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Looking back at a momentous year

December 18, 2020, 10:05 AM UTC

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Good morning.

This is the last CEO Daily of 2020, and I am struggling with how to capture the enormity of the year in 300 words. So much has happened. It’s not the jarring rupture of a Pearl Harbor or a Kennedy assassination or a 9/11. But it is no less consequential—a clear break between past and future.

The virus was pernicious. Many of us lost friends and loved ones; many lost jobs; all have been disrupted. The deep fissures in our society that run along the lines of race, gender and education deepened, and the great divide between those companies that are tech savvy and those that are not widened. Our lives changed in myriad ways and won’t ever return to the previous state. For my small part, I know I will never again travel the globe at the pace I did in 2019, or commute from my home in Connecticut to Manhattan five days a week, or wear striped shirts that pixelate on Zoom.

Good things happened, as well as bad. The virus, as Scott Galloway put it, was an accelerant, allowing countless companies to innovate with an abandon they never would have thought possible. Institutional risk aversion melted away, as goals suddenly became necessities. The pharmaceutical industry was a leading example—abandoning its obsession with protecting IP in favor of a collaborative effort to develop new products to defeat the virus. Other industries followed similar paths. Fortune was no exception: our conference business went virtual virtually overnight, and the experience helped us launch a new platform for the next generation of leaders—Fortune Connect.  The business cliché of the year applies broadly: “We did things in weeks and months that we thought would take years.” 

And somewhat to my surprise, despite the pressures on the bottom line, business became better. I saw countless examples of companies paying closer attention to the health and well-being of their workers during the pandemic, promoting purpose rather than pushing products and services, and expressing a sincere desire to use the short-term crisis as an opportunity to build a stronger, more sustainable, long-term future. Stakeholder capitalism took another step forward.

So I’ll be leaving 2020 a little dazed, a lot disrupted, a bit saddened, but ultimately amazed at all that happened, and curious to see how much endures. And I look forward to rejoining all of you in January for the next part of the ride.

More news below. And check out Tarun Wadhwa’s argument for why innovation can’t happen on Zoom.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Google and Fitbit

Following a probe that was announced in early August, the European Commission has greenlit Google's proposed $2 billion takeover of Fitbit—with conditions. Google will need to keep Fitbit's user data in a separate "silo" that would stop it from boosting its ad business. Some are skeptical that this separation will work. Reuters

Brexit crunch

Oh look, there's another new deadline for the post-Brexit U.K.-EU trade talks. Except this time it's not coming from the U.K. or the European Commission, which is handling the negotiations: members of the European Parliament, which would have to approve any deal before it can take effect, have put their foot down, saying they want to see something by Sunday or they won't be signing anything this year. The Brexit transition period runs out on December 31. Markets are jittery. Guardian

China list

U.S. government officials are reportedly clashing over the breadth of the White House's list of Chinese-military-complex-linked companies in which Americans may not invest. State and Defense want the executive order to cover subsidiaries and affiliates, in order to avoid allowing loopholes, but Treasury wants to keep things lean, in order to avoid spooking the markets. Wall Street Journal

Coke cuts

Coca-Cola will shed around 2,200 jobs as part of a global restructuring drive. In the U.S., 1,200 people—around 12% of Coke's workforce on its home turf—will lose their jobs via layoffs and buyouts. Cuts had been planned for a while but the pandemic has battered the company, so they're being sped up. CNBC

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

Coinbase IPO

Crypto darling Coinbase has filed for an IPO. It's not yet clear how the conglomerate's flotation will be structured, nor has Coinbase revealed yet how much money it’s making, but the move certainly comes at a time when Bitcoin's soaring price is giving the scene a boost. Fortune

Tesla trade

Tesla joins the S&P 500 on Monday, so today will see the trade of a whopping $80 billion in the company's shares, as index-tracking funds scramble to ensure their portfolios are still tracking the index. Tesla will be the most valuable company to be admitted to the benchmark, and will account for more than 1% of it. Reuters

European vaccinations

The European Commission is promoting the idea that all EU countries will simultaneously start vaccinating their citizens on December 27-29, but the reality is that many national leaders won't want to wait a minute longer than is necessary (authorization should land just before Christmas), and some countries such as the Netherlands will likely start later, for various reasons. Politico

British vaccinations

Meanwhile in Brexitland, which was the first country to approve and start deploying Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine, the rollout could be hindered by technical difficulties with the software that keeps track of who has received the jab. Without these records, some people may be missed in the vaccination drive, or they may get too many injections. Sky News

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.