What should a CEO do the first day on the job? That’s not a frivolous question. Symbolism is an essential part of leadership; and how a leader spends precious time is a potent symbol.
That’s why David Solomon’s decision to spend his first day as CEO of Goldman Sachs at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women conference is significant. Goldman has long been a sponsor of the conference, but Solomon also was making a statement about his intention of taking the investment bank to gender parity. “We had to tweak the way we do things,” he said. “Sometimes you have to get simple and practical to move the needle.”
Most of the sessions at MPW don’t deal explicitly with gender issues, but rather with general business issues. The all-female audience, however, makes a difference in the tenor of some of the conversations. This year, for instance, artificial intelligence was a top topic, as it is at every business conference. But the ethics of AI seemed more front and center than at Fortune’s other conferences.
Bridget van Kralingen of IBM told me about her company’s efforts to promote the ethical use of AI. Among other things, she said, the company is letting others use its technology to test for bias in their algorithms. “We think this is important,” van Kralingen said. “Does AI lead to greater empowerment of the few, or does it benefit the many?” Good question.
The highlight of day two of the summit was a town hall discussion on gender in the workplace, led by Mellody Hobson of Ariel Investments and featuring Anita Hill. Hill’s recollections of her Senate testimony 27 year ago, coming in the midst of the Senate’s consideration of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, earned her more than one ovation from the crowd. You can read more about it here, and more coverage of the MPW event here.
Other news below.
The president faced a couple of unwelcome stories yesterday. The Wall Street Journal reported that he and Eric Trump were this year directly involved in an attempt to silence Stormy Daniels, the porn star with whom Donald Trump allegedly had an affair. And, perhaps more problematically, the New York Times reported that Trump received at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges—some of which appear to have been fraudulent. NYT
Facebook, Apple, Alphabet and Amazon are participating in a lobbying effort against a proposed law in Australia that would fine institutions and imprison people if they don’t help investigators bypass encryption to access people’s private data. Australia and its intelligence-sharing allies—the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand and Canada—recently resolved to solve the encryption issue, and the Australian law is creating something of a test case. Reuters
Tesla has lost its attempt to have a lawsuit about the mistreatment of foreign workers thrown out of court. The litigants claim Tesla contractors paid foreign workers below minimum wage and overworked them, threatening to withhold pay or have them deported if they reported injuries. Tesla must now defend itself against the accusations. TechCrunch
Daimler and Renault-Nissan, which already have a longrunning strategic partnership, are considering collaborating on battery research, autonomous cars and connected services. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn also told a press conference that demand for electric vehicles is increasing. “The higher price of oil, the more tailwind you will have behind electric cars,” he said. Reuters
Around the Water Cooler
Jeff Bezos’s boosting of hourly wages, to a minimum of $15 in the U.S. and £9.50 in the U.K., is the result of two factors, according to the Guardian‘s Larry Elliott. The first is political pressure from Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the U.S., and unions and the clergy in the U.K. The second is low unemployment–the job market is tight, so Amazon has to work to attract and retain staff. Guardian
Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that, what with all that low unemployment and inflation, it’s reasonable to ask whether the U.S. economic outlook is “too good to be true.” Powell, referencing those two factors: “While these two top-line statistics do not always present an accurate picture of overall economic conditions, a wide range of data on jobs and prices supports a positive view. In addition, many forecasters are predicting that these favorable conditions are likely to continue.” CNBC
Australia is to stop levying a 10% sales tax on female sanitary products, following a concerted campaign to assert that they are not “non-essential” items. “We’re really delighted that everyone’s come on board to scrap what is an unfair tax,” said Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer. The change gives tampons the same exemption already afforded to condoms and sunscreen. BBC
The Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who disappeared a few months ago, has been fined $70 million for tax evasion, while companies she worked with have to pay a further $59 million. Fan is one of China’s biggest stars, but appeared to have dropped off the face of the Earth in June. Turns out she was in secret detention. Her agent is now being held by authorities who say he impeded their investigation. South China Morning Post