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CEOs are hoping for ‘real unity’ around COVID-19 post-election: Boston Consulting Group CEO

Boston Consulting Group CEO Rich Lesser joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how CEOs will react to the impending election results.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's bring in Rich Lesser. He is the CEO of Boston Consulting Group. And, Rich, certainly a lot to talk about. Great to have you on this day after the election.

We've been talking a lot about the sentiment around the C-suite and the investment climate in the face of concerns around the virus and concerns about the economic recovery. How are you processing those results that have come in so far? And it sounds like you think that while there is still uncertainty, things are looking positive.

RICH LESSER: Well, I have to say that the last 24 hours have been a positive. We were worried about violence on Election Day. We were worried about voter suppression and disruption to the ability to vote and all sorts of things.

And I'm not predicting the days to come, but I'd have to say so far it's been calm and peaceful and people feel like they've had the right to exercise their vote, and it seems that we're counting all the votes. That is not a small thing given what we've been worrying about for the last months. And hopefully that will be-- whatever the outcome, hopefully that will be what continues in the days ahead, and we'll get to a clear decision, even if it's a close decision, and then we'll be able to move forward.

Moving forward, of course, still leaves us with huge challenges, immediate challenges around coronavirus, first and foremost, when you look at the dramatic spike in cases; around an economic stimulus package; and then medium-term challenges around climate, infrastructure, immigration, racial equity, how to stimulate business and growth in the longer term, trade. Those issues haven't gone away. But right now I think we're more focused on the urgent than the medium-term big challenges.

ZACK GUZMAN: Hey, Rich, I'm glad you mentioned that because I know you're clued in to CEOs and leaders of all these companies out there in terms of where their heads at when it comes to the problems at hand, and you mentioned the election. On the other side of it, we're still dealing with the pandemic, and it's getting worse when we look at the numbers there. So when it comes to kind of managing that, when you talk to these business leaders, what's their take on maybe why this is a bit of a problem in terms of policy changes to maybe address that growing concern here? If you do have this drag on, it gives, I guess, political leaders less time to actually address the underlying pandemic.

RICH LESSER: Absolutely. I mean, one of the biggest concerns here is that, you know, we can talk all we want about what will happen on January 20 with a new Congress and the next administration, whether it's the current one or a new one. The challenge of coronavirus is not sitting around waiting for our political processes. It's today. It's right now. It's cases spiking upwards approaching and will likely cross 100,000 cases a day. Hospitalizations always lag behind, but they are growing as well. And we have a massive challenge to get on that now.

And I think CEOs are really hoping that, post-election, we can get more unity around a real plan to keep things-- get things under control, not keep them. They're not under control.

Now that's a balance, right? That's not on the one hand a herd immunity, let it run wild sort of thing. And on the other hand, it's probably not, in most areas, a lockdown and thinking we can do what Vietnam did or what, you know, New Zealand did. I mean, it's too far spread for that. It's about protecting the vulnerable, really a mask mandate. It's about what we do to ramp up testing and tracing, what we do to limit indoor gatherings, and then the economic support if you limit indoor gatherings. Small businesses are so stretched right now. We need to get them more support. We need to get it fast.

AKIKO FUJITA: Rich, aside from those key issues that, of course, executives are following right now, I am curious how you think executives are navigating this political environment. You know, we were talking earlier about just looking at that electoral map, how divided things may seem.

And we've heard these conversations play out, particularly in the tech sector. We had that memo that came out from Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong talking about they're discouraging employees from being involved with any kind of activism or discussing social issues. I mean, this has got to be a conversation that's happening internally in these companies. What are you advising how they navigate it, and how much is that weighing on the C-suite?

RICH LESSER: I think what the C-suite is most worried about is we have a calm and peaceful election with a clear outcome and an ability to start to tackle the problems that require all of our political system to rally together rather than it being so divided. I really believe that's what's deeply underneath it, and I think most CEOs I've talked to have tried to be very supportive of the political process.

You vote. We respect the vote. Many have given opportunities for people to work the polls yesterday or do other nonpartisan ways-- things that they could contribute. I think that's upper most right now.

Now, that's a very short-term thing. By the end of this week, we hopefully have a clear outcome. And I think at that point, there are huge, immediate pressing concerns. But the concern for this week is that we have a divided-enough country as it is. I think there was a widespread hope and a desire to contribute to not having it get any worse.

ZACK GUZMAN: And, Rich, I mean, in terms of where we're seeing the rallies today just kind of trying to gauge where investors are kind of looking at all of this shake out here, we talked about health care catching a big boost, and it might be tied to not seeing a big blue wave here and maybe reducing the pressures on that sector.

But when you think about the overall tax policy we were just discussing here, clearly Biden was looking to raise corporate tax rates. I'm not sure if-- again, we're still early on, so we're not going to say what we're seeing here, but it doesn't look like more progressive ideas like that are going to get through here, just the way we're seeing things shake out.

So on that front, when you look at the way business leaders are looking at this, if that pressure comes off, how does that maybe support maybe a little bit more, I guess, hiring ability here as we approach, you know, the end of the year and where their thinking might be at if that's to change?

RICH LESSER: So again, my guess is some of this rally today was the angst of how bad it could have been yesterday and going into this and feeling some sense of relief that we're coming through this in what looks to be a positive way and hopefully will be a pretty clear outcome that won't have weeks and weeks of recounts and lawyers, though of course it's too soon to say for sure.

I think part of it is what you're describing, which is there were probably two scenarios that were being discussed. One was-- I think one Goldman put forward which was, you know, that if the Democrats did have a big sweep, you would see a lot of stimulus, which would be a spur to growth, and that might spur the economy.

The other I think is one of a more divided government where hopefully there's an ability to take on a lot of the challenges I mentioned earlier, but I think for many corporate leaders--

[AUDIO OUT]

--disrupted nature and the uncertainty--

- [INAUDIBLE], guys.

RICH LESSER: That can feel quite-- that does need to change, and I think there probably is some hope that not that we're going to have a policy that mirrors what was in place four or eight years ago. I think that's not going to happen but that we can get to a more productive policy, take on the challenges, and at least make a little bit of headway and then move forward productively in other parts of the relationship. That's the hope.

Now, of course, there was a lot of anger directed towards China that came from the Democratic side as well. So how this exactly plays out, we're just going to have to wait and see. But I think there is probably some cautious optimism that we can make some progress here.

AKIKO FUJITA: Rich Lesser, the CEO of Boston Consulting Group, it is great to have you on today. Thanks so much for your time.

RICH LESSER: Thank you.