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Corporate Leadership in Driving Societal Change

A Weekly Update From Teneo: Corporate Leadership in Driving Societal Change

June 11, 2020

Ursula Burns and William J. Bratton, join Kevin Kajiwara to discuss Black Lives Matter, law enforcement reform, and the corporate response to these issues.

 

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Kevin Kajiwara (KK): Well, good day, everyone. Welcome, and thank you very much for joining this special edition of our weekly Teneo Insights conference call. We appreciate you accommodating the change of time this week so that we could accommodate today's speakers. I'm Kevin Kajiwara, Co-President of Teneo’s Political Risk Advisory.

It had already become apparent early this year I think that this summer, the summer of 2020, was going to be unlike any other. But the images of the last couple of weeks, peaceful protesting, looting, police firing tear gas, police taking the knee, the successful and spectacular launch of the Space X, a public-private partnership spearheaded by an immigrant entrepreneur, double digit unemployment, and the resurgent stock market. I think the paradoxes of America have been on very stark display for the world to see, and to appraise. The nationwide and indeed the worldwide reaction to the images of George Floyd's killing plus the COVID-19 pandemic, where we're now seeing the highest number of global infections yet, attempts to restart an economy, which came to an abrupt halt, but where recovery of consumer confidence and demand is far from certain. All that adds up to the challenges facing the country, challenges facing its leaders and its employers are incredibly complex. They're mutually compounding, and of course all of this is within the context of an election, which is now only 145 days away.

Those of you who join this call regularly know we've been dealing with the coronavirus and its economic impact all along since the beginning. But today we're here to talk about Black Lives Matter, and the movement that has roused the country - both in support and against, obviously since that fateful Memorial Day - law enforcement reform and corporate America's response here and its responsibility.

To have that conversation, I'm joined with two of my most esteemed colleagues, who between them, I think have the experience and the perspective to credibly discuss why this moment is different, and how their peers need to rise to the challenge.

Ursula Burns is a Senior Advisor to Teneo. She serves on the boards of Exxon Mobile, Uber, Nestle, and she is on the boards of a number of institutions, MIT, The Mayo Clinic, The Ford Foundation, The New York City Ballet. She served as the Chairman and CEO of the international communications firm, VEON, and in 1980 as an intern, she joined Xerox where in 2009, only 11 years ago, she became the first African American woman to serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Bill Bratton is the Executive Chairman of Teneo Risk Advisory. His 46-year career in law enforcement is highlighted by two terms as Commissioner of the New York Police Department during the mayorships of Rudolph Giuliani and Bill de Blasio. He also served as the Boston Police Commissioner, and as the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, where he spent a lot of time reforming, rebuilding trust and reducing crime for a force in a city that was still recovering from the Rodney King and OJ Simpson cases. Today, he is also the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security's Advisory Council.

Now I invite the audience to join our conversation today, by sending in your questions; you can do so at any time via the moderator chat button on your screen, and I do hope you avail yourself of this unique opportunity to speak with both Bill and Ursula.

Ursula, let me start with you and start with really the big question here, in a sense. How would you characterize this moment, and why it's different? You and I have discussed on many occasions, we all know the stats on the ethnic gender and age diversity of C-suites and boards in this country. So, does corporate America really recognize this moment in your view?

 

Ursula Burns (UB): Yeah. So, two-part question. Let me talk to both of them. First, what's different? I've been thinking a lot about this because George Floyd is not the first African American who has been killed at the hands of police people in the United States. That's not new. We've had weak or ineffective government in the past. That's not new. We've had corporate engagement, or lack of engagement. That's not new. I think that the thing that's different is that it's all happening at the same time on the foundation of a totally disrupted 7 billion people in the world. Totally disrupted. Our lives have been changed.

There's no one in this world whose life has not been impacted by the coronavirus either physically or mentally and therefore we have lots of time. We're sitting at home, we're doing a lot of things that we just didn't do before. We go running from pillar to post. We're spending a lot more time inside and internally. What has happened is we've piled on top of that a very, very disruptive, disturbing set of occurrences in Minnesota. You pile on that, a president in the United States who is insensitive, who's barbaric, who is a racist, and a sexist. You pile on top of that, a set of numbers from an economic standpoint that are frightening, so many people just literally being economically disrupted. You pile on top of that, businesses being forced to think about their go-forward business plans differently; not race and gender to start with, but everything. "Do I go back to the office?" etc.

All of this change at the same time has come to what I call "the perfect storm", and I think it's a time of hope. Believe it or not, I think this is a time when we can reset some of the norms. We can reset how we interact with each other, how we value each other, how we police. We can reset economic distribution. I don't think it's going to happen like tomorrow, and I don't think it's going to happen by us all saying words, but I think that there's enough unsettledness in the world today at all levels that we can talk to make some progress that the past events of Rodney King, and etc., just didn't have this kind of conflagration of events, so I think it's really interesting.

