There is a tendency in a moment like this, in the lee of a long, hard time, to move on. It’s understandable, it’s human, it’s healthy. The Covid year was an extraordinary event—one that lingers in too much of the world. We’d just as soon forget it. As a society, we’re doing so at a rapid clip.
In a blink, we’ve passed from fights over the PPP to fights over inflation. From mask shortages to chip shortages. Banging pots and pans to celebrate the work of front-line healthcare workers to grumbling about doctor bills.
Vaccinations, once miraculous, are now mundane and, sadly, the powerful innovations that brought them into existence, the smarts, drive, investment, risk and effort behind one of the great achievements in all of American history—yes, it is true—have been fully taken for granted by government and citizens alike.
But the intent here isn’t to fight or even bemoan that battle—there are other times and places for that. Our hope here is to focus on something bigger and more elemental. Something we worry is being forgotten in the headlong rush to take the next hill, make the next sale, win the next election.
And that is to simply say thank you.
Every religion humanity embraces teaches us that gratitude is among the most powerful spiritual practices. For leaders charged with stewarding the lives and treasure of others, it’s perhaps even more essential. (See Special Report: The Remarkable Power of Gratitude)
So, before moving on to whatever comes next, Chief Executive, on behalf of the nationwide community of CEOs we serve, would like to offer up thanks, first, for the heroic efforts of the doctors, nurses, scientists, police officers, delivery drivers—everyone who helped move us through this horrific time, those who served others directly in a year of peril. You will be forgotten too quickly. You should not be.
THE CEOS WHO SAVED THE WORLD
It is also the moment to honor three exceptional men, essential members of our community, three CEOs who deserve our particular gratitude. Without them, without their efforts, our nation, our world, would be in a far worse place. That isn’t hyperbole. That is fact.
With their uncanny ability to marshal science, capital, labor and imagination to a cause with implications for all of humankind, they demonstrated the irreplaceable power of business leadership in our world. So let us thank:
- Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, who took the breakthrough work of BioNTech’s team and scaled it with unprecedented speed and vision, with no guarantees of success. Bourla stepped into the breach when the world needed someone to step into the breach, pushing his team to meet demands they couldn’t imagine. He acted—personally—as the project manager for the development of their Covid-19 vaccine with passion and unique energy, a tour-de-force of leadership.
- Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, who—seemingly overnight and against all odds—exploded a small biotechnology company into a global health defense system. Their pioneering work developing the mRNA technology that brought about the Covid vaccine is only in its infancy—potentially ushering in a new era for human health. He will help lead that revolution.
- Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson. Under his leadership, the traditional development work of a decade was compressed into a single year, a year of overwhelming risk, humbling setbacks and, in the end, incredible scientific achievement worthy of the company’s storied legacy. For those who know Alex and the company, none of this is a surprise.
In March, Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Theatres, summed up the feelings of all of us in a conversation with analysts. “The most important person in our business is Albert Bourla,” he said. “He and his talented colleagues, and those at Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are who have given us our newfound fortitude.”
Their historic achievement is also a reminder of something else, something crucial, something that our society seems to be forgetting at exactly the wrong moment. In the fight against Covid, American capitalism—and the people who practice it well—proved to be the difference-maker.
As a community, we should be rightfully proud of that fact. No, it isn’t perfect. But by and large, it works. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a more powerful system for aligning the needs of the world with the inventiveness of the human spirit for the betterment of mankind.
As is always the case when the worst recedes, it will be too easy to forget the Covid year, the details, the struggles, what was at stake and how—and who—made the all the difference when it mattered most. England’s voters ousted Churchill before VJ day, after all.
And yet, in the case of Albert, Stéphane and Alex, we think this may not be the case, at least not among their peers. We will long remember what they—and their teams—did for us. For all of us.
Albert, Stéphane, Alex: On behalf of America’s CEO community and the workers, investors and citizens whom we serve, we say: thank you.