March 11, 2020

An Open Letter To The CEOs Of High Tech And Telecom Regarding COVID-19

To the CEOs of companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Oracle, AT&T, Verizon, TELUS, Rogers, Bell, BT and Telstra, I have a request.

Gather your c-suite. Ask your skip-level reports to attend the get-together as well. Get straight to the point.

We are at war.

The enemy is the disease known as COVID-19 (stemming from SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus), and we need your best and brightest to combat what is the 21st century’s most alarming problem. (Next to climate change, but that will have to wait for now.)

It’s time to invoke a higher purpose. And that purpose is humanity.

Frankly, we need your leadership.

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt called the CEO of General Motors, William Knudsen, and demanded that America’s largest corporation get into the war. With that phone call and a subsequent visit to the White House, Knudsen left his official post as CEO of GM and became the CEO of America’s greatest military production machine. He worked with his rival automobile executives in Detroit and the city turned into the mightiest wartime assembly plant of all time.

As Knudsen remarked at a meeting with his fellow Motor City executives later that year, “The first half of 1941 is crucial and we must out-build Hitler.”

And out-build him they did. Together. A team of rivals, one might suggest.

It was leadership at its finest.

It’s now 2020, and the enemy isn’t a sociopath with a Kaiser moustache, it’s an invisible virus that sprung out of a live animal market in China. While some may blame the Chinese, we shouldn’t. We were overdue for Disease X. The fact of the matter is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is on the loose with no clear cut sign of it being contained.

We didn’t let Hitler take over the world. Why should we let an invisible gremlin do it now?

To those aforementioned CEOs, it’s time to act. We are at war, and we need a new Detroit more than ever.

The Business Roundtable (BRT) recently convened an emergency task force to discuss COVID-19. It is co-chaired by Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson and Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritzcomprises. It also comprises JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, NASDAQ CEO Adena Friedman, Steelcase CEO Jim Keane, Stanley Black & Decker CEO Jim Loree, Home Depot CEO Craig Menear, CVS CEO Larry Merlo, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

It’s not enough.

High tech and telecom need to become Detroit. Collectively you can be our William Knudsen.

Here’s what to do.

  • Somebody step up and volunteer to be the one to get all CEOs together on a conference call or telepresence meeting to discuss the problem, just like with the BRT. (I’ll nominate Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. He’s full of empathy.)
  • Commit to one another that you will appoint your 50 brightest employees to the task. (Sort out what types of brains you require, be it engineers, data scientists, philosophers, project managers, analysts, etc.)
  • Take these 50 people off of their current projects and send them to a location where they can all work together. (I suggest WHO headquarters in Geneva, but you may have better ideas.)
  • Commit not only these 50 employees but at least $100 million each to the cause. Perhaps more, if you can.
  • Then, let the smart people work with WHO and other health leaders to help sort out what it is we can do not only to stop the spread but to prevent the next one from arriving soon. (Bill Gates has some wonderful thoughts on this in his recent New England Journal of Medicine column.)

There is not a second of time to waste.

Do what’s right for humanity, and you will be rewarded with a lifetime of thanks from millions of people across the planet.

It’s time for leadership. It’s time for you to invoke a higher purpose. You have all the power.

On behalf of all citizens, thank you for your consideration.

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