Businesses have to step up. There was a time when we thought that the only job of the business was this thing that we call 'sacredly creating shareholder value'. And that was financial, it was an economic equation, very straightforward. It didn't start with Black Lives Matters, it started with the ecology,  it started with the sustainability and the planet where we realized that that can't be the only thing that we have to look at. Then it moved to the Me Too Movement, and now it's moving to Black Lives Matter where businesses are starting to understand that they have to have a more fulsome conversation with their stakeholders about the value that they create at a cost of the value that they create. So I think it's a hopeful time right about now.

 

KK: So, I want to unpack a lot of what you just talked about here, but I want to get the Commissioner into this conversation and ask him a variant of the same question. Is this a moment of reckoning for law enforcement in this country, and if so, given how decentralized and how myriad all of our different law enforcement agencies are, and the police forces around the country, do you think most of leadership is in consensus on what is needed to be done?

 

Bill Bratton (BB): Well Kevin, policing is a profession like every other profession that is constantly evolving. I've been associated with this for 50 years, starting 1970, starting as a young cop in Boston, coming out of the civil rights movement of the sixties, the various riots, and then for the next 10 years, dealing with in Boston, one of the most segregated Northern cities in America at that time, dealing with the desegregation of the school system, a very violent period of time, desegregation of the public housing system, also a very violent time, and so my experiences early on were understanding that policing is always evolving, and at points in time evolving at such a rapid pace, you'd have to describe it as a revolution.

The seventies were a revolution in that policing really first became a profession up to that time. It had none of the tenants or hallmarks of a profession. I got my college education through federal funding that came about as a result of the bias in the sixties, where it was understood police were going to have to be better educated, better trained, and unfortunately, we hit economic circumstances in the late seventies that upset a lot of the progress. We also basically carried that upset into the eighties with rising crime rates. But in the late eighties, early nineties, we had a revolution in policing once again, which was called 'Community Policing'; basically the series of meetings at Harvard, the executive session at the Kennedy School of Government. Community Policing emphasized the importance of partnership; police, community, business community, all trying to work together to focus on what are the problems that are creating crime, disorder, fear. Then thirdly, the idea of how do we work together collaboratively? How do we find common ground so that we can not only respond to crime, fear and disorder, but also do it in a way that we prevent it from reoccurring. Coming out of the nineties, we reduced crime and we're still feeling the benefit of that significant reduced crime.

I'll give you New York numbers for one example. 2,243 murders in New York in 1990. This year they'll be fewer than 300, and that decline has been felt throughout America, despite high crime rates, still in some cities, it's nowhere near what it was back in the nineties. But we also had the issue coming out of that era of the crime bill. While it had many positives, one of the impacts was the belief that there was over incarceration, if you will, particularly of minority young men of color, and that impact began to build up.

So now as we come into the 21st Century, we are now at another point of revolution and one that I think would surprise a lot of your listeners is being embraced by progressive police leaders as they see this as an opportunity to finally get it right, and the business community as Ursula talked about has an important role to play this time, more important than it had in the previous revolutions. This is America's time. This is a time to really get this thing straightened out once and for all. We’ve been dealing with the issue, the original sin for 400 years. This is an inflection point, and the good news is that out of crises comes challenges and opportunities, out of crisis comes the opportunity for leaders who embrace change to create it.

Gandhi, the great civil rights leader of India, paraphrasing his words "To create change, you must become the change." There's an awful lot of people in the business community and police world that want to create that change. They want to embrace it. They want to be that change.

 

KK: So just to dig into that for one second here and get into a little bit of detail of what that change could or should look like because the buzzword of the last week has been defunding, and more broadly what we're seeing here is a move to political action beyond just the leaders of law enforcement agencies themselves. We're seeing it in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans alike, looking to put forward law enforcement bills. The White House itself has expressed an interest, at least in the Republican bill, all the way down to municipalities. Most prominently of course talk in Minneapolis of disbanding the existing police force.

But help us understand what this top down movement now starts to look like. So, what does corporate America need to understand about what these proposals are suggesting?

 

BB: Well, first, a little quick discussion about defunding. There's actually four terms being bandied about. There's reform, there's defunding, there's dismantling and there's abolition. Abolition is such a farfetched concept that it's a catchy phrase, but that's not going to happen. Dismantling, there will be some dismantling of functions of police. Some of that's a good thing because police have effectively been the entity of last resort with so many responsibilities dumped on them over the years as budgets were shortfalled and social service agencies were not able to keep up. So dismantling, you will see a lot of functions that would be taken away from the police, which is a good thing because it reduces some of the negative interaction we have, particularly into the minority and poor communities.

