Arianna Huffington on Leadership Culture
Each year, the international business community gathers at the BCIU Gala to celebrate the inspiring leaders, innovators, and global citizens who are making exceptional contributions to the world. The 2022 event was no exception, honoring Ruth Porat, Senior Vice President and CFO of Alphabet and Google, with the Global Innovation Award, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla, who accepted the Global Citizenship Award on behalf of Pfizer, and Tata Sons Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran with the Global Leadership Award.
The group of thoughtful speakers and presenters included Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, who introduced Bourla to accept the award. In addition, Huffington led a fireside chat with Eisenhower Award Recipients, offering her unique insights on the Gala’s theme, “Leading With Purpose.”
Here are lightly edited and condensed remarks from Huffington:
Centering Around Purpose
Huffington began the conversation by asking the honorees what they each believe it means to build an organization based on purpose. “We can talk about it in theory, as a vision or principle, but what does it really mean in a day-to-day way?”
Huffington remarked that there has been a transition from business leadership being all about the bottom line to leading for good: Good for the customers, employees, and the planet. “I think the shift we’re seeing,” Huffington said, “is that all these other elements beyond shareholders are now also included in stakeholder capitalism: Your people, the globe, ensuring access, and so forth.”
The Leadership Transition
Speaking to Porat, Huffington highlighted how different were the preoccupations of the CFO and CEO. “Everything was seen around quarterly earnings, and we had many CEOs at the time who felt that it was their responsibility as CEO to make sure quarterly earnings were the highest they could be.”
The shift, according to the international media mogul, is relatively new. Huffington shared that when she started studying economics at the University of Cambridge, many of her professors didn’t believe in taking externalities into account.
“They believed in just doing what’s best for your shareholders. Maximize value and to hell with externalities,” Huffington said. “So the fact that we now take externalities into account, and that this is taken for granted, is an incredible transition for me that we need to celebrate.”
Finally, Huffington called back to the idea of ensuring access. She spoke about how Bourla and Chandra came to this conclusion during their time as leaders, though from different starting points. According to Bourla, early in the COVID pandemic there was a significant challenge in having populations utilize vaccines due to a lack of access to healthcare delivery systems, road infrastructure, and public health education.
“You’ll see inspiring similarities in what Chandra wrote in his book, about the fundamental need for access, and the challenge to provide access to education and healthcare as the planet reaches 8 billion people,” Huffington said.
Technology, Huffington proposed, is one potential solution. During the fireside chat, all three honorees spoke about technology and the opportunity it provides in creating a better, more accessible world.
“This is an important way to talk about technology and breakthroughs in the context of daily life and recognizing the needs of people who don’t have access to very basic things,” Huffington said. “That’s how we’re broadening the definition of what role businesses have to play in the world.”