Fortune assembled two dozen CEOs of diverse companies over dinner in San Francisco on Tuesday evening to talk about the opportunities and challenges they face in the year ahead. The topics ranged widely, touching on the economy, A.I., the return to office, climate, ESG, geopolitics and domestic politics. Most of the conversation was off the record, but three CEOs—Laura Alber of Williams-Sonoma, Tom Siebel of C3.ai, and Carl Eschenbach, co-CEO of Workday—provided fire starter comments that I can excerpt here.
On the economy:
“For the last 14 months we have been sitting around saying the recession is going to come. Fourteen months later, we keep saying the same thing, over and over again. Companies are still doing well…There are a lot of layoffs, but if you look where they are coming from, it is very high-tech centric. Not everyone is doing layoffs. People are still hiring.”
“This is not last year, but it’s still really good. The opportunities are great for companies who are innovators and companies who have a competitive moat and who are staying relevant…We will gain market share in a receding home furnishings environment.”
“This topic is clearly on the tip of the tongue of every chairman and every CEO of every major company in the world. How is this going to threaten us? How are we going to use it? What happens if we don’t use it? How does it give us competitive advantage? We are in the first half of the first inning and we are the first guys at bat. This is a big deal.”
“This is real. It is happening. This is the next big tectonic shift.”
On geopolitical challenges:
“We have been diversifying our supply chain for years. When the tariffs (against Chinese products) happened, we moved a lot at that point. We brought a bunch back to America. And we are continuing to diversify.”
“It’s scary out there.”
On the political pushback against ESG:
“We think about all three letters, and how they affect our people and how they affect our customers. Some of our shareholders are very interested in ESG. But I don’t think we are going to over-rotate one way or the other.”
“We’ve been doing good things, trying to leave a better footprint, since before it was fashionable. It’s the right way to do business. It is very ingrained in what we do. We haven’t changed our approach to it.”
“At C3, we don’t do woke, we just work. We are involved in some of the largest energy optimization projects on earth, with companies like Enel, Shell, NG, ConEd, Duke. These guys are really not doing it for social good. They are doing it to make money.”
The dinner was part of the lead up to the Fortune Global Forum in Abu Dhabi November 27-29. If you are interested in attending, apply here.
More news below.
Shares in PacWest Bancorp plunged by over 50% in after-hours trading following reports that the regional bank is considering a sale. Confidence in the banking sector continues to be shaky after First Republic Bank failed over the weekend. Late Wednesday, PacWest confirmed it was talking with partners about strategic options, and that it hadn’t seen any unusual deposit outflows since the weekend. Bloomberg
The U.S. Department of Transportation will allow Chinese airlines to fly 12 weekly round-trip flights to the U.S., up from eight. (Beijing also allows a dozen weekly round-trip flights by American carriers). The number is still far from the 150 flights permitted by each side before the pandemic. U.S. firms in China complain the lack of flights constrains their ability to do business and attract international talent. Financial Times
Remote work introduced the term “productivity theater”—employees doing meaningless tasks to convince a boss they are truly working from home—into our workplace lexicon. But a new survey suggests that such fake productivity is worse in the office than at home, as workers feel they have to show off for coworkers or managers. Fortune
AROUND THE WATERCOOLER
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The exact six-figure salary that Gen Z and millennials need to feel like they’ve ‘made it’ by Orianna Rosa Royle
Frank founder accused of fraud spars with JPMorgan over legal bills, passwords, and where she moved her money by Luisa Beltran
3 charts illustrate how much VC performance is down by Lucy Brewster
Commentary: Work friendships could be what gets you through the next recession, according to new research by Natalie Baumgartner and Hannah Yardley
The scourge of ‘heir pollution’ shows that the rich are exacerbating climate change—and the dynastically wealthy are leading the charge by Jane Thier
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Nicholas Gordon.
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