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How the pandemic fundamentally changed corporate leadership

April 27, 2022, 10:39 AM UTC

Good morning.

There’s a must-read essay out on Fortune.com this morning from my colleague Geoff Colvin, who has talked to a plethora of CEOs and their advisers and concluded that the pandemic fundamentally changed corporate leadership. For many CEOs, he writes, the past two years were…

 “…the most demanding, most disorienting, most exhausting experience of their careers, and for some the most frightening. Yet history suggests it’s just possible that they may someday remember it with gratitude. The past two years have been a classic crucible experience. It has been painful, and it has forced CEOs to look into themselves more deeply than most people ever do. It has transformed them. Few people seek out a crucible experience. But those who go through one almost always conclude much later, looking back, that it changed them for the better.”

How did they change? Colvin’s words convey that change better than I could, so I highly recommend reading his piece this morning here. All I will add is that his analysis fits with what I’ve been hearing from CEOs since the pandemic began. We crunched the numbers yesterday, and found that since March of 2020, Fortune has hosted just short of 80 virtual CEO roundtables, involving hundreds of CEOs, and most of them dealt with pandemic-induced changes. The reactions from leaders on those calls have been a far cry from what you would have heard two decades ago from, say, Jack Welch (dubbed “manager of the century” by Fortune in 1999). CEOs have become more, in a word, human.

Will the new style of CEO leadership continue? Colvin’s take:

“The best bet is that, just as workers won’t go all the way back to the office and shoppers won’t go all the way back to physical stores, CEOs won’t go all the way back to pre-pandemic leadership.”

By the way, few of Colvin’s comments about the new pandemic style of leadership apply to the CEO of the moment, Elon Musk. He is sui generis. You can read more about his Twitter takeover here. Other news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Russian gas

Russia wants “unfriendly” countries to pay for its natural gas in rubles instead of euros or dollars, and only Hungary has agreed to do so. In the first real test of this clash, Russia’s Gazprom this morning suspended gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria, sending European gas prices soaring. The European Commission accused Russia of “blackmail.” Financial Times

Tech selloff

Yesterday’s tech-stock carnage wiped out all of the gains the Nasdaq made last year, returning it to levels last seen in December 2020. And investors should expect more volatility today, with Alphabet having announced a revenues miss after the bell yesterday. Fortune

Chinese drones

In the first big withdrawal from Russia by a Chinese company, drone maker DJI has suspended sales there because it doesn’t want its wares being used in military operations. It made the same move in Ukraine—each side has been repurposing DJI’s consumer tech to keep an eye on the other’s movements. DJI will however not ground the drones that are already being used in Russia and Ukraine. Fortune

Mattel talks

Barbie maker Mattel could sell up to private equity, the Journal reports. Talks with companies such as Apollo Global Management have apparently been informal, and there may still be no sale. Wall Street Journal

AROUND THE WATERCOOLER

Executive flight

Gazprombank VP Igor Volobuev left Russia to go fight against Russian forces in his native Ukraine, and was unsurprisingly fired. Volobuev: “The Russians were killing my father, my acquaintances, and close friends. My father lived in a cold basement for a month. People I had known since childhood told me they were ashamed of me.” Moscow Times

Facebook data

A leaked internal Facebook document from last year suggests the company does not have a clear idea of where its user data goes, and how its systems use that data. That would be a huge problem in the EU, where the tough General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) insists companies not only have a good view over such things, but also that they must be able to explain their data processing. Motherboard

Printed homes

Fortune’s Bernhard Warner examines the possible future of homebuilding: 3D printing. One of the trend’s pioneers is Austin-based ICON, which uses a proprietary building material called “Lavacrete.” Fortune

Chinese censorship

Chinese censors have gone into overdrive as the country tries to fight its biggest ever mainland COVID-19 outbreak. In this disturbing piece, Fortune’s Grady McGregor tells the story of George Zhang, who was forced to apologize to the police for posting to social media photos and videos of a scuffle between residents of his Shanghai apartment block and medical and security staff. Overall, the authorities are “struggling to keep up” with the critical posts and messages coming out of Shanghai. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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