COVID-19 has changed the way we work and live. In response to the public health emergency, PCF Founder and Chairman Michael Milken is engaging a range of industry leaders and medical experts to help us better understand and confront a crisis that has not only altered our current day to day, but will change the course of how we work, socialize, and fight disease for years to come. For all podcasts visit: milkeninstitute.org/podcast/conversations-mike-milken
Michel Doukeris CEO, Anheuser-Busch
“In protecting our business, we are not talking about protecting Anheuser-Busch’s business, but everybody in the chain that was relying on AB to maintain their business continuity. And that came from the farmers to the people in our breweries, to the wholesalers that we service to the retailers that they service and for the consumers, that they would need to have some sense of normalcy.”
An event like a pandemic can make one reexamine personal and professional priorities. For Brazilian-born Michel Doukeris, it was a chance to bolster his 165-year-old company’s commitment to its customers. When hand sanitizer was in short supply, the CEO of Anheuser-Busch quickly shifted brewery production to fill that need. When the American Red Cross saw blood donations decline, the venerable company used its partnerships with major sports franchises to allow their arenas to be used for that vital purpose. That kind of altruism also extends to the company’s supply chain—and to its competitors.
“We want to be the company that contributes the most for our retailers and wholesalers for their business growth,” he tells Mike. “It’s about working with our employees and our communities to be strong….And it’s about having a leadership position in the overall industry, making the industry better, making the industry healthier and making sure that we are contributing through innovation to make this industry a vibrant one for the next 100 years.”
Enrique Lores, President & CEO, HP Inc.
“We all have learned the things that a few months ago we thought were not possible were really possible….As I think about manufacturing, I think about two big changes. First is the creation of more decentralized manufacturing networks, where companies will be able to produce closer…to where their customers will be. The second big change will be driven by personalization.”
After launching his 30-year career at HP with an internship, Enrique Lores was named CEO in November 2019. In between, he learned virtually every facet of the iconic company, helping it achieve its current status as a leader in the technology sector. For HP’s future, the Madrid-born Lores sees increasing market share in the biomedical sector, as personalized medicine drives demand for 3D printing.
“We are building microprocessors for fluids,” he tells Mike, “and with them we will be able to do diagnostics and measure and identify potential diseases. We will also be able to create personalized medicine. So if you are going through a difficult treatment, we will be able to create a specific medicine designed only for you, and that medicine will be built in your home, at your home. That ability and option to drive the democratization of the healthcare space is one of the most inspiring efforts that we have in the company. Not only because of the business it will create, but also because of the impact it will have in the world.”
The Novelist and the Neurologist, with John Grisham and Neal Kassell
“Once I realized the potential of this non-invasive surgical procedure to save countless lives and improve the healthcare of millions of people, I realized how important this work can be and is.” — John Grisham
Friends and neighbors for 25 years, author John Grisham and neurologist Neal Kassell are on a mission. Together, they are raising awareness—and funds—for a promising, non-invasive procedure known as focused ultrasound. While the FDA has approved the therapy for seven specific treatments, Kassell (who successfully treated both of President-elect Biden’s aneurysms) believes that millions could benefit from broader applications of the technology:
“Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, OCD, depression, a lot of work now on epilepsy, stroke,” he tells Mike on the podcast. “The other major area that has us really excited is cancer and cancer immunotherapy, particularly glioblastoma and pancreatic cancer, as well as metastatic melanoma. [What] we need in addition to financial capital is human or intellectual capital….The ultimate force multiplier for human capital is collaboration. So, we spend a lot of time fostering collaboration.”
Julie Sweet, Accenture
“The crisis happened at a time of exponential change in technology that was already transforming the way we work, how we engage with clients, how we make decisions….And then you instantly had behavioral change at a scale that we’ve never seen in the past.”
Julie Sweet believes large companies should be flexible and light on their feet. Case in point: Accenture. When she became CEO of the multinational professional services company in 2019, she instituted sweeping changes to its operating model and invested billions in a new cloud system that left their half million employees, across 120 countries, in a much better position to withstand the pandemic. It is this kind of foresight that led The New York Times to call her “one of the most powerful women in corporate America” and Fortune to rank her number one on its Most Powerful Women in Business list.
“I am talking to many companies now who say we want to move as fast as we did,” she tells Mike on the podcast. “And my simple question is: ‘What have you changed?’ Because large organizations in particular can’t operate in crisis mode forever. What do they need to change to compete and to be successful in what I call the new reality?”
Jennifer Doudna – Biochemist, UC Berkeley, Co-inventor of CRISPR
“Diagnosis goes hand in hand with vaccination, and of course with therapies as well. What CRISPR is doing is providing for rapid turnaround testing at a lower cost and higher throughput than we’ve had with other technologies. We’ll see that happening in various testing labs, certainly around the U.S. And the nice thing about that is it really does go hand in hand with these vaccines that are coming forward.”
When Jennifer Doudna first spoke with Mike on the podcast four months ago, she was looking forward to her revolutionary CRISPR technology being applied to COVID diagnosis. Today, the Innovative Genomics Institute, which she founded, has tested more than 100,000 virus samples, including many in the underserved communities around UC Berkeley, her academic home. Another development since August: Dr. Doudna received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her game-changing co-discovery of CRISPR, which may one day help facilitate the elimination of genetic diseases.
“We have the sequence of the entire human genome now,” she reminds Mike. “That’s been available for the last two decades. And what hasn’t been possible up until now is an easy way to manipulate the code. Allow scientists to make a change to an individual gene or to a set of genes to understand first of all, how they work, but also, really importantly, make changes that correct disease-causing mutations. And that’s what CRISPR now enables.”
Thomas Kurian, CEO, Google Cloud
“The process of digitization – whether that was e-commerce in retail, or online gaming for media, online streaming in the media business, digital platforms for the public sector – was already underway. But it enormously accelerated with the pandemic.”
In his two years as CEO of Google Cloud, Thomas Kurian has seen revenues for his company’s services soar more than 40 percent. The India-born former president of Oracle believes that the “new normal” of telecommuting will continue to help drive future growth – as long as Google Cloud remembers its core values and who it serves.
“Leadership during this time of transition,” he tells Mike, “a time of difficulty in many cases, has been not just about the tactics and the strategy, but also the purpose and the mission. And that has helped us unify our entire organization around this notion of supporting customers during this period of change for them. And we call that the notion of customer empathy.”
Sherry Lansing, Encore
““When we get out of this pandemic, I suspect people are going to want to flock to the movie theaters. But they’re also going to say, I still want my content delivered. So, the movie industry is going to face a decision. Do they offer it both ways – on your iPad the same day as the release in the theater? What’s the model? They’re determining that as we speak. And I think COVID has upended the movie business even more than usual.”
Most actresses who come to Hollywood don’t end up running a major motion picture studio. But in 1980, Sherry Lansing became the first woman to do so, first leading 20th Century Fox, then Paramount Pictures for more than 12 years. She had a hand in over 200 films including “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart,” and “Titanic.” Since her retirement, she has embarked on what she calls an “encore” career of philanthropy. The Sherry Lansing Foundation is dedicated to cancer research, health, public education, and encouraging seniors to pursue their own encore careers.
“Every project I’ve ever worked on was hard and took a long time,” she tells Mike on the podcast. “And one of the traits you have to have in any job is resiliency. And you also have to believe in something outside of yourself, that what you’re fighting for is worth fighting for. It’s worth the time, it’s worth the effort. If you don’t have that belief, you will give up.”
Francis Collins, NIH
“It has been a year of terrible tragedy. … And yet, it’s also been a year of heroism: the first responders, the healthcare providers, putting themselves at risk to try to help those who are suffering. But I also think there are heroes that have risen to this challenge in the research community, in the business community.”
When NIH Director Francis Collins first spoke with Mike in April of 2020, he was marshalling an army of researchers among his 6,000 research scientists to tackle the coronavirus. He had already successfully directed the Human Genome Project from 1993 to 2008, during which much of the genetic groundwork was laid that would later contribute to the development of Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA-based vaccines. With light now appearing at the end of the tunnel, Mike checked back in with Dr. Collins for further insight and perspective.
“We are going to get past this,” Collins affirms. “And then I pray, let us not forget the lessons we’ve learned. Let us not slip back into complacency. Let’s keep in mind that we are a vulnerable blue planet and that it’s up to all of us to anticipate the things that we might need that science could bring to bear on the next problem, and not wait until it’s a crisis.”
Collaborating to Beat COVID: A Conversation with Leaders from Health and Bioscience – Sir Andrew Witty, George Yancopoulos, Esther Krofah
“Are we willing to do for life sciences and global defense what we were willing to do for the financial environment in the 2008 financial crisis? Because if you compare the trillions of dollars committed to stabilize the financial systems to the billions of dollars which are being committed to stabilize the health system, they don’t compare. They really don’t.” –Sir Andrew Witty.
In a special episode, three of biotech’s most valuable players convene for a wide-ranging conversation about the pandemic. The consensus among Sir Andrew Witty (UnitedHealth, Optum and WHO), Esther Krofah (FasterCures) George Yancopoulos (Regeneron) is that getting future pandemics under control will require cross-sector collaboration and investment to build on current successful strategies.
“It’s not what we did in the last six months, or the last nine months that will have led to saving us from the pandemic,” George Yancopoulos tells Mike on the podcast. “If we can successfully complete these efforts that we’ve undertaken, it will have been the decades of investments in science, technology and platforms that put us in a position to respond, and we can certainly do better as a society being better prepared.”
Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed
“The efficacy of these vaccines is spectacular. It’s 95%, the same whether you are an African-American or Hispanic or over 65 years old. … Remarkably, these two vaccines developed in different companies, two different continents, give incredibly similar results, totally independent, which is also enhancing the likelihood that these data absolutely are real.”
In a triumph of modern science and leadership, millions of highly effective doses of COVID-19 vaccines are currently being manufactured, distributed, and administered around the world. For this, much credit goes to Moncef Slaoui, the Chief Science Officer for Operation Warp Speed, a U.S. public–private partnership that has fostered development of these breakthrough drugs.