Defunding, it's an inappropriate term for what will happen. The idea of reallocation of funds, which is what government does all the time. It's what business does all the time, that you move your resources around to meet the present demands as well as anticipated demands. So, defunding, it's been totally misinterpreted in its first week of usage. You're seeing widespread push back against that term at the level of the presidential candidate, Joe Biden, a number of leading black congressmen have come out against it, a number of the major organizations, the urban league, and others. The idea of defunding, the sense that you're just not going to give any money to the police, the term has been misappropriated, hijacked if you will.

What is really going to happen is reform, much needed reform. Reforms that have been underway for 30 years. I've been a leader, I like to believe, in the reformation movement of policing New York, Los Angeles, Boston. But those reforms did not really permeate the whole police profession. This is an opportunity for it to happen, and the business community has an essential role to play here, because they are going to have phenomenal influence on legislators. They have access to communities and they need to broaden their access to communities, particularly communities of color and poorer communities. So this is a phenomenal inflection point, and always the optimist, I always look at things as the glass more than half full rather than half empty. And I'm excited about the opportunities that are being presented at this time in American history. We might finally get it right this time.

 

KK: So, Ursula, the Commissioner has just suggested that the business community has an ever more important role to play here. How do you think that companies need to walk this tightrope right now? On the one hand, messaging what their values are as a company in a way that will resonate in the current climate, but on the other hand, as suggested by the Commissioner, companies need to have good relations with law enforcement. In fact, it's one of the reasons the Commissioner came to Teneo. We saw that demand for being able to bring the two institutional types together, both in terms of getting through everyday business, but also to deal with major crises like workplace shootings and cybercrime and the like.

But also, a lot of companies are either the dominant or major employers in the communities in which they operate. They want to attract talent. They want to have a good place for their employees to live and work and kids go to school, and so on. And this element of community relations between companies and their broader community has been an ever-growing theme, and as the Commissioner suggests, community policing, corporate community relations are integral to each other. So how do you think companies need to thread this needle at the moment?

 

UB: Yeah, I would first approach it as not a tight rope or a needle. I think it's an opportunity. I actually think it opens up the aperture for companies to actually do their business in a broader and a better way. This is not an either-or discussion. I'm going to be a good company, or a compliant or a shareholder friendly company, and also support police reform. It's not that kind of discussion at all. I think it's a very inclusive discussion, and I love, love, love Commissioner Bratton's whole discussion about, this is a time where we may be able to get it right, if we engage actively with the right mindset. It is not either or. It's not one or the other. It is one and the other.

It may take time. It will take time, because we've had 600 years to build a society, not only in the U.S., I mean, global, that we have today, and it's going to take more than six months to dismantle it or to change it. But I think that what we have to do is literally say that. I remember when I was on with Business Roundtable, Business Roundtable employed, what, 200 million people, the members of the Business Roundtable. 80 million, the top in the United States, those citizens are policed by people. They live in communities. When we walk into business we don't become business. We are still humans that have to partake in services. We have to give back etc. So businesses have to become more fluid and more broad in their contributions to the world. They have to contribute to the communities. They have to contribute to shareholder individuals. They have to contribute to government, etc.

So, I don't actually look at it as an either or, or a needle to be threaded. We're going to have to make some choices and some decisions. You have some of the smartest people in the world in government, and some of the smartest people in the world in business. Pull them together. Let's come together and talk about where we want to end up, and how is the best way to get there? How do we fund it? How do we reform policing? How do we inform our environmental approach in business? How do we reform our hiring practices at both the board level or at the intake level so that we can have more diversity. Whatever, whatever, whatever. Let's have these discussions, because I think without it we know where we're going to end up, and it hasn't been that pretty. I think this is the time to change. It's a very hopeful time for me. It's a time where we can, like I said, reset the table. Let's reset the table.

 

KK: Well, Commissioner, what do you think, to pick up on that, and to grab this moment where the energy and enthusiasm and incentive is there to act? Obviously, here in New York, we're in a little bit of a unique situation because it's such a huge and diverse city and there's so many companies here that no one company really stands out. But a lot of corporate America, a lot of Fortune 100 companies are the dominant employer or the major institutional force in the communities in which they are headquartered. What should a company do if they are in a community where they've got one of the police forces that is not at the forefront of what you're talking about but is lagging behind and leaves a lot of room for improvement. I mean, we've seen some institutions in the last week or so actually cutting ties with local law enforcement in their communities. That seems shortsighted to me, but what should they specifically do to push that agenda along?

