Event Highlights from The Year Ahead – January 27, 2021

The Year Ahead: Event Highlights – Day 2 

By Bloomberg Live

2021 is shaping up to be a decade-defining year for global business. What do the unprecedented disruptions of the past year mean for executives navigating the new normal? Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead brings together CEOs from across industries along with other global experts and the power of Bloomberg News and Intelligence to map out a strategic blueprint for global business in 2021.

Here are highlights from our Day 2 program.


  • Laurence D. Fink, Founder, Chairman & CEO, BlackRock
  • Alison Rose, CEO, NatWest Group
  • Richard Batten, Global Chief Sustainability Officer, JLL
  • Katie Ledecky, Five-Time Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Jared Bernstein, Member, Council of Economic Advisers, Executive Office of the President of the United States
  • Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman & CEO, Merck; Board Co-Chair, OneTen
  • Ginni Rometty, Former Chairman, President & CEO, IBM; Board Co-Chair, OneTen
  • Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder, Bloomberg LP & Bloomberg Philanthropies and Chair, Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures
  • Jim Coulter, Co-CEO & Founding Partner, TPG
  • Hank Paulson, 74th U.S. Treasury Secretary & Chairman, Paulson Institute
  • Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines
  • Adena Friedman, President & CEO, Nasdaq 
  • Chuck Robbins, Chairman & CEO, Cisco
  • Peter Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg LP 
  • Mindy Grossman, President & CEO, WW International 


Click here to access videos of all the sessions.

On being a capitalist, not an environmentalist: BlackRock Founder, Chairman & CEO Larry Fink said that the public and private sectors will need to work together to confront climate change. “Governments worldwide are going to need to invest in the R&D of how to prepare for climate change, in helping us design and build new technologies,” he said during an interview with Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with about $8.7 trillion at year-end, also said it would hold companies accountable if they fail to progress toward such goals, threatening to vote against management or flag shares for removal from its active portfolios. “I’m doing this as a capitalist, who truly believes climate change is investment risk,” he said. 

On the U.K. economic recovery: Alison Rose, CEO of NatWest Group highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have accelerated the trend towards flexible and agile working in the U.K. Natwest now has around 9,000 video conference calls per-week with their customers. This compares to the 100 or so per week one year ago. On the subject of Natwest’s SME business, Rose sees many businesses facing questions of whether they will ever re-open. “the reality is this is an economic crisis triggered by a health crisis, which is still evolving. So the speed with which we can get businesses back, how long they can survive and what the economy will look like are all still questions right now. I don’t think yet we’ve hit the tough times.” 

On what influences the sustainability agenda: Richard Batten, Global Chief Sustainability Officer of JLL said “Our people are one of our key stakeholders. If we’re not reacting to the demands of millennials and now Gen-Z coming through, we’re not going to get anywhere. We need to attract and we need to retain the very best people, and they have a different agenda than some of us who’ve been around longer.” On clients Batten added “We need to walk the talk. We can’t just tell them to do one thing and not do it ourselves.” Batten also highlighted a different aspect when it comes to shareholders. “Shareholders are interested in what we are doing and they want to talk. Previously, they would have only spoken to the CEO and the CFO. Now they want to talk to the sustainability officers as well.”

On training for the Olympics during a pandemic: When asked how she stays focused, Five-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Katie Ledecky said, “My focus is just on the fact that they are happening. You can’t control anything else. I want what’s best for our country, for our world and I want it to be a safe Olympic games if the Olympics do happen. But I have to fully prepare like it’s any other Olympics because I don’t want to have any regrets if I get to the Olympics and I don’t feel fully prepared. So I’m blocking out a lot of the speculation. I think there will continue to be speculation over the next couple of months. I feel like I’m prepared for that and I can just stay focused on my training and keep moving forward.”

On the challenges facing the U.S.: Jared Bernstein, Member of the Council of Economic Advisers, Executive Office of the President of the United States said The biggest problem is the dual impact of the persistence of the virus and its impact on economic activity, on commerce, on employment, on our ability to really get a recovery underway.” Bernstein rejected taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the recovery. “I’ve heard many people say, ‘Let’s see how the last plan does before we do the next plan’. That wait-and-see has worked very poorly for us before and it’s why we keep experiencing these cyclical reactions to the virus. Things get better, they get worse.”

On changing the paradigm for hiring talent: Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman & CEO, of Merck and Board Co-Chair of OneTen explained the rationale behind their approach. “More than 75 percent of working age Black Americans lack a four-year degree. So we said if we can focus on skills-based hiring rather than credentials-based hiring, we can maybe start to address the intergenerational economic gaps and opportunity gaps that exist for African Americans.” Frazier emphasized that this would not be easy. “We won’t do this overnight. We can’t start from a standing start and get to where we want to get. But I think we all believe that with our collective efforts and the efforts of others, we can create greater equity and inclusion.” 

