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A different breed of leader

November 10, 2020, 10:46 AM UTC

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Good morning.

I’ve written here many times about the pressure CEOs feel from employees, consumers and even investors to improve their positive contributions to society. But on reflection, I’ve probably underplayed the change that comes from within the CEOs themselves. There is a different breed of leader in business today. They look at success differently. And that’s part of what’s driving change.

Nike CEO John Donahoe—who Ellen McGirt and I hosted on our podcast Leadership Next this week—is one of those. I’ve known him casually for at least a decade. But my most memorable conversation with him came five years ago. He had been CEO of Bain & Co. and then CEO of eBay. And at the age of 55, he had decided to take a year off, to contemplate how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. His “wisdom journey” included a visit to a Buddhist retreat and conversations with more than 50 wise, older people, whom he asked: How do you maintain vitality, how do you stay young at heart, and how do you remain happy as you move into old age?

I won’t spoil the podcast, but Donahoe shares the five big takeaways that came from that wisdom tour. One of them was to not lose sight of your gifts, and understand what animates you inside and makes you happy. And when his year was over, he decided to return to what he knew he was good at—the job of CEO—but to do it with an increased devotion to “service-based leadership.” That, he said, “is what animates me inside.” He became CEO of ServiceNow before taking the Nike job in January.

So why Nike? “When Mark Parker and Phil Knight and the Nike board came to me and said, ‘Would you consider being our next CEO,’ what struck me was this: The world is more polarized than at any time in my adult life. Polarization is in. Division seems to be in. Sport is one of the few things that still brings people together. Sport brings people together within countries, sports brings people together across countries, sport brings people together on the ultimate level playing field…I feel like the world needs sport more today than at any time in history.”

Of course, even sports has its moments of divisiveness. I asked him about Nike’s decision, made before he took over, to feature controversial athlete Colin Kaepernick in its ads. His answer says a lot about the changing nature of business. It’s worth listening to.  Catch it on Apple or Spotify.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Amazon antitrust

The European Commission is reportedly hitting Amazon with formal antitrust charges over the way it uses data about the merchants using its platform, to compete against them. Amazon is also under antitrust investigation in the U.S. Financial Times

Pfizer vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech's big announcement yesterday, that preliminary trial data shows their candidate COVID-19 vaccine is at least 90% effective, sent the markets soaring and pandemic stocks (Zoom, Peloton) plummeting. Optimistic exuberance, perhaps—final data is still needed, some unknowns remain, and production and logistics challenges stand in the way of a speedy rollout—but infectious diseases experts are genuinely excited. And, by the way, the U.S. government's "Operation Warp Speed" did not fund this effort, as some (Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump) have suggested; it was the German government, if anyone. Fortune

China vaccine

Less positive news when it comes to the vaccine being touted by China's Sinovac: Brazil's health regulator has suspended phase III trials because a participant suffered a "severe adverse event." Such is the way with trials—AstraZeneca and J&J also had to pause their trials at some point because of adverse reactions—but in this case, the vaccine has already been used to inoculate tends of thousands of people outside clinical trials, in China. Fortune

EU tariffs

Despite reports that the EU might hold off on levying WTO-approved tariffs on U.S. goods, in the context of Joe Biden's victory, the bloc went ahead and did it anyway. Appropriately given the fact that this is all about illegal airplane subsidies, the tariffs include 15% on Boeing aircraft (though who's buying planes right now?), while a 25% duty is being slapped on things like tractors, gin, video game consoles and shellfish. Seems the EU didn't want to hold off until Biden's trade team has truly bedded in, around a February-March timeframe. Washington Post


COVID-19 team

President-elect Biden has named his transition's COVID-19 advisory board, which is looking pretty diverse: 38% female, 69% minorities. The task force will "consult with state and local officials to determine the public health and economic steps necessary to get the virus under control, to deliver immediate relief to working families, to address ongoing racial and ethnic disparities, and to reopen our schools and businesses safely and effectively." Fortune

Brexit agreement

The U.K.'s House of Lords massively defeated Boris Johnson's government over clauses in a new bill that would have allowed the government to breach international law over the issue of the Irish border. Former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer Michael Howard (who is a lord), said: "I want the independent, sovereign state that I voted for to be a country which holds its head up high in the world, that keeps its word, that upholds the rule of law and which honors its treaty obligations." Politico

A.I. Regulations

The lack of A.I. safety regulations is actually hindering innovation in the space, argues Will Hunt, a research analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, in a piece for Fortune. He lays out two major issues: without standards and regulations, companies have to build their own safety cases for A.I. applications entirely from scratch; and rules are inevitable, so companies would rather build for compatibility with those rules now, as opposed to later down the road. Fortune

Cypriot Schmidt

Former Google boss Eric Schmidt is reportedly finalizing a plan to become a citizen of Cyprus, an EU country that essentially sells its citizenship to wealthy people—it's a popular scheme for Russian oligarchs, and so scandalous that it's being shut down. It is not clear why Schmidt has chosen to (in the words of Apex Capital Partners founder Nuri Katz) "diversify his citizenship" in this way. Recode

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.