November 19, 2019
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Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year is out this morning, and before I spoil the surprise, let me just say this is much more than a popularity contest. Fortune data editor Scott DeCarlo does a multi-year screen of all public companies to see who the top contenders are, and then lets the editors weigh in on their business impact.
And now, drum roll please, this year’s winner is: Satya Nadella, who has engineered an amazing turnaround at Microsoft that has left us all in awe. To see the others on the list…including the woman who nabbed the number 2 spot…go here.
Meanwhile, I’m in Paris at the Fortune Global Forum, where I said yesterday that there hasn’t been a time in my four decades as a journalist when the world of business seemed so on the cusp of such great promise and such great peril…at the same time. New technologies are allowing companies to completely remake their business models…or face being disrupted by others. Employees, customers, and investors are demanding that companies rethink their very purpose in society…or risk losing their operating licenses.
There’s a sea of uncertainty out there, with enormous opportunities and enormous risks waiting on the far shore. And that has framed the rich discussions at this week’s forum.
The first three CEOs on the stage focused on the opportunity:
• Novartis’ Vas Narasimhan said we are on the edge of using machine learning to take on “some of our greatest challenges, like cancer, genetic diseases, and hopefully Alzheimer’s.” He said he expected CRISPR gene-editing technology would enable us “to cure a whole range of [genetically-based] diseases….it’s just a matter of time.”
• UPS’s David Abney said his company had received the first FAA license to experiment with drone delivery, which he predicted will become a reality, in certain controlled situations, within the next year. “Time is just not going to be the factor that it has been over the years. Things that used to take weeks, it has now become days, and it will become hours.”
• Huawei’s Ken Hu played to the local audience by saying that 5G will lead to better wine: “The French people will be able to use A.I. and and satellite imagery to help them decide which grapes are ready for harvesting.”
But McKinsey CEO Kevin Sneader and Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel focused on the challenge to both jobs and incomes in the future. “The transition is very concerning,” Sneader said. “Like every industrial revolution, you can paint a picture that there will be more jobs. The issue is the transition…The real challenge is how do you reskill at scale in a way that realizes that some people are going to have to do things very differently.”
And former Unilever CEO Paul Polman warned the crowd about the need for businesses to have the “moral courage” to take dramatic action to address the two existential challenges of our time—climate change and rising inequality.
You can read more comprehensive coverage of the forum here. But let me pass on three more tidbits here:
• Accenture CEO Julie Sweet said she has a sign hanging in her home that says: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
• Dassault Systems CEO Bernard Charlès, talking about how AI is needed to make biomedicine development more efficient, said: “If airplanes were done this way, a company would do 100 airplanes, throw them up in the air, see which flies, and say ‘this is the one I am going to produce.’”
• GE Healthcare CEO Kieran Murphy, asked about the possibility of a spin out for his company, said: “At some point—we don’t have a timetable—we will probably emerge from under GE. We are big enough to stand on our own two feet.”
Apologies for the longer-than-usual note. More news below.