Ginni Rometty, Former Chairman, President & CEO of IBM and Board Co-Chair of OneTen added, “47 percent of our jobs don’t require a college degree. Over the last three years, 15 percent of our hiring has been new collar, meaning the people that did not have four-year degrees.” Rometty continued, “This is a CEO-led practice. We all know that it’s not just about changing the job requisition, you really are changing the talent system in your company to bring in this cohort of colleagues. You are fixing something systemic. This is a CEO-driven initiative which when you drive a new paradigm and you do something for the long term, it’s the only way it will sustain itself.”

On climate investing: Jim Coulter, Co-CEO & Founding Partner of TPG said “the biggest thing I see happening in the markets for what may be the next 20 years of investing is the total rewiring of the economy for a non carbon environment. We’ve been talking about the why of  impact investing for a while, but we haven’t said the when and the how and the when is now. We started to see a change in our deal flow for climate investing, and four forces really came together. The first is the net zero pledges. The second thing that happened is consumers now get it. The third thing is investors are paying attention. The fourth thing and this is the thing that I saw and got me truly excited is the technology change. Ninety percent down in a decade in solar costs. Sixty percent down in onshore wind. Seventy plus percent down in battery costs. Suddenly things that used to require subsidies can just be done on pure capitalism. And so it’s time for pure capitalism to step up and this Is the big theme not only today but I would argue for the decade ahead.” 

On adapting the Paris Climate Agreement: Hank Paulson, 74th U.S. Treasury Secretary & Chairman of the Paulson Institute added “I just see climate as the most certain risk we will face. To rewire society it will take a huge amount of capital. It will take full returns to attract the private capital needed.” Paulson added “Biden has a historic opportunity to restore global cooperation. The Paris Climate Agreement is not sufficient, as countries are only obligated to report the numbers and we are not on track to meet the pledges and even if we meet them the world will still overheat. We need to take the Paris Climate Agreement to the next step and that will involve governments and the big economies.”

On the future of travel: Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines said “We anticipate by spring we will see the virus go into a contained state, it will take some time but over the next 90 days I am optimistic that we will gain victories against the virus.”  Bastian continued, “I think traveling will feel like it does today, the cleanliness and filtration process will remain. We have a decision to make as to whether we will continue to block the middle seats. We don’t want to start selling them until people feel comfortable. We want our customers to guide that direction. The bottom line is that we are taking good care of our people and we will stay vigilant to protect against the virus. I think a travel document will be required for international travel, but for domestic I doubt. For international travel it will be required. As you know, testing is a requirement to come into the U.S., like other countries. So we are working on a technology that will allow people to easily show their vaccination record.”  

On the markets in 2021: Adena Friedman, President & CEO of Nasdaq said “What we are seeing among investors is that there is a lot of hope that the second half of the year will look better then the first half of the year. We are leveraging all of our resources to do that. It will take time to recover as people come out of hibernation, but we will see change in the second half of the year,” Friedman added. 

On racial justice and equity: Chuck Robbins, Chairman & CEO of Cisco stated “As CEOs, I don’t think we have the option of sitting on the sidelines any longer. It’s easy to be out there and be bold when things are going well, but when there are complex issues, I think it requires all of us to step up. 2020 was a year where we needed as much leadership as we could possibly find and many of my peers and colleagues were out there. We tried to come together and be a positive force in the midst of a very complex time. You can expect some negative comments, but I think that’s what leadership is about. You stand up for what’s right and and when it’s just so clear, it doesn’t matter what people say you just have to do the right thing.

On the 2020 Bloomberg Gender Equality Index: Peter Grauer, Chairman of Bloomberg LP shared the latest findings. “Now in its sixth year this year’s index is larger than ever, with 380 global companies spanning 11 sectors, headquartered across 44 countries and regions. We’re delighted to welcome incredible new participants including our good friends at BlackRock and NASDAQ. Not only are more companies disclosing data than ever before but the quality of disclosure continues to improve.” 

On the business case for diversity and inclusion: Mindy Grossman, President & CEO of WW International shared that “You really need to embrace diversity and inclusion at all levels of businesses as the core fundamental foundation of what’s going to create business success. I believe that those organizations that embraced it even that much more significantly in 2020 are going to accelerate their ability to attract talent to be able to have greater business success and have greater innovation. There’s nothing more important today than creating a culture that will attract talent, develop talent and retain talent, and creating a truly inclusive environment where people feel valued.” 

On the future of work post pandemic: Grossman added that “I think we’re never going to go back to the way we used to work. We really feel that if we truly value talent and we trust talent we have to give them the flexibility to do what they need to do as long as they feel confident in being able to do their job. As we move forward, even with a vaccine, we’re going to remain a very flexible, part-remote workforce, but we’ll all be more purposeful when we get together. And I think giving talent the ability to be able to manage what they need to do is part of how you build a culture that you’re going to retain.” 

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