In a previous blog I examined the reputational challenges Bill Gates encountered in his quest to find a vaccine for Covid-19. One might assume that Gates would be seen as a hero, after all he donated $250 million of his personal fortune for vaccine research, tirelessly worked with policymakers and industry leaders, and leveraged vast resources of the Gates Foundation to find a cure.
Research by ENODO Global, however, found that Gates made critical mistakes that opened the door for criticism and increased public scrutiny. Rather than receiving credit for his work, some viewed Gates as ignoring an acute problem. In his rush to find a vaccine, Gates overlooked the needs of first responders and front-line health care workers ability to obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). While people acknowledge the need for a vaccine, what they really needed from Gates in the early days of the pandemic was equipment to keep healthcare workers safe so they could better treat patients.
The Best Practices of Leaders
Over the past six months, Corporate Leaders, just like Bill Gates, around the world have faced tough decisions with no clear right or wrong answers. The good ones recognize the challenges of the moment—a global pandemic and the heartbreaking loss of life, economic disruption that has come with it, supply chain disruptions, and riots and protests caused by injustice and socio-economic disparity—as opportunities to improve both their companies and society.
ENODO Global and Group SJR’s CEO Leaderboard illustrates how successful leaders navigate today’s complex social environments by embodying humane traits such as purpose, authenticity, and accessibility. The executives and companies emerging as true leaders in a world beset by uncertainty, turbulence, and confusion are not those with a focus on the bottom line and profits but rather those who are seen as empathetic to employees, customers, and communities.
Focusing on Shareholders is Good for Business
In August 2019, Business Roundtable—an association of the CEOs from some of the largest companies in the U.S.—issued a “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” which was signed by 181 of its members. Never before had Business Roundtable made such a bold articulation—the purpose of a corporation is not to serve only shareholders but rather to create a benefit for all stakeholders—such as customers, employees, suppliers, and communities in which companies operate.
In the months leading up to the outbreak of Covid-19, the merits of the Business Roundtable statement were met with skepticism. For example, in early February 2020, former Secretary of State George Schultz and fellow colleagues at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution asserted that the Business Roundtable’s view is “welcome but wrong-headed” and that “it fundamentally misunderstands the role that business plays in a free market economy; and it fails to consider the practical, real world, adverse consequences of demoting shareholders’ interests.”
While there is merit to maximizing shareholder value and business performance, ENODO Global and SJR’s report found that, when faced with a crisis on the scale of a global pandemic, a more realistic application of a corporation and its leaders is required. Consider Pascal Soriot of Astra Zeneca and Alan Jope of Unilever – two CEOs that performed very well during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both were seen as regularly communicating to their stakeholders in a direct, forthright, and empathetic manner on issues far beyond the financial performance of their companies. Further consider the correlation between public sentiment and the performance of the publicly traded shares of their companies. After recovering from the global market crash in March, the share prices have since recovered – with Astra Zeneca’s share price improving steadily in recent months.
The Data Doesn’t Lie
In the immortal words of former NFL coach Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.” For CEOs, their record is determined every day by stakeholders of all kinds – including shareholders. You cannot argue with the 2.4 million data points collected and analyzed by ENODO Global and Group SJR, which paints a conclusive picture of corporate performance in the “public” market in all its forms – ranging from public opinion to consumer behavior to trading desks at the stock exchanges.
Now is the time for corporate leaders and their companies to move beyond the traditional model of capitalism (profits and shareholder value) to one more resilient and focused on what the public cares about – making quality products that fulfill a human need while also investing in people and communities. The leaders that accomplish that objective, while simultaneously communicating their value proposition to internal and external audiences in a clear consistent way that is purposeful, and authentic – will see their companies outperform the competition and enjoy a strong and enduring reputation in an otherwise turbulent world.
 AstraZeneca PLC, market summary as of August 3, 2020, Google.com
 Unilever N.V. Common Stock, market summary as of August 3, 2020, Google.com