During the Wall Street Journal CEO Summit last December 8, the group of 282 global CEOs submitted a wish list to Joe Biden, the incoming President of the United States. They gave more than their two cents in presenting a partial agenda for the nation, as seen through business eyes.
The CEOs held a virtual meeting, creating four task groups that outlined key issues affecting the US. A WSJ editor moderated each session to ensure the discussion remains candid and relevant. At the end of the council, the group presented four business wish list items to start the ball rolling in his presidency.
First: Re-engage with Allies
Major CEOs advised the Biden team to re-establish the US with key allies and international organizations. It’s time for the US to reclaim its place among the members of the world. This includes rejoining some of the earlier partnerships which the country left during the last four years. Among them are the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It also suggests reopening immigration and visitor doors for talented individuals.
Businesses, especially those handled by members of the CEO Council, often trade across borders. Nationalism and nationalist ideas espoused in the past few years isolate the US from the international community. In the process, the government should explain to Americans why engagement is better than isolationist moves. They need to know what’s in it for them.
Second: More Consistency, Less Disruption
A second wish list to Joe Biden: CEOs want less drama. They said that both companies and stock markets prefer predictability and consistency in policies. Rapid fluctuations in policy make long term planning more difficult. As expected, among the CEO’s wishes is that Biden takes time in raising corporate taxes. Also, they asked the President-elect to slow down on reinstituting regulations removed by Trump during the last four years. While changes are inevitable and are coming, moderation and a transition can help smooth out the process.
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Among the policies that will need some time to instill are taxes and tariffs. A change in tax policy is wrong timing under a pandemic. Meanwhile, while tariffs helped stand up to China, local companies received the backlash. One executive reported that tariffs raised costs, and forced him to move manufacturing jobs out of the U.S. The CEOs suggested a group-based approach to China.
Third: Reach Across Party Lines
CEOs implored Biden to go beyond party lines, and resist polarizing the nation. At the same time, the CEOs also requested Biden to resist offering widespread orders. Instead, build consensus and pursue policies in moderation.
The attendees cited the pandemic as an example of how a simple act of wearing a mask became a political debate. The arguments made it harder for companies to operate or even reopen their businesses. Several businessmen attest to safely opening their stores as long as they observe protocols and wear masks.
Build consensus and then pursue policy in moderation, the CEOs reiterated, whether that applies to rejoining the Paris climate accord or crushing the coronavirus.
Fourth: Invest For the Future
The CEOs offered their fourth wish list to Joe Biden: invest in what the country needs. STEM education needs a boost in K-12 schools to increase technical proficiency for future workers. They also pleaded for more skills programs that provide opportunities for all races and education levels.
Among the ideas suggested was the creation of a federal Office of Reskilling. This allows workers to learn a new competence and reduce dependence on a single skill. With that, they can switch to new jobs when their old one becomes obsolete. Incentives for companies that promote reskilling also came up as an idea. Also, incentives for disability hires got some air time.
Watch the Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit highlights featuring Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk:
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Which of the items in the wish list to Joe Biden do you agree with the most? Is it re-engaging with allies? Or, is it the application of consistency in policy? Do you think it’s consensus-building and reaching across party lines? Or, do you feel Investing for the future is the biggest need? Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts below.