The Moroccan-born Slaoui – who previously worked on vaccines for the H1N1, Ebola, and Zika viruses in a 30-year career at GlaxoSmithKline – tells Mike that the lessons learned in 2020 should inspire investments to prevent future pandemics. “I think that would be my way forward. We are bleeding $20 billion a day; let’s spend $300 million a year when we don’t have a pandemic. Let’s be preventative.”
Albert Bourla, Pfizer and Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson
“I think history has shown us to have major leaps forward almost after every crisis. Whether it’s a war, a natural disaster, or frankly a big challenge such as going to the moon, these kinds of inflection points force us to go in new directions to collaborate and to accelerate technological breakthroughs.” – Alex Gorsky
Two of the most important CEOs in the world today—Pfizer’s Albert Bourla and Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky—spoke recently with Mike at the Milken Institute’s Future of Health Summit. While Pfizer is already scaling up production and distribution of their mRNA-based vaccine, Gorsky’s company is looking forward to the third-stage clinical trial results for their single dose, vector-based therapy. The unprecedented collaboration fostered at all levels of the biomedical sector has paid dividends, with many more potential treatments to come.
“I’m very proud of what we have been able to achieve,” Albert Bourla tells Mike on the podcast. “We will see many more companies in the next few weeks and months demonstrating similar successes in their projects against COVID because one vaccine or two vaccines will not be enough for the entire world. The world needs options.”
Sarah Murdoch, Kathryn North and Hamish Graham
“With COVID, there’s been this renewed focus on the importance of medical research…With more funding and with philanthropic partners, I’m really optimistic about the further impact that we can make on that global scale.” – Sarah Murdoch, of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
When Dame Elizabeth Murdoch founded the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in 1986, she wanted to create an organization dedicated to making discoveries to prevent and treat childhood conditions. Today, MCRI is Australia’s top pediatric health research institute and among the top three worldwide for research quality and impact, with more than 1,200 investigators in 35 countries.
“We’ve got our eye on the long-term impacts of COVID,” MCRI Director Kathryn North tells Mike on the podcast. “We have quite a lot of previous data on the well-being, the health, and the mental health of children and families in our community. But we’ve now been able to continue to liaise with those families, to look at the direct effects of COVID and then look out into the future.”
Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, Mubadala
“The UAE was among the first countries in the world to make sure it implemented and successfully executed a testing policy. We ramped up on capacity, on ICU space, on respirator supplies. And that resulted in one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.”
As the Group CEO and Managing Director of Mubadala Investment Company, H.E. Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak is responsible for creating sustainable financial returns for Abu Dhabi, overseeing more than $230 billion in assets across 50+ businesses and investments in more than 50 countries. Considered one of the royal family’s most trusted advisors, he is especially proud of what the Emirati response to the pandemic tells the world.
“In the easy times you know your people for sure,” he tells Mike on the podcast, “But the tough times—that’s when you know the mettle of your people, be it at a company, be it in the country. And 2020 showed the mettle, I think, of the UAE and the Emiratis.”
Himisha Beltran, Felix Feng, Christopher Haiman, Deborah Scher and Jonathan Simons
“The road to curing COVID runs right through lots and lots of cancer research.” – Jonathan Simons, President and CEO, Prostate Cancer Foundation
Three top cancer researchers, the head of PCF, and a VA leader join Mike Milken to discuss how genomics, immunotherapies, and precision medicine are informing the quest for effective COVID vaccines and treatments.
The best practices developed by oncologists in the past two decades are now the standard of care at VA facilities across the country. In discussing the 2016 PCF/VA partnership that established Centers of Excellence, Deborah Scher notes the role oncology continues to play in the pandemic. “We have really built a community of researchers who are bringing best-in-class precision oncology to veterans across the country and are using that platform not just for prostate cancer innovation, but today for COVID innovation as well.”
Orlando Bravo, Thoma Bravo
“There were a lot of hedge fund blogs out there saying software is going to get destroyed…And guess what happened? Our recurring revenue stream was really nearly untouched in a pandemic. Corporate customers paid their subscription software revenue, but they didn’t pay rent. It was more stable than real estate.”
To this day, Orlando Bravo would rather have played Wimbledon than become the first Puerto Rican-born billionaire. As a teen, he was a top-40 junior player; as an adult, Bravo eventually co-founded Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm specializing exclusively on software deals. Forbes recently called him “Wall Street’s best dealmaker.” He may also be one of its most generous: In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Bravo chartered planes to Puerto Rico carrying $10,000,000 in essential goods and committed an additional $100,000,000 to foster entrepreneurship and economic development on the island.
As he tells Mike, “After the hurricane in Puerto Rico…that was my personal moment in philanthropy where I understood for the first time that if I didn’t do anything about it, nobody else was going to.”
George Yancopoulos (Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Regeneron), Joseph Vinetz (Professor of Medicine, Yale University, Infectious Disease Physician), Tal Zaks (Chief Medical Officer, Moderna)
“We’re going to need vaccines to create as widespread herd immunity as we can, but we’re also going to need drugs that are targeted against the virus that can provide immediate protection and also treat those who are already sick,” says Regeneron Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, George Yancopoulos. “So we have multiple clinical trials ongoing with our antibody cocktail, both for prophylaxis or prevention and also for treatment.”
Three world-renowned bioscience leaders join Mike Milken and Prostate CancerFoundation (PCF) chief science officer Howard Soule for a conversation on the state of the COVID-19 challenge, herd immunity, and unique approaches to developing safe and effective vaccines, antibodies, and other treatments. Recorded on August 29 as part of a PCF event, this conversation is especially notable as it describes the antibody cocktail that would later be administered to President Donald Trump after he contracted the virus.
Moderna’s Tal Zaks is optimistic that scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough we’ll learn more about very soon. “In the coming months,” he tells Howard on the podcast, “expect data from us and potentially some of the other vaccine companies that also have started phase 3 trials that will conclusively demonstrate that these vaccines can work. I hope all of them succeed because I don’t think a single company can carry the weight of what’s needed to protect all of us and all those who need it.”
Maria Bartiromo, FOX
“It goes back to opportunity and jobs….Government can only do so much. The private sector needs to step up and ensure that they are creating opportunities for a broad swath of the population who don’t have those opportunities.”
When Maria Bartiromo became the first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 1995, she was well on her way to another honor: the first female journalist to be inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame. Throughout her career, the two-time Emmy Award winner has interviewed presidents, policymakers, and CEOs, but always with an ear for what her audience needs to know.
“I want to make sure to get from that person, the one thing that will resonate for broad, big groups of people,” she tells Mike. “Their words will impact people and they will perhaps move the needle on something like income inequality, or…giving that person the courage to stick their neck out and try something new.”
Mary Barra, GM
“There was this ventilator company that needed help. We realized there was one part on the ventilator that was very similar to the way a transmission is designed and they were having quality issues with it. We brought in transmission engineers and they figured out a way to improve the part and the ability to produce it.”
Just before this interview was recorded, General Motors announced it had completed a contract with the federal government to supply 30,000 ventilators for COVID patients. It’s just one example of how Chairman and CEO Mary Barra sees her mission as more than just leading a car company. A proud GM employee for nearly 40 years, Barra is grateful for the opportunities and mentorship that helped prepare her to be the first female CEO of a major auto manufacturer—and she’s determined to pay it forward.
“We talked about wanting to be the most inclusive company in the world,” she tells Mike on the podcast. “But I’m quick to say I want every company to be there because if we all provide inclusive work environments, we will change the environment in the country and beyond….We’re looking very comprehensively at General Motors and how we drive change [and] create an environment where everybody can bring their true self to work.”
Manny Friedman and Neal Wilson, EJF Capital
“You’ve got to think big to solve problems….Some of the present bills [have] the potential to solve the major inequality problem in the United States.” (Friedman) “Given the historically low rates, what we’re saying is the government can be the catalyst for effecting long-term change.” (Wilson)
As co-CEOs of EJF Capital, Manny Friedman and Neal Wilson oversee more than $6 billion in assets, with clients in 22 countries and offices on three continents. Their innovative strategies focus on trends driven by regulatory change, which could soon deliver an infusion of capital to banks in underserved communities—if current legislation passes.
“Often in a democracy you need a crisis to get a focus, but we have the focus right now,” Friedman tells Mike. “We also have a lucky break of zero interest rates. We must enact this legislation, which will allow these institutions long‐term capital that can’t go away so that they can affect these communities.”
Peter Laugharn, Hilton Foundation
“Every society is more fragile than we realize, and every society can be taken advantage of. So I think it’s incumbent on everyone to fight for community, to recognize the humanity of everybody….It’s what keeps us safe, and it’s what gives the future to our kids.”
Just out of college in 1982, Peter Laugharn joined the Peace Corps, setting him on a lifelong journey of service. Today, with more than 25 years of leadership—including seven years at the Firelight Foundation and six years at the Bernard van Leer Foundation—Laugharn is President and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Established in 1944, the foundation administers the largest annual humanitarian award in the world and focuses on vulnerable populations, including the homeless in Los Angeles and children in Africa.
“Both Africa and the States have challenges in front of them in terms of rethinking their futures,” he tells Mike. “And I think they have to be done both at a systems and policy level, but also at a level that allows individuals to fully invest and build with one another.”
Todd Boehly, Eldridge
“Throughout our organization, we’re continuously pushing on how do we continue to add diversity, and I think we’re a young enough group where that has always been the way we’ve approached the world….Our culture has been that diverse groups make better decisions.”
Todd Boehly strives for an organization as diverse as the holdings of Eldridge Industries itself. As co-founder, chairman, and CEO, he manages and builds companies in wide-ranging sectors including technology, credit, insurance, real estate, sports, and entertainment. His foray into film financing and distribution yielded a Best Picture Oscar for 2017’s Moonlight. His purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 has resulted in seven consecutive division championships and two National League pennants.
