Charlotte CEOs Reflect On 2020's Challenges And See Signs Of Hope
Chamber of commerce events often focus on finance and the economy, business achievements and economic development wins. But after a year of adapting to the twists and turns of the coronavirus pandemic, CEOs of some of Charlotte's biggest companies say they're focused on other ingredients of success, such as the arrival of a vaccine and racial equity.
During a virtual panel discussion at Monday's Charlotte Regional Business Alliance annual outlook, Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods said his spirits were lifted by arrival of the first shipments of the coronavirus vaccine.
"After nine months of 24/7 fighting in the trenches, just as we were about to get overrun, the cavalry has started to finally arrive," Woods said.
He described watching front-line health care workers at Atrium become some of the first to get the vaccine as "one of the best days of my life."
Joining Woods on the panel were CEOs Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Ric Elias of Red Ventures and Meg Ham of Food Lion. The moderator was Rosalyn Durant, a Concord native who is now a senior vice president with ESPN/Disney.
For Moynihan, the virus has brought unprecedented cooperation and forced companies to rethink the way they work.
"It's a war against a virus, and it's a world war, and everybody's on the same side," Moynihan said. "That's what's different about this. This is not a financial crisis that created the human dislocation and the issues. It is a health care crisis. And so thinking about that, it requires companies to behave completely differently."
At Bank of America, that has meant adjusting to a workforce that is mainly working from home. He said the bank has provided assistance to those who face multiple roles, including caring for school-aged children while doing their jobs.
Elias said that pressure to adapt has "pulled the future forward five or 10 years in so many industries." He thinks the biggest change will be a permanent shift to a "hybrid world" of online and in-person interactions.
"I think our employees, our consumers, everybody's going to want to live in a hybrid world," Elias said. "Those who want to hold on to the past I think are going to kind of be left behind. And those who move too quickly to assume that humans don't want interactions are also going to overshoot the runway."
The panelists also discussed another big non-financial story of 2020, the police killings of Black people and ensuing protests. The CEOs agreed that racial equity, diversity and inclusion are now critical in hiring employees and managing their companies.
Ham shared a story about how one Food Lion store, on Beatties Ford Road, reinforced connections with neighbors after it was looted during a June protest.
Employees arrived to start cleaning up and reopen the store and met customers and neighbors who came to the parking lot to help. "They picked up broom(s) and said, 'We want to help you clean up this store. And we want you to know that this is our Food Lion. And these [looters] were not people from our neighborhood. And we appreciate you being here and being open,'" Ham said.
There was a brief discussion of politics. While none of the CEOs hinted at any preferences in the November presidential election, there was a sense of relief that it was over. Moynihan said he thinks the election of Democrat Joe Biden as president will bring more engagement with the rest of the world, on issues such as climate change and trade.
"Trade's going to have a different tone," he said, "though there's still difficulties with China." He said companies have to adapt and move on after contentious elections - not dwell on the politics. "What we have to do is stick to what makes us good - clients, teammates, shareholders, communities and drive at it, and then it'll take care of itself," he said.
Alliance CEO Janet LaBar said after the panel discussion that the organization's goals for 2021 include focusing on business growth to accelerate the recovery, pushing for racial equity within businesses, and promoting growth by continuing to recruit businesses to Charlotte.
Also Monday, the alliance honored its 2020 Citizen of the Carolinas - Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown. She is chief community health and wellness officer at Novant Health and a community leader and volunteer.