Our year-end episode of Leadership Next is out this morning, and it’s worth a listen, if only as a reminder of what a remarkable year it has been. I’ve covered business for more than four decades—I started as editor of the business section of The Chattanooga Times back in 1978—and I can’t think of another year characterized by such profound change. The words “revolution” and “crisis” are overused, but in this case, there has been a full-blown business technology revolution that was accelerated by a health care crisis, then overlaid with a social justice crisis, a supply chain crisis, and finally topped off with a complete reinvention of office work and, oh yes, a mass exodus of workers. Enough for you?
Perhaps the most surprising outcome of this tumult, captured in so many of our Leadership Next interviews, is that leaders doubled down on their commitments to a broad array of stakeholders beyond shareholders—employees, customers, communities, the planet. Climate pledges may have been the most surprising theme of the year. At Leadership Next, it started with GM CEO Mary Barra telling us in January of her plans to make all new GM cars emissions-free by 2035, then continued with United CEO Scott Kirby making an outsized commitment to sustainable aviation fuel, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good planning for a 50% reduction in emissions over the next decade, and more. As Deloitte U.S. CEO Joe Ucuzoglu, who has been our sponsor for these conversations, put it:
“Organizations by and large are coming to the realization that the business community galvanizing to tackle some of these big societal topics is the right thing to do. It’s what their people expect… People want to be part of an organization that they believe in. Yes, they want a thriving career. Yes, they want to make certain they’re compensated fairly, and they have the right benefits. But those things are just table stakes. They want to know, how is my great effort that I’m deploying day-to-day going to result in real impact in doing work that’s meaningful, that is supporting a thriving broader economy, creating jobs, solving difficult issues, supporting my community. That’s why you’ve seen purpose rise to the top of the C-suite agenda.”
In sum, the year was punctuated by plenty of problems. Yet as it ends, I can’t help but feel optimistic. There’s a new way of doing business taking hold. And it’s a change for the better.
You can listen to the year-end episode on Apple or Spotify. Other news below.
It's Fed Day on Tuesday, with officials set to meet to decide when and how they might scale back asset purchases as the U.S. economy grapples with fast-rising inflation. In October, the Federal Reserve had suggested the stimulus could end next June, but comments made since then have given rise to speculation it could now stop as soon as March. Financial Times
Apple now faces a whistleblower probe from the Labor Department, over whether it retaliated against a former employee after she filed complaints over workplace health to the company and to a government agency. New York Times
Kroger benefits cut
Grocery chain Kroger said it would cut some benefits for employees who refuse to get vaccinated, in an effort to encourage staff to get the jab. The chain will cut the two-week leave for employees who get the virus if they are unvaccinated, and add a health surcharge. American businesses are in the midst of a push to mandate vaccines, even as the Biden administration's own mandate remains stalled. Wall Street Journal
As workers depart jobs across the country, citing poor pay and unsafe working conditions, staff shortages are causing cuts to services—from breakfast service at a diner, to access to the pool at a hotel. Many employees have realized they were losing money going to work when they factored in commuting and child care—now almost impossible to find. But the shortages at barber shops and grocery stores have also hit the local sense of community. Washington Post
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
Your guide to the metaverse
A new day, a new glimpse into the metaverse. Fortunately, Fortune finance editor Lee Clifford and reporter Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez have you covered, with answers to everything from, well, what actually it is, to how to protect your purchases while exploring the metaverse. Fortune
Inflation is hitting small businesses—with nearly half of the businesses surveyed taking out a loan over the last year to cope, and seven in 10 say rising costs have significantly impacted their businesses. Inflation has even eclipsed pandemic concerns, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Fortune
Mental health crisis
Almost 15% of people who aren't working say they're unemployed because of mental health issues—a percentage that has ticked up since earlier this year, hinting at the mental toll of the continuing pandemic. More than one in 10 U.S. adults have also started relying more on alcohol since the pandemic began. Fortune
It's time to revisit the top buzzwords of the year, and coming in first place is "Scope 3"—referring to the extent of emissions included in a climate target—which appeared in 689 corporate earnings calls this year so far. Other buzzwords include 'inflation', 'bottlenecks' and 'net zero.' Fortune
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.
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