the U.K., Japan and Australia—are also preparing to receive new residents, adding to a history of mass migration from the city, Fortune's Grady McGregor writes. Fortune

Gen Z 

The legacy of the financial crisis a decade ago means Gen Z is bearing the brunt of the economic crisis tied to COVID-19, with unemployment surging. In Australia, for example, young people are facing particularly high levels of unemployment, while falling between the cracks of government stimulus because of casual contracts, which hit the youngest hardest. Fortune

Audit the auditors? 

The fall of German payments company Wirecard, and questions about how it was audited, has raised larger questions: is it time to audit the auditors? Wirecard isn't the first case: there are similarities with the combustion of Parmalat, an Italian dairy company that was also claiming it had billions which didn't exist. FT

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.