 

BB: Let me speak very quickly to your last comment about universities and other entities cutting ties with the local police. That's not only short sighted, that's stupid. The whole idea here is to get everybody onto common ground, despite their differences and philosophies, to start trying to find a way forward. So you don't find a way forward when you shut off communication, so the stupidity of some of those moves is mind boggling.

In terms of the business community, we have employees in the United States government, Fortune 500 companies, and then the small businesses which employ phenomenal amounts of people. In terms of Teneo, its clients, it's Fortune 100, Fortune 500 CEOs that we advise, first step, and I think Ursula will support this, that as a woman of color in terms of all she experienced, starting as an intern and working her way up, I think the minority communities, and particularly black community, are saying to not only government, to the police, but to those who employ in this country, we're not going to be satisfied with lip service. We're not going to be satisfied with tokens this time out.

So I think Fortune 100, Fortune 500 will have to take a big, long, hard look internally at their own hiring practices, in the sense of, if you are in a community that has, New York City, for example, majority minority city, 55-60% of the city is basically minority. How many minorities do you have in your firm? Where are they? Not the janitor, the door man, the security officer, but who's actually sitting around those executive conference tables? So as they seek to reach out, as almost every one of them has done these last two weeks with letters of support, asking who we might fund with couple million dollar donations here and there, who's legitimate, who's not, the first step is the idea of what is the culture of the company as it relates to this issue.

What I've had to do in every police department I've gone into, the seven that I've been in charge of, LA, New York, one of the first things is to do a cultural diagnostic, and talk to the employees who are already there about what are their concerns, and then they should try to find common ground, to effectively meet those concerns going forward. But if you don't talk to them, if you don't survey them, you don't understand them, you're never going to be able to satisfy them. And right now it's quite clear, there's a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction. Police are the focal point of it. But if you start peeling back the onion, you're going to find that a lot of the frustration that is in a lot of the way being focused on the issue of police reform, it emanates also from frustration of unfairness, in the sense of not being able to get a job, not being able when you get a job, to get ahead on that job.

And it's been reinforced by the economy over these last several months with 40 million unemployed, the majority of them in these minority communities, most of them not even making $40,000 a year. So this is where the corporate world, this time, is not going to be able to get away with letters of support, couple million dollars here and there. I think you're going to find, as attention moves from police reform, which will be met very quickly by government and police themselves, a lot of the focus is going to shift back onto the business world. What are you doing? What have you done for me? What you plan to do for me and with me?

 

UB: Commissioner Bratton, you are so, so, so right here. George Floyd, it's a thing that kind of, it's a very bad event, it's a sad event, I get that. It'll go past, right? We'll move past that. We have a fundamentally unbalanced and unfair structure in society today. So, we're going to have to, business is going to have to, I love it, do the internal diagnostic. Look at boardrooms, look at intake, look at promotion rates, just look throughout the company and you will see, throughout companies you will see inequity, not only on race, but on gender as well. This has to change, right? And so we're going to have to actually start doing what we ask others to do. Fix the police force. Can you please? Can you reform it? We're going to have to also look inside business and reform business as we move forward.

Talent is evenly distributed. Opportunity is not. So we have to start to more evenly distribute opportunity. I really do so agree with you. Another point that I agree with is this idea that we can solve this problem by leaving somebody out of the conversation. It's kind of insane. It's kind of like saying we're not going to fund anything in carbon-based fuels because we don't like it. You need the transit to happen with the participants at the table. You can't do it without them unless you're going to have an imperfect solution. And so I think it is really, really important, I agree with you, that we start not from the total beginning, because I'm not that naive, but we start as adults. Let's come to the table, let's figure it out, and let's look first at our own house and make sure that we're clear about our own house, and then let's start to work across the community to build a better society. But companies are some of the worst offenders, extremely un-diverse, extremely non-egalitarian. It's a place to start.

 

KK: Well, I want to remind our audience to get involved by using the moderator chat button and inject any questions you might have. But, Ursula, I want to pick up on what you were just talking about here, because you have suggested that corporate America needs to do a variety of things. So, let's look at what actually is happening, and whether that is taking place. So, I want to talk about the immediate term, and then we can segue into the longer term. You're suggesting, I think, that corporate America needs to do all these things, but from a starting point perspective, it is equipped to handle all of these issues that are confronting it right now. And I know we're talking in generalities here, and different industries and specific companies are in different places and come from different starting points, understanding that.

But we're seeing a lot of messaging out there, a lot of statements, both for external communications, as well as within organizations themselves, which we always do. But if the moment is different, then actions need to be different, too. We've seen money being given. There have been reports over the last several days that Black Lives Matter and other organizations are seeing big figures in terms of corporate donations over the last month that equal what they sometimes get in a year. Is the paradigm shift actually playing out in the way you're suggesting it needs to, or are we kind of just going through a more elevated form of emotions that we have in crises past?

