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As McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s Russian exits show, superpower conflict is now constricting global business

March 9, 2022, 11:17 AM UTC

Good morning.

You can add McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to the ever-growing list of companies closing their Russian operations. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski sent a note to staff yesterday afternoon saying, “Our values mean we cannot ignore the needless suffering unfolding in Ukraine.” That’s no small move. The company is majority owner in more than 800 Russian restaurants, and their sales make up 9% of its total revenues. No surprise that it took a dozen days to make such a hefty decision. But #BoycottMcDonalds had become a trending Twitter topic, and the Golden Arches ultimately decided to fold. Kempczinski said the company will continue to pay its Russian employees.

Both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have been potent symbols of the global triumph of capitalism over the past half century. I visited the very first Russian McDonald’s shortly after its opening in 1990, in Pushkin Square, in Moscow. It was a huge store with nearly 30 cash registers, and in those early days the company had to hire people to direct customers to the registers without lines of people waiting. Soviet citizens had been conditioned to believe the longest lines led to the best stuff. 

Nine years later, author Tom Friedman used McDonald’s as a symbol of his view that global capitalism could help prevent armed conflict. “No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other,” he wrote in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. That theory collapsed shortly thereafter, leading Friedman to revise his observation using Starbucks—which, by the way, also suspended its business in Russia yesterday. As the past two weeks have made brutally clear, the globalization of business did not end superpower conflict. Instead, superpower conflict is now constricting global business. 

What companies are still holding out? The rapidly shrinking list includes Citi, which says it has a nearly $10 billion net exposure to Russia; the big hotel chains, Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt; Whirlpool; AmerisourceBergen; a number of privately owned companies including Cargill and Mars; and Papa John’s pizza. Both Just Capital and Yale Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld are tracking the business shutdowns in Russia, here and here

Sonnenfeld told me yesterday evening that he believes some of these holdouts are “being blocked by outdated voices on their boards, who are still in the mindset of perestroika. There isn’t a win-win solution here. This is zero-sum. We have a tyrannical bully, one of the worst villains in history, with innocent unarmed victims. There is no middle ground. It’s black-and-white.” Watch this space.

Other news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Oil bans

The U.S. has banned imports of Russian fossil fuels, and the U.K. will phase out its importation of Russian oil by the end of the year. As Fortune’s Eamon Barrett writes, the Biden administration’s move is largely a gesture as it only removes around a tenth of the U.S.’s current energy mix, and the U.S. only accounted for 3% of Russian oil exports. The EU is really the one to watch here. Fortune

Russian default

In the wake of the U.S. and U.K.’s Russian-oil decisions, the ratings agency Fitch says Russia will default on its debts imminently; Morgan Stanley expects it to happen next month. Meanwhile, Russia has banned foreign currency sales until September, which could either soften Russians’ panic or heighten it—let’s see. BBC

Polish planes

Western efforts to get planes to the Ukrainian Air Force have turned chaotic. After Poland said it would offer dozens of its MiG-29s (which Ukraine’s pilots are trained to fly) to the cause, to take off from the U.S./NATO Ramstein base in Germany, the U.S. said this was not a good idea as it would probably escalate the conflict. Politico

Biden crypto

The Biden administration is about to unveil a cryptocurrency directive that will “address risks related to illicit finance, protecting consumers and investors, and preventing threats to the financial system and broader economy,” according to a statement from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that accidentally went out too soon. Bitcoin jumped 8% on the boo-boo. Fortune

AROUND THE WATERCOOLER

Inflation pricing

Fortune’s Geoff Colvin has a fascinating piece on three common pricing mistakes companies make during periods of high inflation, such as now. So beware the “peanut butter” approach, don’t signal big price increases then settle for lower ones, and don’t underestimate the sales effort. Fortune

Kohl’s fight

Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass has updated the retailer’s turnaround plan in a bid to fend off activist investors. The company’s stock fell a further 13% after she presented the updated strategy, which includes brand partnerships and continued investment in categories like activewear. Fortune

India travel

India has decided to drop its ban on international flights after all. The tourism industry there was horrified by a recent move to extend the ban indefinitely, so now it’s going to be lifted on March 27. Fortune

M-Pesa for Business

Fortune’s Bernhard Warner has a great piece on the M-Pesa mobile-money platform that operates across seven African countries. It’s 15 years old now, and these days businesspeople can use an app based on the platform that helps them pay suppliers and manage their accounts. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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