“One of the greatest joys for me was being able to teach my young three boys about Jackie Robinson through the Dodgers,” he tells Mike. “And I think that that’s given them more of a sense of responsibility, a sense of equity, a sense of making sure that they think about the future of the country….I think that the Dodgers ownership gave us a great opportunity and a great responsibility to make sure that we continue to think about funding businesses and ideas and themes that come from all diverse places.”
Brian Cornell, Target
“We need to have an organization that reflects the millions and millions of guests we serve each and every day. From the bottom up, we’ve made a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Of the 1,900 stores we run in the United States, over half are led by female store directors, over a third are diverse, and we build that pipeline in the organization.”
For more than three decades, Brian Cornell held executive roles in the consumer goods sector. But when he became chairman and CEO of Target in 2014, he says his business career really began. Because of the broad array of goods that Target sells, Cornell knows that his stores are vital to communities across America—especially during difficult times. He feels a special obligation to treat his 350,000 plus team members as extended family.
“How do we make sure we’re taking care of them? We’re investing in them, we’re mentoring and developing great talent in the organization, and that hasn’t stopped during the pandemic,” he tells Mike on the podcast. “We haven’t lost focus for even a moment on the purpose of our company during the challenging times that we’ve faced in the last six months.”
“Venture capital is concentrated in…three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. We know that not all the good ideas come from those three places. And so it’s really important that we think hard about how we make sure that all small businesses can access capital.”
With a career that effortlessly spans public and private sectors, including successful forays into entrepreneurism and philanthropy, Maria Contreras-Sweet is lauded for her ability to bring efficiencies and modernization to large scale organizations. Her tenure as the 24th Administrator of the Small Business Administration was noted for record-breaking results in lending, investments, and contracting. A proud immigrant, Contreras-Sweet has never forgotten her family’s journey nor the lessons it taught her.
“I still remember being the 4th grade milk monitor and writing to my grandmother to say, ‘I’m now in charge of something,’” she tells Mike. “And she said, ‘It’s not about the titles that you have. It’s about what you do with the titles that you have.’ And so, I found ways to make sure that all the kids—even though they didn’t have the nickel for milk—that I was the right kind of gatekeeper and offered them free milk. That’s how it all started.”
Roger Ferguson, TIAA
“We have to rebuild with a more inclusive capitalism, and I emphasize both of those words…so that as we go forward with crises—and there will be crises—the impact of those crises will not be so heavily defined by the color of one’s skin.”
As President and CEO of TIAA, Roger Ferguson manages 1.1 trillion dollars in retirement funds and services spanning the academic, research, medical, and cultural fields. As one of only four Black CEOs currently leading a Fortune 500 company, he knows the importance of making capitalism work for everyone. And, as the former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve who helped stabilize markets during 9/11, he has seen how resilient the system can be—even in the midst of a pandemic.
“The speed with which markets moved, I think, has been quite breathtaking,” he tells Mike on the podcast. “This may have been the shortest bear market in history, and one of the most rapid trough to peak [recoveries] we’ve seen in the history of markets. That is a lesson for all of us, how quickly with the action of central banks and others that the markets can turn themselves around.”
Bob Pittman, iHeartMedia
“What we’ve done during COVID in many ways, we’ve taken 10 years of technology adoption and crammed it into three months. I’m certain we’re getting ready to have a slew of new ideas that you and I haven’t thought of, but that we’re going to be delighted to support.”
Bob Pittman was 15 when he started in radio – and he never looked back. The Mississippi native and current Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia has been hailed as a visionary and belongs to multiple broadcasting and advertising halls of fame. He pioneered and led MTV, and served as CEO for AOL Networks, Six Flags Theme Parks, Quantum Media, Century 21 Real Estate, and Time Warner Enterprises. More recently, he led a group of founding partners in launching the Black Information Network (BIN) in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing.
“When you hire for a job, you tend to look for experience,” Bob Pittman tells Mike on the podcast. “If you look for experience, you’re basically going to get what was, not what could be. So with BIN, we hired everybody for potential…. We need to unlock the career for everybody who doesn’t look like the past, but we know looks like the present and the future. And how do we get there? BIN for us was just a great opportunity to unleash some of that.”
Michael Hofman, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
“Once you have a whole body PET scan, there’s not a lot of value often in doing a physical examination or taking out your stethoscope because the information on that scan tells you everything you need to know. The classic medicine history examination is giving way to a whole new form of medicine where we are using a variety of different technologies.”
As a noted physician-scientist and nuclear medicine physician at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Michael Hofman has built a career on using the latest technology in the pursuit of better cancer treatments, especially those using positron emission tomography (PET) scans and precision medicine. COVID-19 is accelerating adoption of these approaches, and he sees other treatment trends on the horizon.
“I think it’s going to become more mainstream—where the doctor acts as an advisor as part of the patient team,” Michael Hofman tells Mike on the podcast. “And we share all the data that we’re accumulating with the patient, we advise of the pros and cons, and then the patients go off and do their own research and come back with ideas as well. And we become part of a team working on the shared goal of achieving the best outcome.”
Jennifer Doudna – Biochemist, UC Berkeley, Co-inventor of CRISPR
“I really want to be building on this technology here at Berkeley and making sure that we are creating a community of scientists that are doing two things: not only extending this extraordinary science and thinking about how to apply genome editing in ways that will have real impact on humanity; but also doing it with an eye towards social responsibility.”
It used to be the stuff of science fiction: A scientist discovers a way to edit genetic sequences in humans and plant life, creating new opportunities to eliminate diseases and famine. Except in Jennifer Doudna’s case, the CRISPR-Cas9 technology she co-invented in 2012 has already produced real-life benefits—along with a scramble to translate the game-changing process into more treatments and cures. In the meantime, it has shown promise in the fight against COVID.
“CRISPR proteins are quite useful for detection of viruses,” the Berkeley biochemistry professor tells Mike on the podcast of CRISPR-Cas9. “In fact, that’s what they naturally do in bacteria. And not only that, they operate by a molecular mechanism that allows them to release a signal when they find their targets. So they can report on the presence of a virus in real time and with a visual signal in a way that I think could be a very powerful diagnostic tool in the near future.”
Anastasia Soare, Anastasia Beverly Hills
“I think my immigrant spirit of adapting kicked in and I said, look guys, we need to do something. We cannot sit here and do nothing because the stores are closed. Let’s start a plan of attack, let’s start going online….This is what we did within 10 days…and we grew 154 percent online.”
Anastasia Soare is living proof that one can achieve the American Dream by building a better eyebrow. After emigrating from Romania in 1989 with limited cash and English skills—but with a solid education in art—she applied da Vinci’s golden ratio to the sculpting of women’s brows. With clients such as the Kardashians and Oprah Winfrey, the plucky founder and CEO of Anastasia Beverly Hills was able to build a beauty empire that today sells more than 480 products in 3,000 stores and has more than 20 million followers on social media.
“I love my clients. I love to teach women. I love to show them how they could enhance their beauty,” Anastasia Soare tells Mike on the podcast. “We are home, and this is what we have to do. I think this is the new norm, and it’s not going to go away very soon. We have to go out and wear a mask. Our eyebrows need to be perfect! So the next year, this is what is going to be.”
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Biocon
“I’m very committed to compassionate capitalism, which is what I like to call my business….My products are there to help patients who need it anywhere in the world. And therefore, I believe that if I can actually produce these products in a way that provides affordable access…I will be very driven by that sense of purpose.”
As one of India’s most celebrated biopharmaceutical entrepreneurs, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has been committed to healing the sick since she was 25. In 2010, Time magazine named her one the 100 most influential people in the world. Today, the executive chairperson of Biocon is determined to make a difference through both her philanthropy and her company’s promising COVID-19 treatment. Sadly, she may become a test patient herself: shortly after this interview was recorded, she tested positive for the virus.
“We did a proof of concept study in India with our drug and we actually got some very compelling results,” the Biocon executive chairperson tells Mike on the podcast. “All the patients who took our drug recovered very well and in the small control arm, which did not take our drug, we had quite a few deaths. We got an emergency use approval from the regulator in India. We just received it a couple of weeks ago, and in these two weeks we’ve actually treated over a thousand patients in India, and most of them have recovered.”
Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, Facebook
“There’s so much more that unites us than separates us. And at the same time, also from a business perspective, the small businesses around the world, well, they’re looking for the same thing too. … I’ve been on the streets of the Soweto with some amazing female entrepreneurs. And they’re telling me about the biggest businesses happening in New York today. And that wouldn’t have been possible that a decade ago.”
Lady Nicola Mendelsohn is doing her part to make the world smaller and more accessible. As Vice President of Facebook for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, her mission is to help bring connectivity – and prosperity – to the developing world. So far, she is succeeding: The Daily Telegraph has called her “the most powerful woman in the British tech industry,” and Queen Elizabeth awarded her the honorific of Commander of the British Empire in 2015.
“I sit on the government’s Industrial Strategy Council, and that is supposed to do impartial evaluation of the UK government’s progress on its own industrial strategy and its impact on its economy,” the Facebook VP of EMEA tells Mike on the podcast. “I worked on the skills report that we published earlier this year. Digital skills are the most underskilled of all the skills. And at the same time, it’s the biggest opportunity for any market as well. There needs to be so much work and focus put into this because businesses are going to be crying out for it.”
Sean Cairncross, Millennium Challenge Corporation
“Government funds alone simply aren’t going to get the job done. What’s needed is the engagement of the private sector and the private capital flows that come into these markets to make lasting change sustainable.”
Created in 2004 with broad bipartisan support, the Millennium Challenge Corporation is a US Government aid agency that seeks to reduce poverty in the developing world through economic growth. CEO Sean Cairncross is committed to working with governments that have a proven record of stability, good governance, and existing investments in their own people. He proudly points to the fact that MCC was recently ranked first among US aid agencies for transparency.
“Each project has to have a certain economic rate of return before MCC will invest in it,” he tells Mike on the podcast. “We look at that over the course of time for 20 years after that project is completed in order to report essentially to our stakeholders, the US taxpayer, that this is money well spent and that we’ve achieved a result.”
Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Motsepe Foundation
“Your well-being, your wealth, is very intertwined and dependent on other people’s well-being….That is the philosophy that also drives us because we know that our children’s well-being cannot be isolated from the well-being of the other children in South Africa, or other kids on the continent, for that matter.”
When Precious Moloi began her career as a doctor in South Africa, she would eventually open the first women’s clinic in Johannesburg. After marrying Patrice Motsepe, they would become the wealthiest Black couple in South Africa, and the first on the continent to join the Giving Pledge. As a fashion entrepreneur, Dr Moloi-Motsepe has lifted young South African designers to international renown. And through the Motsepe Foundation, this Renaissance woman from Soweto has pledged millions to alleviate the continent’s COVID crisis.
“It’s been quite challenging,” she tells Mike on the podcast. “And it’s really called for solidarity from all sectors of society—from business, from ordinary people, from government—we’ve just been working together. I guess this is one positive thing that we’ve never seen—collaborations at such high levels, and with so much compassion and determination.”
Hiro Mizuno, GPIF
“For us to have a sustainable portfolio, we have to have a sustainable capital market. And for us to have a sustainable capital market, we need to have a sustainable society. And for us to have a sustainable society, we need to have a sustainable environment, right? It’s all connected.”
When he was managing Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), Hiro Mizuno recognized that his role went beyond fiduciary. After all, with $1.6 trillion in assets, the fund wasn’t merely a traditional asset manager—it was a major owner in the global capital markets, and its investment decisions had significant impact. The fund would need to play a greater stewardship role, he believed, and so GPIF increasingly considered environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in its investment decisions. And while he met resistance along the way, today his bold idea has gone more mainstream.
“Now people believe that ESG needs to be a professional practice to grow into their daily portfolio management operation,” he tells Mike. “So, I’m really glad to see the progress.”
Greg Maffei, Liberty Media
“We developed a green team and a red team. The red team’s job was to play defense, and first think mostly about liquidity and our downside. And the green team was supposed to think about where could we take advantage of this?”
With COVID striking at the heart of Liberty Media’s sports portfolio (Formula 1 and the Atlanta Braves), it’s understandable that President and CEO Greg Maffei injected competitive stakes into how his managers look at their respective businesses. Some of Liberty’s other holdings, such as Sirius XM, are more pandemic proof, while their digital commerce subsidiaries QVC, HSN, and Zulily have adapted more readily to the times.
“We moved much of the inventory and on-air time that was spent on things like apparel and beauty over to gardening, home supply,” he tells Mike on the podcast. “In the case of Zulily we sold something like one million face masks. So, we were really able to shift what our focus was to take advantage of the trends, and business has been very strong.”
“Many great artists have dealt with the tragedies and the turmoil of the time they lived in. I think the artist needs some time to reflect; you take it in, you process it, and maybe not consciously even, try to depict some horrible event that is filtered through your other experiences and your craft as an artist.”
As a champion of modern and contemporary artists, Larry Gagosian has literally created the space in which their art can thrive as never before. Starting with one gallery in Los Angeles four decades ago, his eighteen exhibition spaces are now found throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. In the process, he has launched dozens of artist’s careers. Recently, Forbes magazine named him one of the ‘100 Greatest Living Business Minds’.
“Things may have shut down,” he tells Mike on the podcast, “But my job as a dealer representing these incredible artists—they need income. They have expenses, they have kids in school. I take it as a very serious responsibility to keep the ball rolling, not just for the benefit of my business, but also for the artists that depend on me for their livelihood.”
Cesar Purisima, Compassion
“More people will move to poverty as a result of the pandemic. And the estimate is at least half a billion to a billion people….I think that might push back a little bit the shift to a greener economy. And this is where I hope that the private sector can step up because this is not just a government responsibility. It is the biggest public private partnership there is, that we need to get together.”
As the former Secretary of Finance for the Republic of the Philippines under two Presidents, Cesar Purisima is widely credited with turning the Philippine economy around and restoring investor confidence. His stewardship vastly increased government revenues, and set new records for investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. As a Founding Partner of IKHLAS Capital, he now extends his compassion to the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“A lot of people are really suffering,” he tells Mike. “Unlike the global financial crisis that hit the financial markets first, this really hit the countries from the ground up. And therefore, the ones who really suffered are those in the bottom of the pyramid. And the challenge for finance ministers, central banks is to come up with interventions that will not only hit the top, but really hit the bottom to find a more compassionate way to able to deal with this crisis.”
Alan Jope, Unilever
“The biggest tailwind is going to be the voice of young people demanding that the grownups do not ignore warnings about pandemics, about climate change, about gross inequality. One of the headwinds I’m very concerned about is a retreat to nationalism. We know that trade—global trade—has been tremendously helpful, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.”
When William Lever packaged Sunshine—his first bar of soap—in the 19th Century, he couldn’t dream that his company would someday grow to include more than 400 brands, including Dove, Lipton, and Ben & Jerry’s. Today, Unilever CEO Alan Jope dreams of continuing that growth, as long as it is both responsible and sustainable.
“The business case for sustainability is, in our view, completely proven,” he tells Mike. “Our brands that score higher on social and environmental responsibility are growing much faster, almost twice as fast as the rest of the portfolio.…It has been an absolute spur for innovation.”
Ajay Banga, Mastercard
“Culture doesn’t just come because you wave a magic wand. It comes through hard work; it comes through sharing; it comes through cross‐fertilization of people and ideas….The culture we built, we don’t want to lose that during this process. Coming out of it, there will be an even bigger opportunity for our company.”
Since becoming CEO of Mastercard in 2010, Ajay Banga has seen his company’s annual revenues more than triple, from $5 billion to $17 billion. The company is also doing well by doing good: their Mastercard Foundation has provided scholarships, entrepreneurial grants, and a commitment to create 30 million jobs in Africa in the coming decade. It’s all part of what the Indian-born Banga calls a “decency quotient.”
“If you bring a human decency to work, which means you basically make people feel that your hand is on their back and not in their face, you will be fair and transparent and you will provide guidance. You will lead with that thinking; you’ll bring your heart and your mind to work. Then you are a winning company. You will win, but you will win with decency.”
Ursula M. Burns, Breaking Through
“Let’s start talking about this. How are we going to diversify our boards? How are we going to diversify our management teams? How are we going to diversify our entry-level pipeline? How are we going to work in a community to make it better?…In the last three weeks, four weeks, it’s been amazing. And I am really working to make it not stop, because there’s a chance that we can be better.”
When Ursula Burns became CEO of Xerox in 2009, she was the first African American woman to reach that position at a Fortune 500 company. The daughter of a single mother growing up in New York City public housing, she rose through the ranks to also become that company’s chairman, and then held the same positions at VEON. In this wide-ranging conversation, she discusses a different way of thinking about equity.
“If you really want to do this, you’re going to have to give up something. The world is not zero-sum….So even though we act like ‘Oh my God, if we give that person a little bit too much food, we will have less.’ Never happened. We found that if you give people opportunity, the world gets bigger, not smaller; it gets him better, not worse.”
Carol T. Christ, UC Berkeley
“Though the pandemic is taking so much of our energy right now in addressing it, there will be a day after. And institutions, organizations of any sort, have to have a very clear sense of what their mission and goals are in that day after.”
As the 11th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley—and the first woman to hold that position—Carol Christ helms what U.S. News and World Report considers the world’s best public university. She sees her role as requiring both the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances as well as the steadiness to adhere to the university’s core values.
“There’s a very moving moment in The Lord of the Rings,” she tells Mike, “where Frodo says to Gandalf, ‘I wish I had not lived in these times.’ And Gandalf says back to Frodo, ‘So do we all, but what we need to do, how we’ll be judged, is what we do with the moment that’s given us.’ And that’s what I feel.”
Scott Minerd, Guggenheim Partners
“We can use this low interest rate period as an opportunity to finance for the future. Will we invest in things which will enhance the quality of life and enhance economic growth and output?…Because we can’t go back to the old world. And I think the new world can be a much better place if we can continue being a community.”
As Chairman of Investments and Global Chief Investment Officer for Guggenheim Partners, Scott Minerd oversees more than $270 billion in assets. In this brief but wide-ranging conversation, he discusses what he inherited from three generations of entrepreneurs in the Minerd family, environmental stewardship, and the meaning of leadership.
“We share a core value here,” he reminds Mike, “which is that the vast majority of people in the world are looking for a positive and constructive outcome. My view is that true leadership is that profile in courage that steps forward and says, ‘I’m not going to participate in the noise. I’m not going to look for recrimination. I want to talk to you about tomorrow.’”
“COVID has actually given us a time to rethink and reimagine the world. How do we repair the ecosystem? How do we repair the microbiome, which is reversible? How do we create a more socially just, and economically just world and society?”
For Deepak Chopra, healing the world begins with healing individuals—and that can begin by integrating Eastern spiritual traditions and Western medicine. As the founder of the Chopra Foundation and Chopra Global—as well as the best-selling author of 90 books—Dr Chopra believes that breakthroughs in technology and medicine will help lead to harnessing the collective intelligence of humanity, resulting in positive changes on micro and macro levels.
“What was science fiction is becoming science today,” he tells Mike. “This is an opportune time for all of us to reinvent our bodies, resurrect our souls, and also see how we can engage with each other to create more joy, happiness, and health. That’s the only thing that ultimately will heal this planet.”
Kelly Craft, Ambassador
“Obviously, we wish it was earlier if China had been more forthcoming and transparent. But I think the important part is that we cannot allow any pandemic or any economic situation currently to cloud our moral responsibility for issues that are already on the ground.”
Whether she’s voting in the Security Council or leading the personnel at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. (USUN), Ambassador Kelly Craft is keenly aware of the national values she represents. For her, it’s a matter of humility—as when she played an integral role in renegotiating the NAFTA framework with our neighbors to the north and south.