 

UB: Some and some. So I don't think it's a bad idea or a good idea, or I think you said idea to fund organizations that need funding that stand for the causes or the future that you want it to be, I think that's totally fine, but that's not enough. That's the way that rich people generally solve problems, right? You basically hand it off with a check. We need action, engagement, and I said it, Commissioner Bratton said it., look at your own organizations. Look at the leadership, the hiring practices, the promotion practices, look at the educational institutions that you support, look at how you engage with your communities.

But you don't have to go that far. Just look at your board. Look at your board, look at your management team, look at who you bring into the company. So, it's not just giving money to Black Lives Matter, and the Me Too movement. That we need. That's needed, but that's not enough. That's actually almost too easy. What we have to do is use some of our intellectual capacity and some of our action capacity to engage and to start practicing a new future, a new life. I look at the Fortune 500 companies and look at their boards, but you don't even have to do that. Look at startup companies and look at their boards. They are still very largely 72% or higher white men. They are still very narrow from where they get their people from, not only gender and ethnicity, but schools, skillsets. Businesses have to practice what they preach. If they want diversity enacted, they have to first show it in their own companies. You can fund as well. You have to get involved with education, which is something businesses had been doing over time but still not anywhere near as aggressively as you need, because without the pipeline, you're not going to get the people who can come in, who can move up etc. So it's not going to be as simple as let's throw $10 million here. Black Lives Matter got $10 million. Fine. That's all good. You'll get a good strong Black Lives Matter organization and a weak society and structure around it or a weak industrial infrastructure around it. And that can't work.

 

KK: Yeah. So, it seems to me, and you and I have talked about this on stage before. We have talked about the impact of ESG on corporate performance and on C-suite priorities. It seems to me, without getting into all of the technical details of ESG, but that the spirit has driven that. This is sort of the ultimate moment for companies to demonstrate whether their culture and their commitment to these types of goals is real. Would you agree with that?

 

UB: Absolutely. I think that there are lots of things pushing that. Obviously, part of it is the environment, the true environmental impacts, the immediacy of some of these changes on our lives, that companies are starting to speak more openly and be more honest and clear about, driven by public or that. ESG also includes diversity. I think that this is one of these times when we keep getting back to the same point, when we can keep it the way it was, which isn't very successful and is becoming significantly more unsettled. Every action is piling on to this unbalanced system, or we can actually start to do an orderly change. I'm in the UK and one of the things that I get all the time here is should we push more on mandates, literally quotas. Should we make it a quota that you have a diverse board, that you have a diverse management team, that you have diverse hiring, etc.?

And I think that we have to be careful that we don't get to the point where that becomes the solution to the problem. Business has to take control of the problem itself or else we will end up in a place where we're mandated to do certain things that may not be appropriate at the right time. So, I think it's important  we're trying to find a solution to this COVID-19. We have the best scientists in the world working on it and companies all over. We are trying to find a solution to a carbon system. We have the best scientists in the world and we’re trying to find a solution to lack of diversity, to inequity, etc. We should have the best minds working on it. And it's not something that is so complicated, so impossible, that we throw up our hands and walk away.

It is the responsibility of us as business leaders, as Teneo, as an advisor with expertise to those business leaders, as government people, as citizens to actually engage and be more active in the solution and businesses absolutely have to lead the way. The government right now, in just about every country that I'm engaged with is not necessarily fit for purpose, the federal systems. So we absolutely, as business leaders, have to actually take even more into our hands than we did before. I think it's the appropriate amount, but more than we did before. It is absolutely a requirement or we're going to be handed a set of solutions that we don't like. Armed states, disgruntled communities, just bad educational systems, a bad environmental outcome. The path without our action is not good.

 

KK: So, I want to talk about the long-term strategies for tackling all of this, both at the corporate level and in law enforcement, but we are getting a flurry of questions in from our audience here. And I want to ask both of you on a few of these, and there's a couple of them that are really big picture and then there's a couple that are more tactical. So maybe I can start with the big picture ones here, and maybe these are as much statements as they are questions, but I think it serves to illustrate for all of the enthusiasm that both of you are articulating here, it's the reality check in terms of how challenging it still is despite the best intentions, because, I guess the question that one of our listeners is asking here is that recognizing that the injustice for a lot of minority groups being socially and economically disadvantaged, question being is racism the core problem, or is it the social inequality based on an extremely uneven distribution of wealth?

I would suggest that those two things are very intertwined, but how would you comment on that? Particularly the question for you, Commissioner, because you have policed in some of the cities where you have the widest disparities of wealth distribution within those communities that we can see in this country, how do you view the core problem?

