Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says he didn’t set out to be an activist CEO. “I got labeled an activist CEO. This is not me. It’s not about me,” Benioff told members of Fortune‘s CEO Initiative yesterday. “I got pushed by my employees into it. My job as CEO is to listen deeply to my employees and customers and to respond to them.”
My guess, knowing Benioff, is that his role wasn’t quite so passive. But whatever the reason, the Salesforce CEO moved into the vanguard of CEO activism in 2015, when he took a strong stance against Indiana’s “religious liberties” law, viewed as sanctioning discrimination against gays. Last year, he angered other tech CEOs with a strong stance supporting a new tax to combat homelessness.
Benioff’s example is being followed. Numerous CEOs at the Initiative said they feel compelled to speak out on certain social issues, in part because of demands from their employees. During one breakout session, more than half the CEOs present said the job of “Chief Reputation Officer”-defined as articulating and defending the values of the firm-takes up more than half their work hours. That’s certainly a change from decades past.
Also at yesterday’s meeting, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat described the process his bank is taking to close a 29% pay gap between men and women. The first step, he said, was to ensure equal pay for equal work. The bigger step was to commit to promoting enough women to eliminate the remaining gap. He is aiming for 40% women at the assistant vice president level at the end of next year.
“I’m 36 years at our company, and I’ve sat around the table with a bunch of, politely put, middle-aged white men and had groupthink,” Corbat told the group. “Part of what we’ve talked about is this necessity to start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Other CEOs who participated in the day’s lively discussions on rethinking business’s role in society included Allstate’s Tom Wilson, EY’s Mark Weinberger, AB InBev’s Carlos Brito, Synchrony’s Margaret Keane and Hyatt’s Mark Hoplamazian.
More news below. And apologies to Anand Giridharadas for misspelling his name yesterday.
Huawei has paused its personal computer production and cancelled the launch of a new laptop, thanks to U.S. restrictions on component sales to the Chinese firm. As the Wall Street Journal notes, this is the “first tangible setback” caused by the ban. WSJ
President Trump says he’s the one holding up a potential trade deal with China, and he won’t relent unless China goes back to terms agreed earlier in the year. So stay tuned for what comes out of the G20 summit in Japan later this month–it may be one of the last chances to ward off a serious escalation of the trade war. Bloomberg
Hong Kong Protests
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens are facing off against teargas and rubber-bullet-wielding police in the biggest protests seen there for years. The protests erupted over a bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland–the government has already had to delay debate of the bill in response to the outcry. South China Morning Post
Elon Musk claims it “won’t be long” before Tesla can offer a car with a driving range of 400 miles. The current maximum for a Tesla is 335 miles. The company’s CEO also claimed that Tesla drivers will be able to use intervention-free self-driving features sometime next year. Musk: “Every car made since October 2016 is capable for full autonomy with replacement of the computer alone…We’ll still need regulatory approval but the capability will be there. This massively increases the value of the car. In fact, I think it’s basically financially insane to buy anything except an electric car that is upgradable to autonomy.” CNBC
Around the Water Cooler
What to make of the British Labour Party’s potential push for the introduction of a four-day work-week for the public sector? Bloomberg‘s Ferdinando Giugliano says it might actually be a pretty good idea–not to juice employment figures (the justification being mooted in Italy), but perhaps to increase the U.K.’s productivity. Bloomberg
Facebook has launched a new app that will monitor everything users do on their phones, in exchange for payment. It did this before, of course, getting it into trouble with Apple in particular. This time Facebook is claiming more transparency and security–and the app is only available on Google’s Android for now. Fortune
“Imagine this for a second. One man with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all those secrets, their lives, their futures. I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future,” says Mark Zuckerberg in an Instagram clip. Except he didn’t say that, of course–the video is a mildly convincing example of a “deepfake,” in which AI is used to put words into someone’s mouth. Facebook says it won’t take the video down, in line with its policies. But this technology is improving quickly. This is just a taste of our faked-out future. The Verge
Capitalism’s PR Problem
Participants at Fortune‘s CEO Initiative in New York City said yesterday that capitalism has a PR problem. Insigniam founding partner Nathan Rosenberg: “For every one positive article about capitalism, there are 11 negative ones. CEOs should seize their job. Capitalism has created more elevation of [the] human condition than any religion or government ever has. We don’t tell our story. We don’t talk about the benefits. We have to get out and tell our story.” Fortune