“It was a matter of respect for each person’s economy,” she tells Mike. “And when you respect each person’s economy, Mexico and Canada, and the US, you know that everybody can work together because it is about a supply chain, and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So, it was really important that this trilateral deal was very strong unilaterally for each country.”
Kenneth T. Lombard, Seritage Growth Properties
“It’s really the first time that you’ve had challenges and down cycles in the financial side, on the racial side, and health-wise with COVID….We’re at an absolute tipping point from what we are going to do and how the consumer experience is going to be on the retail side.”
When Kenneth Lombard looks at our current confluence of crises, the Executive Vice President and COO of Seritage Growth Properties sees opportunities—especially in the hard-hit brick and mortar retail space. After all, as a past recipient of the National Inner City Economic Leadership Award, he has a proven record of revitalizing business opportunities in urban neighborhoods. He traces his optimism to a strong upbringing.
“Fortunately for me, I had a family that instilled a sense of fearlessness in me and that there are going to be obstacles,” he tells Mike. “You have to keep working hard….Integrity has got to be a big part of how you look at how you develop yourself, that sense of honesty, the hard work. We’ll all get through this.”
Laura E. Arnold, Arnold Ventures
“A sociologist…said that pandemics fracture society along known fault lines. And that is so true. Every single one of the issues that we have historically worked on that are at the core of what we do has been touched and exacerbated by COVID….It’s energized us.”
For ten years, husband and wife Laura and John Arnold have grappled with some of society’s most intractable problems. Their Houston-based philanthropy, Arnold Ventures, addresses disparities in public finance, health, education, and especially criminal justice, where they hope their evidence-based approach will help drive needed reform.
“In jails and prisons, we are doing a lot of thinking to try to help prisons understand how to keep prisoners safe, in addition to having the tough conversation about why are there so many people in prison in the first place,” she tells Mike. “Are there people who do not need to be here either because they’re at risk [or] because they’re awaiting trial and they’re only here because they can’t make a relatively small bail amount payment? So, there’s lots of work that can be done in reducing prison populations that needs to be done right now.”
Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks
“If you have a vision for what America 2.0 post-reset should look like, there will never be a better time to create a business that goes into an entirely new direction….If you have a vision for something dramatically different, now’s the time to do it.”
For Mark Cuban, fortune favors the bold—and there’s no time like the present. As a serial entrepreneur, investor on TV’s Shark Tank, and current owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Cuban has always been a keen surveyor of the business landscape. He believes current technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence have enormous potential domestically, as long as we can ramp up our efforts.
“Whoever controls AI controls the world,” he tells Mike. “We have to recognize that we’re not doing this in a vacuum. That other nations are investing to compete, but we’re not. So we’re falling further behind. We can’t build a wall around ourselves for global commerce.”
Robert F. Smith, Vista Equity Partners
“The Wall Street Journal last week reported that 41% of the African American businesses have stopped transacting and stopped conducting business and have closed up, which is a true tragedy. They don’t have the banking systems, which limited their ability to actually process the Payroll Protection Program loans through the CARES Act.”
With the pandemic revealing greater inequities in existing economic systems, Robert F. Smith is determined to make a difference. He authorized one of Vista Equity Partners’ portfolio companies, Finastra, to process more than 86,000 PPP loans to bolster small businesses in struggling communities. Named by Forbes as one of the ‘100 Greatest Living Business Minds’, he is also a noted philanthropist: Last year, he famously paid off the student loans of the entire graduating class of the historically black Morehouse College.
“Seventy percent of African American wealth is actually consumed by student debt; if you alleviate that problem, that creates a massive wealth lift for the entire community,” he tells Mike. “Restore, repair and regenerate these communities filled with Americans that need the opportunity and access to the American Dream.”
Kristalina Georgieva, IMF
“Our policy engagement is very strong everywhere, but…the same way people with preconditions are more vulnerable to the virus, weakened economies are more vulnerable to the economic shock we experience today. So, they need more of our help.”
For struggling economies around the world, the IMF is a lifeline. Since 1944, it has promoted financial stability and sustainable growth to its 189 member countries with zero percent loans and reserves of more than one trillion dollars. As the Fund’s Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva’s mission is to bolster developing economies hit hard by the pandemic while seeking ways to increase equity and security for citizens of all nations.
“Every single day, 400,000 children are born on this planet; they don’t choose their race, they don’t choose whether they are born in a rich family or a poor family,” she tells Mike. “It’s kind of a lottery at the start, but it needn’t be a lottery for the future. There has to be clear thinking around equality of opportunity, access to education, to financing, to jobs, so we actually tap into the potential of all these people.”
Bobby Kotick, Blizzard
“Each day you have to answer a series of questions so that you can electronically access the office. If you don’t, we’ll either send you to one of our testing labs or to a telemedicine doctor….We have these huge UV chambers. You put all your outerwear, your phones, your shoes, and we can actually UV disinfect almost anything.”
As CEO of one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, Activision Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick will do whatever is necessary to keep his workforce healthy. After all, his 9,200 employees comprise the world’s most successful standalone interactive entertainment company, with such franchises as Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft. With nearly 500 million active monthly players around the world, the company also finds itself as an accelerator of social change.
“We have a unique way to break down these racial and cultural barriers and really engage people through the lens of a game,” he tells Mike. “It’s very different than what you might see in a social network, because the way we connect and engage people is all through joy and fun.”
Mike Wirth, Chevron
“It can feel like the world is a colder and riskier place, [but] we’ve been through these things before, and we generally know that society comes through. We learn lessons. We become stronger over time and create opportunities for personal growth and societal learning that can continue to make the world a better place.”
Chevron has been weathering the vicissitudes of cultural and industrial shifts around the world since it was founded 141 years ago to provide a substitute for whale oil used in lamp lighting. Today, Chevron’s more than 48,000 employees around the world have emerged stronger than ever from a market that drove oil prices to less than zero, as well as a domestic landscape roiled by a resurgent pandemic and social upheaval.
“One of the things I’m really proud of is the heart that our people have,” he tells Mike. “Our employees have donated money from their own pockets….The stories on our internal social media site, where employees share what they’ve done are incredibly heartwarming….We empower people, we encourage people and they move to action based on what the local needs are very rapidly.”
Ravi Kumar S., Infosys
“Six out of the seven jobs of the future have not been created yet. The future of workplaces and workforces are going to change significantly. The change was gradual, but with the pandemic and in the post‐pandemic era, the changes will be all of a sudden.”
As the world struggles with the vagaries of a pandemic, Ravi Kumar S. is already planning for a transformed workplace. As President of Infosys, his effort begins with finding a new pipeline of formerly underserved workers and then training them for what’s ahead. For him, it’s a way to bring more equity to the workforce and help bring about the kind of world in which he wants his new daughter to grow up.
“I’ve never felt more gratitude for what I have,” he tells Mike. “As humans, we all have to work in striving to bridge the divide between the haves and the have‐nots and strive to raise hope. I’ve never found myself thinking more about raising hope than I have done so during this crisis.”
Jingdong Hua, World Bank
“I certainly hope this is a unique moment where we will have profound conversations, not only about our own lessons or our own challenges, but about the future of humanity….This lockdown gives us the opportunity to have long conversations that otherwise would not have happened.”
Last year, the World Bank Group was busily working on two ambitious goals for its 189 member nations: ending extreme poverty within a generation and boosting shared prosperity. This year, it has announced it will provide up to $160 billion in financing for COVID-19 over a period of 15 months to help developing countries respond to the health, social, and economic impacts of the pandemic.
“We are projecting negative growth for over 150 countries in 2020,” he tells Mike. “And nearly 80% of the world’s informal economy workers, 1.6 billion people, due to the lockdown, have lost their jobs, of which 714 million are women. So this is really an unprecedented crisis.”
Al Kelly, Visa
“In the last three months we’ve probably had five years’ worth of acceleration in terms of e-commerce….People are realizing that cash is a way that germs get transmitted. Currency is dirty.”
When the pandemic hit in January, Al Kelly made a vow to have zero layoffs at Visa. Fortunately, as one of the world’s foremost purveyors of e-commerce, they soon found that 97% of their 20,000 employees were able to work from home, and they shuttered all but five of their 130 international offices. Now, as they continue to service 1.1 billion worldwide cardholders, they are partnering with federal, state, and foreign governments to distribute much-needed stimulus and relief funds.
“Almost every medical expert I’ve talked to says there will be a resurgence of COVID‐19 in the fall,” he tells Mike. “We just need to make sure that we can manage through it so that we don’t have to go back into lockdown. For our part at Visa, I am in no rush to move our employees back to offices.”
David Panzirer, Helmsley Charitable Trust
“The whole premise that where you live dictates your access to specialty care, dictates your outcomes, dictates your access to tools to manage your disease. That’s absurd in this day and age….We have to seize this opportunity to level the playing field and really begin to truly give equal care no matter where you live.”
When David Panzirer was named a Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust thirteen years ago, he knew little about being a philanthropist. Today, he helps to direct that fund’s $6 billion dollars toward initiatives that create greater healthcare access—both in rural America and sub-Saharan Africa—while ensuring better long-term outcomes. He is especially passionate about improving the lives of those with type 1 diabetes, a disease that hits very close to home.
“There is no shortcut for diligence,” he tells Mike. “I started out and I wanted a cure for my daughter like anybody else in my position. As a society, we have never cured an autoimmune chronic disease….We’ve taken some things and we’ve turned them into managed diseases. But my point is, it’s not easy. If it were easy, we’d be done.”
Joelle Simpson, Children’s National Hospital
“I will be honest in saying that I never imagined the degree of exhaustion and the multitude of issues that have come about with this crisis: on a personal level, on an institutional level, on a community level, on a national level.”
For 150 years, Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC has been a beacon of pediatric excellence. With Dr. Joelle Simpson as its Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness, they have partnered with philanthropists to provide free drive-through care and COVID-19 testing. Serving her community’s needs is rewarding; in today’s turbulent times, however, it can also be frustrating and overwhelming.
