15 CEOs Reflect On Their Pandemic Year
Bosses from Moderna to Chipotle talk about their challenges and share lessons for the times ahead.
Bosses from Moderna to Chipotle talk about their challenges and share lessons for the times ahead.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Chris Nassetta worked from home in Arlington, Va., with his wife, six daughters and two dogs for two weeks before returning to the hotel chain’s nearly empty headquarters for the rest of the past year. Sharmistha Dubey has been leading Match Group Inc. from her dining room table near Dallas. Herman Miller’s Andi Owen has her dog Finn to keep her company while working from her home office in Grand Rapids, Mich. Moderna Inc. MRNA 5.05% CEO Stéphane Bancel relishes twice-daily 30-minute walks between his home in Boston and the vaccine maker’s Cambridge offices, where he resumed working in August, so he can crystallize his priorities and reflect on the day. The Wall Street Journal photographed them and 11 other business leaders in their pandemic office spaces as they discussed the past year and what’s to come.
More than a year after the coronavirus upended the way we work, the business leaders said they have found that more communication, flexibility and transparency have been crucial in staying connected to their employees.
Heads of companies across sectors including finance, hospitality and technology spoke from their current workspaces about what they’ve learned from the largely remote year, what challenges they faced and what changes they plan to leave in place during the next phase of work.
Brad Karp, chairman of the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, predicted his schedule will remain less hectic after the pandemic is over: “Personally, I can’t see myself reflexively flying cross-country for an hour-long presentation or meeting.”
Bank of the West. Working from her home office in New Jersey.
“[To handle overwhelming Paycheck Protection Program loan demand], we got 600 volunteers signed up overnight that left their day job, learned how to do a PPP loan, and started to work day and night on that. If we were in the physical world, that collaboration would take lots of meetings to set up. But that happened within hours.”
Exchange operator Nasdaq Inc. Working from Nasdaq’s New York office.
“I don’t want to make permanent decisions in a temporary situation…. We want to be able to plan for the future, our employees want us to be able to plan for the future, and yet we’re in a temporary situation so we try very hard to avoid making decisions that we’ll later realize were not the right ones for the organization.”
Insurer Everest Re Group Ltd. Working from Everest Re’s New Jersey office.
“We’re built for responding to a typhoon or to an earthquake or to a hurricane or winter event or whatever it is. And so, yes, you look inward and then you apply a lot of those lessons to how you run the company.”
Job-search site Indeed. Working from his home office in Texas.
“I used to spend a lot of time on aeroplanes, travelling as a means of trying to stay connected to people. I was flying 200,000 miles a year for the last six or seven years. And sitting in this one room and just being on Zoom, I am more connected with everyone in the business than I’ve ever been––because everyone is in the same place. We’re all just squares on a screen.”
Vaccine maker Moderna Inc. Working from Moderna’s Massachusetts office.
“Because of the intensity required to save every hour, every day we could, we were literally working seven days a week non stop. And I realized that I have to be very disciplined … And so I had to actually make sure I was doing sport in order to stay healthy and to stay mentally sane.”
Online-dating giant Match Group Inc. Working from her dining room in Texas.
“In the Zoom world, you can get a lot of things done, but you have to ask for it. There are very few serendipitous moments. It’s almost as if there is a scripted narrative that we’re using in every conversation we have; it’s very transactional.”
Hedge fund Bridgewater Associates LP. Working from his kitchen in Colorado.
“We took a lot of steps to try to make sure we reaffirm the culture remotely, but there’s nothing like being together. So I think we’re all going to go back to work, hopefully this fall [autumn], with a sense that work is a real privilege. It’s a real privilege to be able to go to the office and be with your colleagues.”
Life-insurance company Metlife Inc. Working from his converted-closet office in New York.
“We like to think that there will be a better normal, hopefully, coming out of this. We’ve seen incredible levels of collaboration of people working in agile ways of innovation and experimentation during the pandemic. In a way, we had to move much faster than we normally work because that was the only way for us to deliver for our customers during the pandemic.”
Furniture company Herman Miller Inc. Working from her home office in Michigan.
“If we think about how we’re going to take what we’ve learned from this [year of remote work] and move it into the future, we’ve got to take a hybrid approach that’s good for the employer and for the employee … I think productivity in the future is going to be much more a measure of results, rather than activities.”
Event-ticketing company Eventbrite Inc. Working from her home office in California.
“The real shadow side to working remotely is that this [work-from-home] shift … has also revealed and greatly exacerbated inequality. We’re starting to talk more about that, in terms of how access to technology or balancing your home and work lives in this reality has been very challenging.”
Hotel chain Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. Working from Hilton’s Virginia office.
“The realisation for me was that I wasn’t really built for this. I’ve dealt with it like everybody else. I really like being with our people and it gives me a huge amount of energy. And I hope that when I’m with them—I can’t be with them all the time, obviously given the scale, breadth and depth of this organization—that I give them some energy…. But when I’m sitting here doing Zoom calls all day, it’s hard to really tap into that.”
Investment firm Wellington Management Co. Working from her home office in Massachusetts.
“Going through the pandemic is such a stressful situation, and what we’ve heard back from our employees is that in increasing transparency we took away a lot of the stress. That was a big lesson learned for me as a leader, that we needed to be stress absorbers for the organization.”
Law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Working from his home office in New York.
“Remote work, while initially liberating, can be exhausting. Waking up every morning and going to sleep every night in your office quickly becomes old. So does the lack of boundaries in a world without diversions. The workweek has taken on a 24/7 vibe, and, as a leader of my law firm, creating reasonable boundaries and worrying constantly about my colleagues’ mental health and stress have become critical priorities.”
Electricity and gas company Duke Energy Corp. Working from her home office in North Carolina.
“We have remarked over and over about what an extraordinary time it has been. But it truly has. I mean, it has threatened health; it has created loss; people have had issues with how to manage their work, their families, their schooling—just everything. And at the same time social unrest [and a] tough political season all coming together.”
Restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. Working from Chipotle’s California office.
“There’s just value in every four or five weeks getting everybody on the phone together, do a live Q&A. It’s really important for our kitchen manager all the way up to our executive team, directors, folks that are doing payroll to have the ability to hear first hand what’s going on and then also provide questions on what they’re feeling and how they’re being impacted right now.”
Produced by Meghan Petersen. Designed by Andrew Levinson. Additional reporting by Chip Cutter and Kathryn Dill.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.
When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.
“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”
Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.
In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.
“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”
Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”
A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.
The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.
“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer. “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”
The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.
Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.
But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.
It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.
“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”
Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.
Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.
There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.
When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”
Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.
The family moved in a few months later.