 

BB: Well, both of these issues are impactful, there's no denying it. The issue of racism, something this country has been wrestling with since creation. And then the economic divide, which even as more people became employed as the unemployment rates were improving in inner city neighborhoods over these last few years, the nature of the jobs that so many of them paying below that $40,000 level, while the wealth at the top end of the spectrum was growing phenomenally. You have multiple pressures that I think are being exhibited at this time. And again, going back to my earlier comment, the police issue is basically the tip of the iceberg of the frustrations being reflected. And that is reflective of the racism that has felt particularly by black and Latino communities. And it's real.

It's an issue that we have never really been able to successfully address. It’s the whole issue of implicit bias, for example, where people don't even recognize that they might have a bias based on race or class. As far as the economic aspects, a lot of that has to do with government policies, taxation rates, corporate rates, etc. So fixing this is not going to be easy, but I go back to my point that this is probably a better time than any time I'm aware of in the 50 years of my adulthood that I have been associated with it, where there was the ability to move forward on both fronts. And to make the change over is going to require political movement.

And the thing I'm frustrated about, I think most Americans are at this time, is it's like we're fighting World War One. We’re in the trenches with no man's land between the Republicans and the Democrats and anybody who ventures into no man's land to try to find common ground gets shot down by the respective parties. So hopefully, that will begin to resolve itself more around this issue. Interestingly enough, talking on the news this morning for the first time, Republicans and Democrats, neither side can really push back against some of the demands of the demonstrators. That's a light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, in terms of the impasse we've been engaged in America over these last number of years.

 

KK: So, I don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole of specific partisan politics here, but Ursula, in your early comments, you made some pretty strong remarks regarding the president. And certainly, one of the things that's being talked about a lot here is that Americans, unfortunately, don't avail themselves of their right to vote as much at rates that they should, given the opportunities that we've got in front of us.

And we see it every year when there's a new country that is voting for the first time, their voter turnout rates are astronomical and people are happy. And here, ours are kind of abysmal. But the call to action here is to vote. And I think it's very refreshing and probably surprising to some, maybe not on this call, but if others outside of the corporate world were listening to a call like this, to hear a seasoned corporate executive talking about how much change needs to be made in an environment where you've had an administration that has provided tax support, tax rate support. And in general, a flying stock market. What should corporate America be doing now to influence our local governments, national government? What should they be pushing for now?

 

UB: For an economic structure that's more inclusive. It's really an important thing that Commissioner said, that the earlier question, is it racism or is it economic disparity? I think it's both and a whole bunch of other things as well. Right? And right now, we have a system as the Commissioner talked about, that rewards the richer economically than it does the poor. We have to figure out a different approach to this very complex math equation. It's not calculus, it's a math equation. You can't live in New York City under $40,000 a year, reasonably. A whole bunch of people do and they are not happy. And we called them yesterday essential workers, a lot of these under $40,000 people, were called essential workers.

 

KK: Essential, but they're not getting paid essentially.

 

UB: There's a whole bunch of just fundamental structural inequity that we have to deal with that companies can work with governments to solve. Individuals can be very vocal, very clear about the desires. Not all of them are reasonable, not even right, but we are not even dealing with the reasonable and right ones right now. And we have to actually start to engage there. We do have, and you said it, we have a skyrocketing stock market, and we have the wealthiest people in America becoming more and more wealthy. That's not because they work harder, guys. That's not because they're necessarily smarter. It is because we have a structure that has been designed this way. We have a tax structure that's been designed to reward certain types of behaviors, and it generally isn't working at a job. That's for sure. By the way, it's not necessarily the people were thinking evil when they did this. It's just that we are now at a point that needs maybe a little bit of a tweaked system.

So, we should tweak it a little bit to make sure that we can be more inclusive. And it's not going to be only the administration. The administration, the Republicans and Democrats, because Commissioner Bratton said it so right. We have enough blame to go around here, both sides, and anybody who has the sense to stand up in the middle is called senseless because they literally are disowned and killed by their own party.

The people actually control this government, if we think about it reasonably. And businesses have a loud voice, an even louder voice than an individual citizen. So I think that they have to kind of engage and make sure that it's very clear that the status quo is not going to be a win, win solution for all of us. I'm a big believer in equality. My kids always call me on this and say, basically, do you mean everybody should get this? No, no, I believe in a meritocracy, but we have to have an equality of start positions. Can we? Can we have an equality of start positions, educational infrastructures that are good, healthcare infrastructures that are good, housing infrastructures that are at least at some minimum that people can have safety in their streets, that the people don't have to actually huddle inside their homes?