“How do we manage to reassure children that there is a future for them where they are cared for and where they can find safety regardless of their background, their race, or the color of their skin?” the Trinidad native asks Mike. “There’s a long road to go for healing and for dealing with the deep‐rooted racism that’s in our country.”
Barry Diller, IAC
“Local travel, meaning travel 100 to 600 miles from where you live by car, is fairly robust and is almost back to pre‐COVID levels….We’re not seeing and won’t see air travel, certainly not international air travel….We’re not seeing it yet because people feel unsafe. Travel is probably one of the last to actually get back the robust growth.”
As Chairman and Senior Executive of Expedia Group—which includes a dozen top online booking sites—Barry Diller knows travel trends. As Chairman and Senior Executive of IAC—which includes websites such as OkCupid, Tinder, and Match—he knows internet dating habits. As a legendary movie and television producer and executive, he knows what will entertain people. One thing he doesn’t know, however, is how this crisis will resolve.
“There’s one faction that says, ‘I want to go back to work. Stop telling me what to do.’ And then the people who are saying, ‘absolutely not. You must social distance,’” he tells Mike. “I think the mess—and it is a mess—of the next couple of months is going to teach us many things. So I don’t have the answer, but I do have this, and I think I share this with a lot of people: I’ve got a lot of questions.”
Reeta Roy, Mastercard Foundation
“In Africa the economy is also a patient….We have a consortium in Ethiopia, for example—12 businesses run by women who are pivoting and using their skills to now manufacture PPE. We’re doing the same in Ghana, working through a coalition…to get to 12,000 small businesses the financing they need.”
Relatively new to the world of nonprofits, the MasterCard Foundation has had an outsized impact, especially in Africa. Led by President and CEO Reeta Roy, the organization has focused on financial and education initiatives that have reached 33 million people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Their latest initiative, Young Africa Works, helps young people, particularly young women, find secure and fulfilling work.
She realizes they can’t do it alone, however. “I think about the problems before us today,” she tells Mike, “whether it is the question of systemic racism, whether it is about access to healthcare….It is so clear to me that no one sector has the answers. That’s going to take government, the private sector. It’s going to take civil society, organizations, educational institutions.”
Mellody Hobson, Ariel Investments
“I thought a lot about it from the perspective of being a person who walks around with brown skin, a woman, a mother, but also someone who runs a company….My mother used to tell me, ‘Mellody, you could be or do anything.’…There’s going to be a struggle. It’s going to be super hard. People aren’t going to treat you fairly, but you can still be or do anything. I actually believed her.”
As president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, Mellody Hobson is responsible for more than $10 billion in investor assets. Despite the pandemic, the economy, and the civil unrest, she remains optimistic that the America her 6-year-old daughter will inherit will be safer, more secure and more just.
“I would not want to live anywhere else. I love America, with all of our warts and all of our problems. I want to be very clear: I am a patriot and I’m so grateful. Warren Buffet says, if you’re born in America, you won the birth lottery. I feel like I won the birth lottery over and over again.”
Maxine Waters, U.S. Representative
“I negotiated directly with Mr. Mnuchin….He was fair. He was easy to communicate with….Working with him, I was able to carve out and direct to these minority institutions, a sum of money that would give them the liquidity that they needed.”
Rep. Maxine Waters has always been a champion of the underserved: as an assistant teacher in 1966 with the Head Start program in Watts, California; as a state legislator in the 70s and 80s, pushing for divestment in South Africa; and as a current 15-term congresswoman and chair of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, where she’s been working across the aisle to help those affected by the pandemic. Losing her own sister to COVID-19 has only made her more determined to defeat the virus.
“With no understanding of when this pandemic is going to end, we are challenged,” she tells Mike. “We are challenged to keep this economy going. We are challenged to deal with coming up with a vaccine….We’re going to do everything that we can to support our businesses and to create ways by which to keep this economy from absolutely collapsing.”
David Rubenstein, Carlyle Group
“The COVID-19 crisis has made me realize that if there’s anything I really want to get done in my life, I need to get it done sooner. I am ratcheting up my activity. I’m doing what I call sprinting to the finish line now because I realize how fragile life really can be and this crisis brought it home to me.”
After achieving financial success by co-founding and co-chairing the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein is now redefining philanthropic success. His approach is what he calls “patriotic philanthropy,” which is focused on giving his time, considerable energy and expertise, and financial support to causes that help remind people of the history and heritage of the nation. He chairs nonprofits including the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution, and he personally helped finance the restoration of the Washington Monument.
“You can love humanity by doing more than just writing checks,” he tells Mike. “Giving your time and your energy and ideas can be just as valuable. What you should try to do is something that justifies your existence on the face of the earth for that short period of time.…I was able in this country to get fortunate and now I want to repay my country.”
Daniel Schulma, PayPal
“We immediately went from working 100% from the office to 100% work from home; we’ll remain working from home at least through October as we see how the virus progresses and how we protect the health and safety of our employees as we start to reopen.”
For PayPal president and CEO Dan Schulman, the health and wellbeing of his 25,000 global employees comes first. They, in turn, are then better able to provide for the 300 million consumers and 25 million merchants using PayPal’s platform. They were among the first non-bank companies able to deploy funds through the Paycheck Protection Program, speeding vital loans to those who needed them most.
One bright spot Schulman sees during these challenging days is simple acts of goodwill. “There has been an outpouring of human generosity on our platforms. People spontaneously, virtually, tipping bartenders or artists, musicians, neighbors, small businesses, giving to their schools, to their places of worship. And when people receive that, they are then paying it forward to somebody else who is even in more desperate need.”
Adena Friedman, NASDAQ
“It’s really, to me, a trust factor. … Companies at that moment had huge, huge needs for capital to manage through the beginning of what they were seeing was going to be a significant downturn in their business. If we had closed the markets, they would nothave been able to gain access to that capital when they needed it the most.”
Early in the coronavirus crisis, Adena Friedman, president and CEO of Nasdaq, focused her energy on making sure companies and investors had uninterrupted liquidity to meet the challenges ahead. And throughout the crisis she’s observed a growing trend toward what she calls “cooperative capitalism,” a blend of creative problem solving and altruism she has observed in many sectors.
“Right now you’re seeing some pretty extraordinaryactions taken by companies and by governments to support their citizens,” she told Mike in her May 22 interview. “This is a sea change in the way that we think about companies and the roles they play. I think that we’re going to see continued dedication to communities going forward even after this crisis is over.”
Ed Bastian, Delta
“We’re working well as an industry, not just within the airline industry, but across the hospitality sector. We want customers to feel confident….People want to move; people want to get out. There’s a cabin fever…and we want to make sure we’re serving it safely.”
Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, remembers all too well how 9/11 affected his industry and his airline, which had to restructure and make difficult cost-cutting decisions. The coronavirus crisis posed a greater threat, but he’s confident his airline will bounce back and return to flying 200 million passengers a year.
What gives him confidence is work that began well before the coronavirus crisis—work that developed a culture of trust among his workforce. “This past February we paid our 90,000 employees $1.6 billion; it was the equivalent of a 16% bonus. When times are good, we celebrate; when times are tough, we sacrifice together.”
Tomislav Mihaljevic, Cleveland Clinic
“The unfortunate, almost tragic, paradox of this situation is that 1.2 million healthcare professionals in the United States have lost their jobs because of the financial strains that the COVID pandemic put on healthcare organizations.”
For the 99-year-old Cleveland Clinic, the care of their patients is equaled only by the emphasis they place on the health of their own workforce. Their thorough preparation and procedures have resulted in a less than 1% infection rate, compared to roughly 20% of all healthcare workers throughout the rest of Ohio.
The venerable hospital system has also chosen not to lay off any employees, even as they were state mandated to cut all non-essential services. Unfortunately, even the essential services have suffered, with steep declines in newly diagnosed patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurologic disease. “The unintended consequences of the COVID pandemic,” he tells Mike, “may be much more severe than the actual damage and the loss of lives incurred by COVID pandemic.”
David Siegel, Two Sigma
“This experience is a grand experiment in online work, online education, online shopping. You really couldn’t have created a better experiment, and we’re learning an awful lot. Not everything is working so well, and some things are working really well.”
Ever since tinkering with punch-card computers at age 10, David Siegel has had a fascination with data. He co-founded and co-chairs Two Sigma, a data-focused financial services company, and he’s also chairman of the Siegel Family Endowment, which supports organizations that help prepare society for the impact of technology. He spoke with Mike Milken on Monday, May 18, 2020.
While technology speeds communication, Siegel sees areas for improvement: “I think that social media and the overall format of the internet and how we communicate has been turned into really just little snippets of information often without context….I really am not sure how we can convince our society to spend a little bit more time digesting what’s going on around them. That would be a really important change for the better.”
Paul Romer, Nobel Laureate
“The fundamental decision that every society has to make is, can we suppress this virus forever if necessary? Can we afford to do that?…If you know that you’re going to give up, there’s no point to suppress for a while.”
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer is accustomed to seeing the big picture of a problem—and offering big solutions. In the case of COVID-19, he proposes a comprehensive “test and isolate” policy that would keep the infection rate low while allowing the economy to ramp up.
He also proposes two billion-dollar national prizes to scale up testing: one for “the first lab that can process 10 million tests per day” and another for a simple, home-based test “so everybody could just test themselves and find out if they or any of their family members are infectious.”
Christopher Austin, NCATS
“Are we going to require the same level of evidence for a vaccine…before it is approved? Could we potentially begin to use it at the same time we’re still studying it? Normally we would never do that, but it’s this kind of translational innovation that this COVID crisis is making not only possible, but needed.”
How do simple scientific observations—from the laboratory, clinic, or the community—become therapies and cures? It’s called translation. Since 2012, one of the 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health has been dedicated to doing just that. As director of NCATS, Christopher Austin oversees a vast ecosystem of research, analysis, and innovation to accelerate cures and therapies to those who need them most.
Austin sees the current pandemic as a turning point for greater data sharing and team science. “We are seeing that on a scale I have never seen across NIH, across government agencies, and with the pharmaceutical and biotech industry,” he tells Mike. “We have a singular moment when everyone realizes the need for faster cures and the limitations of the current system to deliver them.”
