Widespread CEO commentary on the George Floyd killing is a new phenomenon

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Good morning.

I’m going to run long today, in order to highlight the outpouring of CEO commentary on the George Floyd killing. As I’ve said here before, this sort of CEO public reaction to controversial social issues just didn’t happen a decade or more ago. Someone check my memory, but I don’t recall a flood of CEO sentiment after the Rodney King beating.

This time, the heartfelt statements were hard to keep up with. A sampling of the many:

“The tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this week and the ensuing unrest are glaring reminders of the progress we need to make to have a truly equal and just society.”
–Mike Corbat, Citigroup

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that racism is tearing our communities apart. One lesson we should all learn is that silent carriers help spread racism.”
–Arvind Krishna, IBM

“Regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, abilities, wealth and educational background or any other point of human difference, each person deserves to be recognized for who we are and respected for both our common humanity and the distinct qualities that make us unique…George Floyd won’t get that opportunity. But we can honor his memory by leading our own lives in a way that pierces through prejudice to embrace and know people as individuals.”
–Arne Sorenson, Marriott

Today, there are four black CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. That’s less than 1{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} of the total. The comments of this group were particularly poignant:

“My wife & I feel tremendous sadness as our hearts & prayers are with the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor & all communities ripped apart by violence. As the father of a young black male, I can only imagine their pain & emptiness.”
–Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s

“As brands whose core values are powerfully informed by the creative tension that cannot exist without diversity and inclusion, we cannot succeed if the ideal that is America does not succeed, including in different and diverse ways globally. We cannot attract and engage talented colleagues. We cannot design beautiful and functional products. We cannot authentically engage with consumers around the world.”
Jide Zeitlin, CEO Tapestry (formerly Coach)

And then this bracing call to action:

“Business needs to go to the seat of government not only for its own economic self-interest in the short term but also to think about how to create a society that is going to actually be good for business. We can’t have this toxic environment for much longer.”
–Ken Frazier, Merck

Fortune, of course, only compiles the Fortune 500; we are far from being on it. But I also shared my sentiments with staff yesterday. An excerpt:

“As someone who moved to the segregated South just as the controversy over school busing was taking hold, I have watched this movie run for far too long. My proudest memories of my mother, who made a habit of walking out of rooms whenever any racial slight was suggested, are a constant reminder to me that looking the other way is just as incriminating as participating in the act.”

Separately, a new episode of Leadership Next is out this morning, featuring the charismatic CEO of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan. You can listen to it here. Vas is part of an amazing outpouring of energy in the pharmaceutical sector aimed at defeating the virus, and he gave Fortune Editor-in-Chief Clifton Leaf his unique perspective on how that war is going. (Spoiler: he doesn’t see a vaccine being rolled out broadly for 18 months to 2 years.)

And finally, a plug for a remarkable event that Fortune is hosting virtually next month: Fortune Brainstorm Health. At a time when the world is struggling with the health and economic implications of the coronavirus, we are bringing together CEOs of Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Baxter, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Centene and the Mayo Clinic, as well as thought leaders like Dan Ariely, Jennifer Doudna and Niall Ferguson, to provide an early look at the post-Covid future. There are still a few spots available for this highly interactive event. If you are interested, go here to apply. CEO Daily readers get a 50{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} discount if they use this code: BSH20HALF

Phew. Apologies for the length. More news below.

Alan Murray

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