Business Leadership Insights for Georgia from Fortune CEO Alan Murray
Thursday, May 7th, 2020
“I hear a very different tone among leaders than I did during the last recession,” said Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune Magazine.
This and a range of business insights were offered during the May 5 goBeyondProfit CEO Forum featuring Murray in conversation with Frank Blake, retired CEO and Chairman of The Home Depot and current Chair of both Delta Air Lines and Grady Health. You can find full event video here.
Throughout, Murray emphasized that values-oriented leadership approaches are holding through the pandemic.
Alan admitted that as he’s reported on the ideals of goBeyondProfit and stakeholder capitalism, he’s wondered if it was a “good times conversation.” But through the pandemic, CEOs have been telling him – and demonstrating behaviorally – that this leadership approach is holding.
“Companies are being very thoughtful about their place in society in the long term, seeing this crisis as a “Great Reset” not just a “Great Restart,” Murray said.
“CEOs know that how you handle yourself during the toughest of times is going to determine the quality of the company going forward.”
Murray cited three long-term trends in the economy as the underpinnings for this leadership approach, and why he sees them holding now and post-Coronavirus. “The focus on employees -- what employees want and their desires -- started out of need in a tight labor market,” Murray said. But it’s holding fast because “the whole nature of our economy has changed so much over the last two or three decades.”
First, he posed, “The things that used to carry a lot of value like property, plant & equipment, access to capital, or access to oil in the ground don’t matter as much today, relative to how important the people are.” He said human capital and intellectual property makes up most business value today, unlike 30 years ago. “So, the focus on people is an essential quality of running a business in the new economy and that’s not going to go away.”
Second, to achieve the speed and efficiency needed to survive, leaders can’t make and hold all the decisions at the top, they must empower their people. “For the people at the top, their job is much more about setting direction, setting values, setting that North Star, providing inspiration and motivation,” he said. “There’s increasing recognition that empowered workers -- and workers who have a sense that they’re doing good in the world, who have a sense of values -- are going to be your best assets, regardless of the size of your business.”
The third factor is Millennials who are less likely to have a religious affiliation and “aren’t big joiners.” “The employer has become their main formal connection to society. In some cases, they’re the only formal connection to society. So, employees are putting a lot more hopes and aspirations into that employer. Whereas earlier generations might have left work and gone to church or the Moose Club to give them a sense that they were doing good in the world, these days, it’s all on the employer.”
So, the pathway out of this crisis includes building “moral capital.”
Murray believes moral leadership and corporate generosity is shown through crises in the “how” of business decisions: “How you think about it. How you go about it. How you communicate it.”
Examples of “how” leaders are managing through coronavirus include the many efforts to provide extra help to workers and to offer furloughs instead of layoffs. Ed Bastian of Delta Air Lines was acknowledged for setting values and taking care of its employees as well as customers in the face of a 95% decrease in plane loads. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, committed – and challenged other leaders – to not lay off workers for 90 days.
Even the toughest decisions can be powerfully trust-building, like Arne Sorenson of Marriott whose Twitter video conveyed layoff news with transparency and great empathy.
“It’s not just about profit. You’ve got to make a profit, yes. And you can build up some moral capital over time that helps you weather tough times like this,” Murray said.
goBeyondProfit is a statewide alliance launched by business leaders for business leaders to spur corporate generosity and improve people’s lives. Through peer insights and stories, members learn from one another and strengthen their ability to ensure stronger businesses and healthier communities. goBeyondProfit is a fully funded philanthropic venture inviting every Georgia business to join at no cost. For further information visit goBeyondProfit.org.