Brent J. McIntosh, Under Secretary for International Affairs, U.S. Department of the Treasury
“In America, we don’t look to the government alone to develop the solutions. We look to the creativity and ingenuity and vitality of the private sector, whether it’s corporations or philanthropic organizations for many of those solutions.”
In normal times, Brent McIntosh’s charge at the Treasury Department is to advance America’s economic interests abroad. Today, that mission includes extending a helping hand: McIntosh was instrumental in getting the G7, the G20, the World Bank, and the IMF to relax debt service payments from struggling nations so they could focus on caring for their citizens.
McIntosh has also been focused on solutions closer to home: “It’s a very difficult challenge to make sure those supply chains can function, but they are functioning…in part because we’ve put in place many efforts to keep cargo flights moving, to…keep the ports open, and to treat the workers in those supply chains as essential.”
Strive Masiyiwa, Econet Group
“Public health will not be able to cope with this pandemic if it becomes a major crisis of the scale that we have seen in the West and in China. There’s almost nothing we can do about it because we just don’t have time. But it has been a massive wake-up call.”
Strive Masiyiwa is in a race against the clock. The Zimbabwean-born businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist is working to shore up medical and food supply chains so African nations can manage a possible surge of coronavirus cases. For Masiyiwa, the stakes could not be higher.
“We all need to help Africa navigate itself through something which is not of it’s making and is affecting us,” he tells Mike. “And this is where we really need some global thinking and audacious thinking. Because if we don’t think how to help Africa through this, it could be a very difficult next two or three decades and it doesn’t have to be so.”
Henry Waxman, Former Congressman
“Explain things in a credible way so that the public understands why they’re being asked to do things. You can’t force people – especially Americans – to do things they refuse to do.”
When he retired from the U.S. House of Representatives after four decades of service, Henry Waxman was considered one of the most influential and effective legislators of his era. He championed such issues as the environment, clean energy, and government oversight, sponsoring 48 bills that made it into law. The congressman chaired the first hearing on HIV/AIDS in 1982, as well the tobacco industry hearings 12 years later, demonstrating a commitment to public health that continues to this day.
“We need to change our public health system,” he tells Mike. “We need to make sure that everybody’s covered. We need to do contact tracing. … We tackled other pandemics in the United States much more successfully and we’ve got to be able to have a public health system that will allow us to do that.”
Esther Krofah, FasterCures
“We spend numerous hours a day updating that tracker because what is critical is real-time information that researchers and scientists can respond to….As I’ve been speaking to colleagues, ranging from NIH to these large companies, they’re using that daily in their prioritization exercises to determine what they can accelerate and what the potential opportunities are.”
Keeping track of rapid-pace global developments in treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 may seem to be an uphill battle. But since February, Esther Krofah’s team at FasterCures has been producing exactly that: a real-time tool that, as of late May 2020, is monitoring development of more than 200 treatments and 140 vaccines.
Krofah, who assumed her leadership role just months before the coronavirus crisis, continues to build on the organization’s legacy of partnerships with government, industry, and patient groups: “We believe time equals lives, and so these organizations, these institutions, have been part of our journey over the last almost three decades. And as we come to a time like this with COVID, we need that foundation of trust….There’s that recognition that individuals, families, patients is what drives us day-in and day-out.”
Gene Block, UCLA
“Normally about 14,000 students live on our campus in our dormitories and that’s down to I think less than about 900 students….The campus has taken on an eerie feeling of really being abandoned.”
Big changes are afoot at UCLA, America’s number one-rated public university. Chancellor Gene Block has already seen an 85% reduction of his on-campus workforce, and with a record of 5,000-plus classes currently being taught online, he anticipates further, more permanent alterations to the way students obtain higher education.
There is one tradition, however, that Chancellor Block believes should remain intact. “Commencement is really important for students. It’s a sense of closure. It’s also a sense of new beginnings. It really completes one phase of their life and begins another, and we’re going to make certain that our students get that experience even if it’s somewhat delayed.”
John Mazziotta, UCLA Health
“One day, for the first time in my 39 years, there were no patients in the emergency department. It was a Sunday morning. Never seen that in my life….Heart attacks, strokes, mental illness—these people were not coming in….There are a lot of deaths that are indirectly going to be associated with COVID-19 even though the patients never had the infection.”
As the vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and the CEO of UCLA Health, John Mazziotta helms one of the crown jewels of California’s formidable medical research and health care ecosystem. When the crisis erupted, his hospitals prepared to be a major hub for the region’s most challenging cases. Fortunately, that anticipated influx never came; however, for UCLA and for hospitals and patients everywhere, Dr. Mazziotta sees consequences that will reverberate for years.
But his concerns about the collateral damage of COVID-19 are at least partially offset by his prognosis for the future: “I’m actually extremely optimistic about how we come out of this,” he tells Mike. “I don’t think there’s anything in medicine that will look the same after the pandemic….I’ve told that to the faculty, I’ve told that to the staff, and we have to figure out a way to do the new world of medicine more efficiently, more effectively and have the end result be better for patients, trainees and scientists.”
Piyush Gupta, DBS
“Most times your right or your requirement for personal privacy trumps other kinds of needs. But a pandemic is…when it becomes quite clear that sometimes the needs of the collective, the needs of society, trump the needs of the individual.”
As the CEO and Director of DBS Group, a financial services firm operating in 18 countries throughout Asia, Piyush Gupta is known for anticipating and staying ahead of current trends in banking. When the pandemic hit, DBS quickly built upon the digital platform Gupta had already implemented.
Gupta’s effective stewardship of the 52-year-old firm—formed as the nation’s development bank—echoes Singapore’s overall management of the crisis: “Even though we now have about 20,000 cases, the actual number of fatalities are only 20,” he tells Mike. “With good medical treatment and good health systems, you can actually manage the virus relatively well.”
Admiral James Stavridis
“The US and China, particularly in 2020, are on something of a collision course….We should confront where we must, we should cooperate where we can, and we should be clear-eyed that we’re in for a period of real tension.”
A retired 4-star, Admiral James Stavridis has not lost his focus on the future of geopolitics and American national security. Recently, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO has turned his attention to how a pandemic will alter the world order and how America might navigate the crisis.
“Europe will come out of this at worst neutral [and] China will come out clearly in a stronger position,” he tells Mike. “For the United States, we need to avoid the mistake of leaning too far toward isolationism….That’s going to be crucial for the United States in this 21st century.”
Tal Zaks, Moderna
“In this fight, where we are today—this is May of 2020—there’s a lot of other companies and a lot of other approaches that are trying to generate vaccines. I wish them all success, and we all need to be successful here. I have only two competitors in this race: the virus and the clock.”
If developing a COVID-19 vaccine were a race, Tal Zaks and Moderna Therapeutics won the first leg. It took them only 63 days from the time the virus was sequenced until they had a new vaccine in human clinical trials. So impressed was BARDA—the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—that they awarded Moderna $483 million to begin producing the vaccine should it gain FDA approval.
Their vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to ‘reprogram’ the kinds of proteins a cell expresses—a potential game-changer. “You can make a completely different kind of drug and a completely different kind of vaccine with it,” Zaks tells Mike. “And with that you can go after targets that traditional medicine has found really hard to target.”
Richard Hatchett, CEPI
“When I was working at ground zero, I saw a level of cooperation and willingness for everybody to sort of check their egos at the door because we knew that we were all facing an external threat. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing today. We’re all in this together.”
For Richard Hatchett, 9/11 changed everything. While serving as an oncology fellow in New York City, he quickly found himself on the front lines tending to the injured. He never looked back, shifting his focus to public health and toward helping as many people as possible deal with external threats. Today, as CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), he coordinates between multiple sectors to ensure that emerging vaccines are safe, effective, and readily available to all who need them.
“We wanted speed, we wanted vaccines that could scale, and we wanted to be able to ensure global access to those vaccines,” he tells Mike. “And so what we’ve ended up with is a deliberately diversified portfolio to overcome this pandemic.”
Ynon Kreiz, Mattel
“Play is never canceled. You can cancel school, you can suspend retail stores or close movie theaters, but you cannot cancel play.”
For Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, taking the helm of one the world’s iconic companies two years ago was a privilege and a responsibility. In the age of COVID-19, he views the company’s mission as more important than ever to help children—and their parents—navigate the challenge.
The company has even launched a special line of action figures called Thank You Heroes, which, as Kreiz describes to Mike Milken, “celebrates the individuals that are part of the frontline fight against COVID-19….We are contributing all net proceeds to a charity called First Responders First.”
Roger Crandall, MassMutual
“You start by taking care of your people. Your people then can take care of their families and loved ones. That’s how communities get taken care of. And that’s kind of the building blocks that we see as being critical here.”
For MassMutual’s Roger Crandall, leadership in times of a pandemic means more opportunities to help policyholders and employees create virtuous cycles. Under his stewardship, the venerable life insurance company has offered $3 billion of free life insurance to frontline workers—a program he hopes to expand.
Crandall finds optimism in the federal Paycheck Protection Program and similar efforts: “This is American business and American ‘can-do-ism’ at its finest, in my opinion. So, I’m actually very optimistic that this can remind everybody of the ability of the public and private side to work together to get us to a better place.”
Thomas Gottstein, Credit Suisse
“I was deeply impressed. They managed much bigger volumes than in any normal period, and we were really very proud and still are very proud how our fixed income and equity traders managed these challenges, because it was certainly not an easy environment.”
Thomas Gottstein became CEO of Credit Suisse on February 14, 2020. Within three weeks, the world had changed, and he found himself leading the storied firm through the uncharted waters of a pandemic. Moreover, Credit Suisse took a leading role in developing and executing its nation’s rescue package.
Gottstein, a 20-year veteran of Credit Suisse, understands the occasion to which his industry must rise: “Since the financial crisis, there were a lot of negative comments about the role of banks….This crisis has helped us to emphasize the importance that banks can play in supporting the broader economy and supporting private individuals, corporates or institutions in times of crisis.”
