Looking back at a momentous year

Good morning.

This is the last CEO Daily of 2020, and I am struggling with how to capture the enormity of the year in 300 words. So much has happened. It’s not the jarring rupture of a Pearl Harbor or a Kennedy assassination or a 9/11. But it is no less consequential—a clear break between past and future.

The virus was pernicious. Many of us lost friends and loved ones; many lost jobs; all have been disrupted. The deep fissures in our society that run along the lines of race, gender and education deepened, and the great divide between those companies that are tech savvy and those that are not widened. Our lives changed in myriad ways and won’t ever return to the previous state. For my small part, I know I will never again travel the globe at the pace I did in 2019, or commute from my home in Connecticut to Manhattan five days a week, or wear striped shirts that pixelate on Zoom.

Good things happened, as well as bad. The virus, as Scott Galloway put it, was an accelerant, allowing countless companies to innovate with an abandon they never would have thought possible. Institutional risk aversion melted away, as goals suddenly became necessities. The pharmaceutical industry was a leading example—abandoning its obsession with protecting IP in favor of a collaborative effort to develop new products to defeat the virus. Other industries followed similar paths. Fortune was no exception: our conference business went virtual virtually overnight, and the experience helped us launch a new platform for the next generation of leaders—Fortune Connect.  The business cliché of the year applies broadly: “We did things in weeks and months that we thought would take years.” 

And somewhat to my surprise, despite the pressures on the bottom line, business became better. I saw countless examples of companies paying closer attention to the health and well-being of their workers during the pandemic, promoting purpose rather than pushing products and services, and expressing a sincere desire to use the short-term crisis as an opportunity to build a stronger, more sustainable, long-term future. Stakeholder capitalism took another step forward.

So I’ll be leaving 2020 a little dazed, a lot disrupted, a bit saddened, but ultimately amazed at all that happened, and curious to see how much endures. And I look forward to rejoining all of you in January for the next part of the ride.

More news below. And check out Tarun Wadhwa’s argument for why innovation can’t happen on Zoom.

Alan Murray


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