AT&T chair Bill Kennard: ‘Legacy businesses have to disrupt themselves’
This is the web version of CEO Daily. To get it delivered to your inbox, sign up here.
Bill Kennard’s rise to chairman of AT&T earlier this year is an important milestone in many respects. He is the only Black man serving as independent chair of a Fortune 500 company. He replaced Randall Stephenson, who held both the chairman and the CEO jobs, marking a move to better governance practices for the telecommunications giant. And he is a former commissioner of the FCC, giving him the perfect background to help forge a much-needed public-private partnership to ensure that every American, in his words, has “access to broadband as a fundamental necessity.” After last year, anything less is indefensible.
Kennard was Ellen McGirt’s and my guest on the podcast Leadership Next this week. I asked him what were at the top of his list of board concerns these days, and he crisply summarized the two big challenges that every business leader is wrestling with:
First: “AT&T has to continue to innovate and disrupt itself. We have to figure out in a sense what is the pace you cannibalize yourself. There is a lot of attention in the business headlines these days about how the Silicon Valley giants are disrupting legacy businesses. There is not as much attention being paid to how legacy businesses have to disrupt themselves.”
Second: “The board at AT&T, like all boards today, is focused on the role of corporations in society. Increasingly you are seeing corporations step into the vacuum where government leadership has sometimes failed or just can’t get the job done, and you are seeing corporations stepping up…Corporations are increasingly questioning, what is their role in society? How do corporations help solve the challenges of income inequality and racial inequality in the country, and political instability? These are questions that corporations have to address in order to be successful in society.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this newsletter misspelled the name of the former chief executive of AT&T.
The U.S., EU, U.K. and Canada have whacked coordinated sanctions on Chinese officials over the repression of Uyghurs. For the Europeans, these are the first Chinese sanctions since Tiananmen Square in 1989, and China quickly struck back with sanctions on European lawmakers, think tanks and academics. This could be curtains for the EU-China investment pact that was struck in December, but that still requires ratification by the European Parliament. Wall Street Journal
Volvo's stock fell 7% after the Swedish truckmaker said the global semiconductor shortage would seriously hit its production next quarter. It has already had to cut production at its Belgian and Brazilian plants. Reuters
Another day, another nightmare for AstraZeneca. This time it's an American rather than European problem, though: federal health officials are not buying the very good U.S.-trial results that AstraZeneca published yesterday, as they claim the results rely on outdated information. They say the drugmaker must work with them "to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible." Fortune
Baidu's secondary listing in Hong Kong yesterday was a bust, with shares rising a whopping 0.8% and the Chinese search engine raising just $3.1 billion, which is $500 million less than hoped for. Why did things turn out this way? Investors seem to be lukewarm on Baidu's innovative prospects—and Beijing is busy cracking down on the country's big tech players. Fortune
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
Johnson & Johnson's vaccine has been approved in the U.S. for three weeks now, so why is its rollout lagging? It could be that some states are conserving supplies until there are enough to reach specific groups such as teachers, and underserved communities. However, that's far from clear. Politico
President Biden's multi-trillion dollar stimulus push will reportedly be split into two bills, one devoted to infrastructure, clean energy and so on, and the other focusing on "human infrastructure" such as education, child care and increasing the workforce participation of women. Fortune
A high-powered parliamentary committee in the U.K. will not be investigating the collapse of finance group Greensill—in which SoftBank and Credit Suisse are caught up)—because Conservative lawmakers there are blocking an inquiry. Their issue? Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was an advisor to Greensill who (unsuccessfully) lobbied the government to give it greater access to state-backed COVID loan schemes. Financial Times
The pandemic has seen a puppy boom, with prices rising, and dognappings and scams abounding. As Fortune's Katherine Dunn explains: "The demand—and the scams—are a product of the same phenomenon. Since the start of the pandemic, much of the world’s relatively privileged, urban populations seemed to have stockpiled the things they thought they needed most: beans, gaming systems, toilet paper—and dogs." Fortune
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.