CEO Daily: Pfizer's Bourla: "We were scared"

Also: European gas, COP26 takeaways, and DeFi vigilantes.
CEO Daily

November 16, 2021

Good morning.

Fortune’s CEO Initiative—a community of CEOs committed to boosting their positive returns to society as well as to shareholders—met in-person for the first time in two years yesterday. The opening speaker was Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who spoke eloquently about how the private sector rose to the challenge of fighting the pandemic. Asked by Fortune editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell how a big, bureaucratic company like Pfizer managed to move so quickly, Bourla responded:

We were all living things we had never lived before. We were scared. It was a time people needed to rise to the occasion, no matter what. It’s not that difficult to motivate someone to go way beyond what they normally do when they know what is at stake is you, your family, the world. The words I used with them were: ‘If not us, then who?’”

Bourla was unabashed in arguing the pandemic proved the value of a vibrant corporate sector:

One of the lessons that stood up in this pandemic is the value to society of a vibrant private sector—in this case the life sciences industry. If we didn’t have a vibrant life sciences industry, we wouldn’t be here today.”

And he forcefully pushed back against the notion that society would be better served if Pfizer gave its intellectual property away so others could manufacture the vaccine:

The idea that would immediately produce higher doses of the vaccine….I think that is wrong. I know this business. I know it very well. And I think that it is impossible…We are the only company that is going to make 4 billion doses next year.”

Later in the evening, two business leaders who attended the climate talks in Glasgow—BCG global chair Rich Lesser and Santander executive chair Ana Botin—told the assembled CEOs that the climate talks demonstrated a vastly increased commitment on the part of global businesses to address climate challenges. But both also agreed that more government action was needed to accelerate climate progress.

You can read more from the CEO Initiative here. Other news below.

Alan Murray


A note from Fortune

$1 for first month


Subscribe for the analysis you need without all the noise. Try Fortune for $1.


Stay, Shell

The Netherlands really doesn't like Shell's plan to ditch the "Royal Dutch" from its name, along with its dual-share structure, and move to the U.K. The government is so panicked that it is reportedly trying to scrap a 15% withholding dividend tax that has previously irked Shell and other multinationals such as Unilever. The U.K. has no such tax. Financial Times

European gas

Germany's energy regulator has suspended its approval of the contentious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. It's a temporary measure that appears to be over a technicality, but it will add to an already-fraught geopolitical drama that's unfolding around Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the prospect of Europe experiencing blackouts this winter. Fortune

Hey billionaires

The UN's World Food Programme would like the world's billionaires to donate $6.6 billion that would save 42 million from hunger next year. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization specifically (but not exclusively) targeted the call at Elon Musk, who had challenged it to show how $6 billion of his wealth might solve world hunger. "You asked for a clear plan and open books. Here it is!" tweeted WFP chief David Beasley at the Tesla/SpaceX boss. Fortune

COP26 takeaways

Fortune's Katherine Dunn examines the most important question of the moment: was COP26 really a bust or a success? As she notes, the 1.5°C threshold is now being taken more seriously, though stated emissions-reduction targets don't suggest that limit will be achieved. "The Glasgow pact includes, remarkably, the first-ever references to fossil fuels in a COP document, and it’s something of a triumph that those words are there at all," she writes. "But the references are deeply qualified." (Bonus read: Sophie Mellor on how crypto-holding climate protesters justify that ownership, given the environmental impact.) Fortune


Cyber remains C-suite priority

Deloitte’s 2021 Future of Cyber survey found that 98% of US C-suite executives’ organizations experienced at least 1 cyber event in the past year. Explore insights from nearly 600 C-suite executives globally—and how US exec responses differ from those elsewhere. Learn more


Price rises

Giants such as Nestlé and PepsiCo are banking on the idea that customers will stay loyal despite rising prices, but, as Megan Leonhardt reports, some experts say that confidence may be misplaced. Here's Phil "Supermarket Guru" Lempert: "Consumers are watching very carefully how much money they’re spending on groceries. They’ve seen the price of groceries go up. It’s continuing to go up. And just because you have a national brand that’s iconic for 100 years doesn’t mean that you can raise prices." Fortune

Fourth wave

Looks like Germany is heading for a form of lockdown that targets the unvaccinated, after neighboring Austria did the same. Blanket restrictions are more costly, of course, and something must be done to address record infection rates. Fortune

Beijing Stock Exchange

The Beijing Stock Exchange is now up and running. It's there to support small and medium-sized enterprises, but, as Yvonne Lau explains, some analysts say it could "cannibalize" listings that would have taken place anyway, elsewhere. Fortune

DeFi vigilantes

Wired has a great piece on amateur detectives that are "trying to save DeFi from itself" by spotting "questionable practices". As the piece notes: "DeFi is arguably the wildest recess of cryptocurrency’s Wild West. Its advocates cast it as a happy digital island where investors have eliminated financial middlemen to interact on a peer-to-peer basis. Practically, it can at times resemble the digital equivalent of touring Las Vegas high on LSD." (Bonus read: Celebrity-backed NFTs are doing badly, and so are cryptocurrencies right now.) Wired

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

Thanks for reading.


If you liked this email, pay it forward. Share it with someone you know:

Web Site Twitter LinkedIn Facebook

Did someone share this with you? Sign up here. For previous editions, click here.

To view all of Fortune's newsletters on the latest in business, go here

CEO Daily: Pfizer's Bourla: "We were scared"