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Edelman U.S. CEO: What’s required of CEOs today ‘is dramatically different’ from the past

Edelman U.S. CEO Lisa Osborne Ross sits down with Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the responsibilities of the modern CEO, various reasons a CEO may decide to leave or retire, and maneuvering how to respond to social issues and political events.

Video Transcript

BRAD SMITH: Well, switching gears here, the tasks, the profile, and accountability of CEOs has certainly evolved. And how companies respond in the wake of crises can certainly change the trajectory of their business. Here with more, we've got Lisa Osborne Ross, who is the CEO of Edelman US. Lisa, it's great to speak with you. Brad here. And just always a pleasure to get some of your insights.

First and foremost here, as we think about the role of the CEO right now and the spectrum of reasons why a CEO might step down, it could be anything from just having the time to be able to finally chart their life after a public kind of persona and profile at companies, but in some other cases, it's directly related to either scandal within companies or just pressures from investors. So what are some of the most common reasons that you've seen as of right now?

LISA OSBORNE ROSS: I think some of it is also CEOs may realize this is not the right job for me. It could be everything that you've talked about-- lifetime changes, lifestyle changes, and so forth. But what is required of the CEO today is dramatically different from the profile of the CEO certainly 10 years ago, five years ago, I dare say 2 and 1/2 years ago, with the onslaught of everything that we learned about the pandemic, and also the murder of George Floyd and others.

And so, you know, you mentioned Great Resignation. I also see that as great opportunity. But the roles are different. And I think sometimes people will say, you know what? This was the right job for me five years ago. It's not the right job for me now. And so let other people for whom it makes sense come in.

DAVE BRIGGS: Lisa, Dave Briggs here we're seeing that the CEO resignations are up 16% in the final quarter of 2021 based on a year to year basis. So back to your point there, how central is all the things that happened over the course of two years related to COVID factoring in there?

LISA OSBORNE ROSS: I think it's a factor. I think there is a recognition that I liken it to the CEO of yesterday was somebody who was really good at an individual sport. The CEO of today is somebody who has to be able to work with stakeholders, constituents, colleagues, clients. And you're gathering all of that information because we are prided on our ability to make a quick decision. But now that quick decision has to be informed by the opinions of so many, including your own, but with a lot of others.

And so for many CEOs who are making this transition now, there's a number of reasons. But I think, again, part of it is a recognition that this is not right for me anymore. And so therefore, I want to do something different. And again, people talk about it as a great resignation. I see it as the great opportunity. I had to leave some place to come to Edelman. And, you know, that's just the time of change. And one of the things that we've all had to get much more comfortable with is change. Things move, they evolve, and you have to be able to go with it.

BRAD SMITH: Additionally here, right now, we've got, in Florida, the Don't Say Gay Bill. In Texas, you have anti-LGBTQ policies that are being pushed forward at the state level. I mean, as companies continually to-- continue to publicly denounce federal or state policies, how has the role of the CEO in communicating for both their internal clients, their customers that are helping them make the engine run and the employees, and their external clients, how are they positioning themselves to still be able to represent their voices?

LISA OSBORNE ROSS: So, one, it's a recognition that all of these constituencies and all of these audiences that you talk about are very different. Our research shows us that. It is, two, it is a recognition that you have to bring into account all of those points of view. And it is also-- I just came back from Texas. I was there for South by Southwest. And the ability for people to be themselves, which is why Edelman signed on to the HRC letter, but the ability for people to be themselves and to be their authentic selves is absolutely critical for business to not just succeed, but to thrive.

And so businesses have to pay attention, and our research indicates that it is very clear all of our constituents, all of our stakeholders, expect business leaders and they expect CEOs to speak out on social issues. There's been this thing like, oh, my God, do I say something? Do I not say something? It is clear from our research not only should you say something, you are expected to say something. You're expected to talk about job loss, you're supposed to talk about productivity, you're supposed to talk about systemic racism, all forms of inequity.

Where you are not supposed to stop or to talk is, don't tell me who to vote for. So there is a clear expectation. Comment on legislation in Florida. Comment on the legislation in Texas. Comment on Ukraine. You have a responsibility to do that. But your job-- and this is the job also of internal communications. Your job-- give me information, I'll make my own decision.

DAVE BRIGGS: Of course, with the case of Bob Chapek, the Disney CEO, in this divided era, it's just assumed that you're telling someone who to vote for when you do weigh on legislation that happens to come from the right or the left. Do these issues stop at our country's borders? What about geopolitical events? Are you encouraging your CEOs to speak out?

LISA OSBORNE ROSS: If you have something to say that is additive, if you have something to say that represents a perspective that has not been shared previously, and if you have something to say that you think is going to make a difference, you should say something. We see CEOs make the same points, in some cases, over and over and over again because they feel the pressure to speak out. So if you're going to make a difference, then say something. If you're not, then do your thing.

But whatever it is, you are expected to engage in these issues. And I'd like to think that we as individuals are strong, smart, strategic, independent enough to, regardless of what my CEO says, give me information about that. Whatever my media says, give me information about it. I can make my own decision. And I think we have to assume the best that most people are able to do that.