Can we have a foundation where we can all build on and corporations can be part of that active vocal parts of that, and it's not somebody else? And I do understand where this question started. It's a big problem, and it seems almost too big to get engaged with. But if it's not us, who? If it's not us, who's going to do it? We can have revolt in the street. That doesn't look too good either. We don't like that either. So I think we need to engage in a way, all of us, in a way with the resources that we have, to try to define the better outcome for the country and hopefully for the world.

 

KK: Well, you two have so much to say, and we're getting so many questions in here and we've got less than 15 minutes left in this call. So, I want to rush through a couple of things here. Several questions that have come in, Commissioner, that I think I can kind of sum up in a way. Question is there's been a move I believe in the State of New York towards reform here that would basically open or make more transparent police records on misconduct from prior incidents and the like. But I guess the bigger question is whether, you know, for all that your advocating, that this lack of transparency on some behavior or the power of the police unions, or let's just call it the blue line, is that an impediment to achieving some of the things that you're talking about and advocating for?

 

BB: Well, there's no denying, Kevin, that the police unions have been an obstacle to a lot of change. You need to understand that the unions exist to protect their members, to protect their rights under the labor contracts, to ensure that they win benefits for those members. And some of these unions have really taken it to the extreme. In the sense of almost a perspective, there is no such thing as a bad cop. So the union issues are going to be very significant in terms of dealing with the potential to impede change. The police chief of Minneapolis announced that he was breaking away from negotiations with the union on a common contract. Well, all well and good, but once again, it's my point that you're still going to have to talk. You can't just stop talking. And so, the union issue is one of a great concern.

The other issue you raised, the New York one, is a law in New York, 50A, that protects the disciplinary records, the personnel records of police officers. In 2015/16, when I was still commissioner, it was determined that the department, for years, had been in violation of the state law that prohibited the release of any of that information to the public or the media. And so, I found myself, as a reformist who advocates transparency when it comes to most aspects of an officer's disciplinary record, having to effectively shut the door on that transparency because of the state law. In the rush to reform now that is underway in America, the New York legislature has just passed legislation to do away with that protection and the governor will sign it. So, those disciplinary records will now be available to the public, to the media, and the unions are strongly resisting, as they always have. The department's leadership and the political leadership has not.

Going forward, as Ursula pointed out, this is not going to be easy, but I've been trying to do this for 50 years. It is the idea of having a vision, having goals, but having people participate in developing that vision, developing those goals, so they have ownership, so they have buy in. Trying to get as many people to the table as possible, and then having progress. And I think there is this opportunity this time. We need to get past some of the rhetoric. We need to get past some of the emotion, but we need to get to that common ground.

 

KK: Ursula, we've had a question that has come in for you, and it's asking, where is the line, or indeed, is there a line, that companies should or should not cross? I hasten to add here that, most firms, I think, have employee handbooks and employee guidelines about acceptable behavior and the like. But the question generally is, when an employee engages in behavior outside of the office, outside of the workplace, outside of their professional duties, that isn't necessarily criminal or illegal but is bad and reflects poorly on their organization. The two examples that were given were the woman in Central Park last week who confronted the African American guy who was just out there birdwatching, I believe she worked for a major financial institution, and the horrific pictures from New Jersey this week during a march where some guys reenacted the George Floyd killing, one of whom worked for a major logistics company. What's the responsibility of companies here on this? And is there a line?

 

UB: I think that there is a line, of course. I think that there are behaviors, beliefs, that are personally held. You know what I mean? And if you can enact them, I can't imagine what one of them would be, but if you can enact them in such a way that doesn't impede your ability or your company's ability to do their work well, I say go for it. I can't imagine one of those things in general. But I do know that there is a line. There is a line that we know what bad looks like. We know what we want our company value set to be, to what we want to admit as a corporation. And if you are in a position where you can, with one action or two actions, literally crush that and bring a large amount of work, millions of dollars of brand building, etc. that the company invests to its knees, then I think you have to pay the consequences of that via the company.

So, both the incidences, I know both incidences, and unfortunately, if I were the leaders of both companies, I would have done exactly what happened, fire both people. It shows bad judgment and shows very, very bad consideration for the rest of the people in the company.

But I do know that in the beginning of slavery, there were a whole bunch of people who actually stood up against it who were fired as well. So, I know it's not as straightforward as I'm making it seem, but I think we generally know what bad looks like here. And when people are doing bad, their partners in the company should probably be calling for, "We don't need this kind of negative pressure, get this person out of here."

 

KK: You know, I want to ask you one last question before I go to the final question for both of you, and maybe you could expand on something that you and I talked about the other day, Ursula. Which is that you have laid out a number of things here, the structural changes that corporate America and individual companies need to implement and institutionalize, really, to allow that equal distribution of talent to morph into equal opportunity at all levels of an organization that you've talked about. As well as working with government and educational institutions and society as a whole to nurture that talent pool and create equal opportunity from, basically, day one, across gender lines, across race lines, across economic strata and the like.

