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Meeting the reskilling challenge

October 23, 2020, 9:45 AM UTC

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Good morning.

If there is one issue that motivates CEOs at the forefront of the stakeholder capitalism movement, it is training and upskilling. They see the dangerous fissures that exist between the highly educated and the less so—a gap that widened during the pandemic. And they understand that technological change is driving that gap ever wider. While the pandemic, racial injustice and climate change may get more attention from society at large, it’s the reskilling challenge for which CEOs feel most directly responsible.

Deanna Mulligan, who is stepping down as CEO of Guardian Life Insurance at year’s end, is one of those CEOs, and she has put her passion into a new book out next week: Hire Purpose: How Smart Companies Can Close the Skills <em>Gap. I spoke with Mulligan earlier this week, and she told me about her evolution on the issue.

Mulligan joined Guardian in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession. Guardian “wasn’t wildly impacted by the recession, but I was looking around and seeing so many of my friends losing jobs.” When she became CEO in 2011, she realized a combination of pervasive low interest rates and technological change was going to drive huge disruption for her company and her employees. “I said to myself, I don’t want to be one of those companies that has to turn all these people out on the streets.”

She started a program to teach people in the company’s call centers to write code, teamed with General Assembly to teach actuaries to be data analysts, and developed a program of “train in, train out”—providing two years tuition at a local community college for workers whose jobs were eliminated.

“Companies have an obligation to society to try and do this,” she said. “And it’s less expensive than firing people.” Like a number of her CEO colleagues, she is committed to extending such programs beyond her own employees. “It’s very important that we do this at scale.”

We’ll be talking about this topic more on Monday, at the annual meeting of the Fortune CEO Initiative. Mulligan will be there, along with a great group of CEOs. A partial list: Vas Narasimhan of Novartis, Mark Schneider of Nestle, Aneel Bhusri of Workday, Michelle Gass of Kohl’s, Francesco Starace of Enel, Tiger Tyagarajan of Genpact, Jim Fitterling of Dow, Julie Sweet of Accenture, Enrique Lores of HP, Antonio Neeri of HPE, Kevin Sneader of McKinsey, Joe Ucuzoglu of Deloitte, and Sonia Syngal of Gap. Ford Foundation President Darren Walker also will join, along with two U.S. governors who have been working on the retraining challenge: Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Walmart vs DOJ

Walmart has attempted a preemptive strike against what they claim is an impending Justice Department lawsuit, in relation to the opioid crisis. The retailer wants a federal judge to say the government cannot seek civil damages over its pharmacists filling valid prescriptions that ought to have raised red flags. Walmart: "In the shadow of their own profound failures, DOJ and DEA now seek to retroactively impose on pharmacists and pharmacies unworkable requirements that are not found in any law and go beyond what pharmacists are trained and licensed to perform." Wall Street Journal

Last debate

Donald Trump and Joe Biden held their final debate last night, and—perhaps due to the greater enforcement of rules about not interrupting—it was a more civil and watchable affair than the first. Fortune's coverage included Rey Mashayekhi on corruption claims, Aric Jenkins on pre-existing conditions, and Nicole Goodkind on Trump's debate strategy.

Remdesivir approval

Gilead Sciences' remdesivir has become the U.S.'s first approved COVID-19 treatment. The Food and Drug Administration showed its green light for the drug, which is marketed as Veklury, yesterday. One U.S. trial has shown remdesivir to modestly shorten recovery time for some severely ill patients, but another study, sponsored by the World Health Organization, said it had no such effect, nor did it help patients survive the disease. Fortune

Bye, malls

Gap's eponymous and Banana Republic brands are largely pulling out of mall locations in North America. Gap Global president Mark Breitbard: "What we're doing is restructuring the fleet, shifting and pushing more of the business to digital and growing (market) share in key categories…We've been overly reliant on low productivity, high rent stores." Fortune


Biden tax

Joe Biden has reassured America's hometown entrepreneurs that he won’t be taxing their businesses more. However, Fortune's Shawn Tully argues, his tax hike on those earning over $400,000 a year would leave small businesses "less money for opening another hair salon or restaurant and [undercut] their incentive to take chances, since once they reach a certain size, they'll pocket a lot fewer cents in profit for every dollar they invest." Fortune

Chinese pledge

How can China meet the climate pledge President Xi Jinping made a month ago? According to Yanzhong Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations, it would have to fundamentally change its governance system from one based on economic growth to one based on the rule of law. Fortune

British-shaped trade

The U.K. has officially signed its first post-Brexit trade deal, with Japan. British international trade secretary Liz Truss: "It used to be said that an independent U.K. would not be able to strike major trade deals or they would take years to conclude. But today we prove the naysayers wrong with this groundbreaking, British-shaped deal that was agreed in record time."

Social media

Is it helpful for social media platforms such as Twitter to act as referees in cases of alleged misinformation? Writing for Fortune, Cornell University political scientists Sarah Kreps and Douglas Kriner say an experiment they conducted suggests such efforts "may unintentionally further fan the flames of partisan polarization." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.