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Why purpose is such a hot topic in business

February 4, 2022, 12:00 PM UTC

Good morning.

I spent yesterday in conversations about the role of purpose in business, in part because of the launch of our new executive learning sprint on Purpose-Driven Leadership, taught for Fortune CONNECT fellows by Michael Chavez of Duke Corporate Education. During the course, I had the opportunity to ask Chavez why purpose has emerged as such a hot topic in business. His response:

“Strategy has been demoted. It has become like milk—it has a freshness designation, and it doesn’t come with an expiration date. As ambiguity and uncertainty go up, the only thing that stays constant is purpose and values. They provide stability. We need more of it. We need to rally around the deepest reasons we are here.”

Well put. Earlier in the day, I spoke with the Horizon Therapeutics CEO Tim Walbert, whose personal purpose and company purpose are fully aligned. Horizon makes biologics to address rare autoimmune diseases, like the one that afflicts both Walbert and his son. Walbert says that earlier in his career, he didn’t talk much about his own affliction. But he says his leadership approach has changed, in part due to the pandemic: “I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable. But COVID has humanized so much. You can take your armor off.” In the post-COVID world, he believes:

“Purpose is going to be the requirement for companies, rather than the thing that makes you successful. It’s the new cost of entry for success.”

Later, I spoke with Eric Martel, who became CEO of Canada’s Bombardier on the day before the pandemic was declared, and has since been engineering a restructuring, selling off the company’s train and commercial airline divisions, paying down debt, and building a much smaller but focused private jet business. He, too, was focused on purpose, as an important way to appeal to both his employees and his customers. “I’ve seen a clear rise in expectations,” he told me. “More and more we hear from customers and employees: What is our social impact?

“For me it was super important, at the same time we were fixing the financials, to say we are a different group of people and that there is other stuff that matters.”

More news below. And you can learn more about Fortune CONNECT, our purpose-driven community of next generation leaders, here.

Alan Murray


Moderna copied

South Africa's Afrigen Biologics has, with a bunch of help from the WHO, created a COVID-19 vaccine that's based on Moderna's jab. It's a milestone that probably won't result in doses on the ground anytime soon, but that could change the game for the production of mRNA vaccines in the medium to long term. Moderna refuses to share its vaccine know-how, but has also said it won't enforce its patents during the pandemic. Fortune

Amazon soars

Amazon's shares rose 14% in after-hours trading, thanks to 9% year-on-year sales growth (in line with expectations) and a promise that its executives "do see the sun coming out" over the next few quarters. Fortune

Pay rises

British workers shouldn't ask for big pay hikes because doing so contributes to inflation, says Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England. Bailey, who is paid $680,000 a year, or 16 times the national median: "In the sense of saying, we do need to see a moderation of wage rises, now that's painful. I don't want to in any sense sugar that, it is painful. But we need to see that in order to get through this problem more quickly." BBC

No, Meta

Sandbox, one of the most popular digital worlds out there now, won't sell to Meta. Probably. "I hope it will never be happening," said COO Sébastien Borget. "I don't see any compatibility here with what we are doing." (Bonus read: Meta's dramatic stock plunge yesterday could help Mark Zuckerberg defend antitrust accusations on the basis that TikTok poses a real threat.) Fortune


Fracking off

The U.S. shale boom appears to nearing its end, with prime drilling locations set to run out in a few years, assuming production growth revives to pre-pandemic levels. Wall Street Journal


Long COVID is likely keeping around 1.1 million people out of the U.S. labor force, according to a conservative estimate from Brookings Institution senior fellow Katie Bach: "Those suffering from long COVID could account for more than a third of the drop in workforce participation." Fortune

Novavax promise

As New Zealand becomes the latest country to approve Novavax's COVID jab, Fortune's Grady McGregor examines how the new option could tempt many people who were skeptical about previous COVID vaccines. That's because it uses traditional protein-based technology rather than mRNA. Fortune

Fourth dose

Germany has become the latest country to move onto a fourth dose of COVID vaccines for those who are particularly vulnerable. The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) said the second booster should come six months after the first, to combat waning protection. Deutsche Welle

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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