These things take time. Some of what you're talking about can be affected immediately. Some of what you're talking about is going to be generational in terms of its change. And so, we know that boards and C-suite tenures are not going to last long, but you've made some interesting points that corporate America does this all the time. They do it all the time in terms of R&D, as an example. Or, you're on the board of Exxon, exploration and development can take decades on projects sometimes. So, corporate America has the ability to see beyond the tenure of its current management and board teams to get to their objectives. Is that fair?

 

UB: I mean, more than fair, I actually chuckle at this idea when people say to me, "It's going to take time." I'm on the board of companies that literally, we have plans that go 10, 15, 20 years. So, I mean, if you're in a drug company or oil company, any kind of high-tech company, fortunately, or unfortunately, it doesn't take five minutes to solve problems. You invest, you literally have hypothesis, you test approaches, you refine to a solution, you then scale. That's basically the way companies run.

That's the way we do it with our children, right? They're born. We teach them some stuff. We send them to grade school. We send them to high school. We build them into people over 20 something years, and then we launch them into the world. And for some reason, when we talk about this, it's like, "Oh my God, it's going to take a lot of time." What doesn't take time? I mean, everything takes time.

So, I push back, it's very convenient to say, "Oh my God, it's going to be a long investment." I'm on the board of Nestle. I mean, they have a skin health business that, in order for them to even touch a human, they spend years and years and years in labs to try to make sure that they can touch a human. We do this naturally without any concern in all parts of our lives. And we invest for the long-term, we actually pay attention. We course correct. We bring in team, people, experts. That's how we live our lives.

And then we come to a problem like this, which has been longstanding. It's been standing for a long time and everybody at first is startled, "Oh my God, we have a problem. We have to fix it quickly." The problem has been there for a long time, and Commissioner Bratton said it, he's been doing this for 50 years. I've been doing this for a little bit shorter, Commissioner, but not that much shorter. And yeah, it's going to take some time. It's going to take a plan. It's going to take long-term involvement. It's going to take more than one CEO, definitely more than one management team, more than one president.

But that's not unusual. It's so common and I'm not really sure what dissonance we have when we get to this subject. That we can't kind of have it be multigenerational. We can't have the fix and the tracking and the expectations to be multigenerational. It is that way just like everything else we do in life.

 

KK: Well, it's the top of the hour here, so I want to ask you guys one final question. And I was going to say, I want to go out on a high note, but I actually think everything you both have said today has been very, very positive. Or maybe just opine on a statement I'm going to make. I mean, one of the most extraordinary sights of the recent last few weeks, I think, has been the scenes of protest, not just around the country, but around the world in solidarity, who are inspired to address their own issues locally. So, we've seen protests in Australia, in South Korea, in London, in Paris, and what it all suggests to me is that what happens in America still really matters in the world and the world is watching how we address this moment. But it is important that we remain such a beacon, in that respect. Do you guys agree with that?

 

UB: Absolutely. I live in the UK and literally the governor of New York is watched more than Boris Johnson. I mean, literally what happens in the U.S. is more than important. It is often times trend setting. We absolutely have to understand that we cannot be what some of us want to be, which is alone and we'll stay in our little corner. It's not going to happen. It's just not going to happen. So, my answer is absolutely. Absolutely. I actually, it's welcome here.

 

BB: Yeah. I think we might all agree that the 21st Century so far has not been America's century. That there has been a strong erosion of the respect for us and respect for our leadership, concern about what is happening internally in our country that's impacting so dramatically externally, our relationship. The 20th Century was our century, we effectively saved the world on several occasions. Going forward, we'll have to see if we can regain a lot of what we apparently seem to have lost in terms of respect. But as evidenced by the demonstrations in the last couple of weeks, and how they've been emulated and supported around the world, the world still does look to America in many respects to learn from our mistakes, to benefit from our successes, and to, in many respects, want to work with us together collaboratively going forward.

So many of the relationships and alliances that have been dissolved in recent years, we need to get back into the world instead of isolating ourselves from the world. Whether it's around the issue of environment or it's around the issue of terrorism, whether it's around the issue of the economy, we live in a networked world and we either collaborate or we perish. We cannot continue to exist on our own.

 

KK: Well, with that, it is after nine. I just want to say that, there are days at Teneo when I'm really amazed and really proud of who I have the opportunity to work with on a daily basis, and today is one of those days with both of you. So, I want to thank Commissioner Bill Bratton and thank Ursula Burns for their comments and insights today and thank all of you for joining us. So, have a good day, have a good weekend. We will be back next Thursday. Thanks very much.

 

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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