“One of the other things that has come to light with regards to COVID-19 are health disparities….in the infection rates and the hospitalization rates and in the death rates of certain communities.”
As a young African American girl growing up in the early 1960s, Freda Lewis-Hall was accustomed to people telling her that she would never attain her dream of becoming a doctor. Today, she can look back at a 35-year career that included serving as Pfizer’s Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, where she was a passionate advocate for health equity and improved outcomes for all patients.
Trained as a psychiatrist, Dr Lewis-Hall is particularly concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having on communities who are disproportionately affected with higher mortality rates, and who perform much of what we now consider essential frontline work. “From nursing staff and medical staff, EMTs, people who are working in grocery stores, who are picking up the trash, driving public transportation—these people are at exposed risk. They know it, and they’re also dealing with the emotional disadvantage of facing this every day.”
Stephen J. Cloobeck
“The consumer is resilient. Vacations are mandatory. I believe the cruise business within a year will be back. I truly believe that. And I believe the [Las Vegas] Strip will be back within that period of time too.”
As the founder of Diamond Resorts International and the former chairman of Brand USA—the nation’s first public-private partnership to promote tourism—Nevada native Stephen J. Cloobeck has led the hospitality industry through good times and bad.
As he consults with companies and governments about COVID-19, he’s focused on guest safety, transparent communications, and the resilient nature of the human impulse to explore the world. He’s also a realist when it comes to reopening the nation: “If you’re looking for a perfect solution, it doesn’t exist.”
David Solomon, The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
“This is a demand shutdown in the economy that’s affecting all businesses….If you’re a small business, your access to capital in some cases can be limited, [so] that’s why getting resources to these small businesses that employ so many is so, so important.”
For David Solomon and Goldman Sachs, helping small enterprises navigate the crisis requires access—to expertise, education, and capital. The firm continues its 10,000 Small Businesses program and has pledged more than half a billion dollars to support community lenders.
These days, Solomon’s particularly focused on creating outcomes that are sustainable and equitable: “Whenever you go through a crisis,” he tells Mike, “disadvantages are amplified. We continue to try to find ways that we can make sure that resources, including capital and business allocation, are directed to women-led businesses.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, Roivant Sciences
“Seeing my own family members in New York go through what they’re going through has…not only turned our personal life upside down, but also has turned upside down…the near-term priorities of our company to help do our part in addressing this pandemic.”
When Vivek Ramaswamy was only 28, he founded the pharmaceutical company Roivant Sciences. When COVID-19 hit New York City, his wife was a frontline medical worker—and pregnant with their son. The child was born healthy, but his wife and father-in-law soon tested positive for the virus. They are still recovering.
As Ramaswamy manages his company from a home in Ohio, the man who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard muses on life’s hard-earned lessons: “Things don’t always go as you expected, but you rise to the occasion in the best way you can.”
Adam Boehler, DFC
There are places in the United States now with little to no cases, and if the states have the ability to do contact tracing with some testing to ensure that if there’s a flare we can move quickly, then I think it’s fine to open up now as long as one could take very quick action.
“We’re testing 200,000 Americans a day. That’s an 80x increase, and we’ve done 5.2 million tests to date. That’s not only number one in terms of number of tests that we’re at from a country basis, it’s number one on a per capita basis.”
As CEO of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Adam Boehler focuses on using finance to solve challenges in the developing world. These days, he’s also helping his own country navigate the crisis by accelerating testing and strengthening supply chains.
An entrepreneur himself, Boehler’s been especially proud of the private sector’s response: “We get asked all the time, how come we’re not throwing Defense Production Act orders all over the place and just commandeering and taking over. It’s not necessary when you have our private market taking all the right actions.”
Francis deSouza, Illumina
“The first genome sequence of the virus that was published on January 12th online was done on Illumina machines, and so we have been working on this outbreak [since] well before it became a pandemic.”
Sequencing DNA quickly and cheaply has revolutionized medicine with new cures and therapies that have extended and saved lives. As president and CEO of Illumina, Francis deSouza has been at the forefront of these advances and is leading his company toward new applications that can help fight a pandemic.
He and Mike discuss how to get the world back to work, how many genomes may actually be present in our bodies, and a novel way of safeguarding the world’s data: “DNA has been optimized by nature to be the best storage medium out there and it’s only a matter of time before we use it ourselves for the data that we generate.”
Rodney McMullen, Kroger
“We made the decision to share publicly all the work that we were doing internally in case it could be helpful….We’re trying to pay it forward just like others paid it forward to us.”
When Rodney McMullen took a high school job bagging groceries at his local Kroger, he had no way to know he’d go on to lead the company—now one of America’s largest employers. Another surprise in his American Dream story: that his associates would one day be frontline heroes in a global pandemic.
And the company itself is playing a hero role. As so many businesses struggle and lay off workers, Kroger’s hiring 60,000 new employees. “A lot of those people…come out of the food-service industry, come out of working in small medical professions, or for veterinarians….People that are naturally inclined to serve others. So that’s one of the things that’s really helped us maintain our values.”
Barbara Humpton, Siemens USA
“We often talk about Siemens as being a company that was built to serve society. And that mission really hasn’t changed….We have real expertise in electrification, automation, and digitalization. And that’s all coming into play right now as the nation wrestles with COVID-19.”
Hospitals. Factories. Data centers. Government facilities. If it’s an essential service or industry in this country, chances are Siemens USA is helping to power and maintain it. As president and CEO, Barbara Humpton has overseen major changes to how her 50,000 employees stay safe as they #KeepTheLightsOn for everyone else.
Throughout the pandemic, she has not lost sight of what is truly at stake: “We’re going to find ways to accommodate, ways to adapt, but the really critical thing is to connect and care because I think the empathy we show one another right now is going to be the most important medicine we can offer.”
Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates
“A financial bomb has gone off. And then you have to say, okay, who are you going to help first?…Choices have to be made. The real question is whether we can do that together in a bipartisan way, in a skillful way, because there’s enough money and credit to go around and this can be done.”
For master investor Ray Dalio, COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to create greater fairness in our system. The founder of Bridgewater Associates—the largest hedge fund in the world—sees outright threats to the American Dream rising from wage disparities and environmental degradation.
Top among his preferred national reinvestments would be the great equalizer: “You want to enable as many people as possible to have equal opportunity [for] education. That’s number one. And then establishing a minimum acceptable living standard and poverty level that they can’t go below, particularly their children….I think we could do that.”
Bruce Broussard, Humana
“Many of our members are alone and in their homes, and that can become quite an impact on their mental health. Having a phone call and being able to talk to somebody sounds so simple, but has been so impactful.”
As president and CEO of one of America’s largest health insurance companies, Bruce Broussard considers every aspect of care for Humana’s more than 20 million members. These days, he’s especially focused on making sure his 65-and-over members have their basic needs covered: access to food, prescriptions, and basic medical care—and helping them avoid loneliness.
Soon into the crisis, he initiated a 100-CEO roundtable to learn and share, and it’s given him hope: “The general business community has come together in so many different ways….This ability to create a system that is oriented to a common ground has just been so powerful, so powerful.”
Joe Tsai, Alibaba
“When we reopened, we were very tentative about letting people back into the office….You have to show your health code, which is attached to the Alipay app. It’ll show a green, yellow, or red code; basically it reflects a lot of data—where you’ve been, who you’ve been with.”
If you’ve never heard of Alibaba, chances are you aren’t one of the 700 million active annual consumers living in China who rely on the company for e-commerce, online auctions, technology and business services, entertainment, and even grocery shopping. Keeping Alibaba’s 100,000 employees healthy is a priority for co-founder Joe Tsai, and he’s wary of going too fast, too soon.
“China doesn’t publish testing data, but our estimate is that there are at least 20-25 million tests that have already been done….If you open up and you cannot detect, trace, and isolate infected patients, then it’s going to be a disaster.”
Tom Wyatt, KinderCare Education
“[Our teachers] write me, they call me, they are so taken aback by the grateful comments they get, the emotional letters and emails they get from the doctors and nurses and others saying that they could not be doing their work without our support.”
With more than two-thirds of his 1,500 KinderCare centers now closed, Tom Wyatt feels it is his civic duty to keep the remaining ones open to serve the children of parents who must work—including those on the frontlines. That sense of responsibility—to community and to nation—is to be expected from Wyatt, who left his highly successful leadership career in retail to pursue a calling in early childhood education.
Surveying the consequences of the current pandemic, Wyatt points to a significant impact that’s often overlooked: “The emotional stress on children today,” he tells Mike, “may be even more critical than the academic loss.”
Kurt Newman, Children’s National Hospital
“We’ve been around for 150 years and we want to be around for another 150 years. So we’ll figure out a way to deal with the finances. Right now we’re just focused on doing the right thing for these kids and families.”
Putting patients first—in this case, young patients who often require special care and immediate attention—has long been Kurt Newman’s priority at Children’s National. This conviction has held true through the unprecedented health and economic challenges presented by the coronavirus crisis.
Indeed, Newman recounts the unique way one of his nurses was able to help a young patient: “She had tested positive, went through the illness, returned to work…She donated her plasma to help take care of one of our patients. And it turned that child around. That’s the commitment and courage that these frontline workers have.”
Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball
“They may not be perfect with large crowds at Dodger Stadium. It may look a little different. But I really am committed to the idea that it’s important as part of our recovery to get the game back on.”
A month after what would have been opening day, the national pastime remains in limbo. For Commissioner Rob Manfred, deciding when to play ball this year means reflecting on the example set by his predecessor after 9/11, when baseball helped bring Americans together. Just like then, he tells Mike, “baseball can be kind of an important milestone in the return to normalcy.”
In the meantime, a spirit of shared sacrifice is helping those throughout the MLB family: Manfred’s own senior staff took pay cuts so other employees would be taken care of; team owners created a $30 million fund to assist game-day workers; and the Pennsylvania factory that makes MLB uniforms was retooled to produce masks for first-responders.