We talk with our guest this week, Julie Hyman of YahooFinance, about companies big and small having to manage their businesses and employees around the complexities of the coronavirus—and now finally—a larger focus on social justice issues.
Jeffrey Freedman: Hello and welcome to the RP HealthCast by RooneyPartners. I am your host, Jeffrey Freedman. To say that our lives have been turned upside down this year, it’s an understatement. Between worrying about our health, worrying about our jobs, our finances in the economy, worrying about who to trust, worrying about our family, and getting our kids back to school. It is a wonder we are still able to function in society, but we must and we are. As we adapt, our economy must continue to open safely and while doing that, companies as well, they have to learn to adapt to this new normal. Both for their employees and for their customers, and for attracting new customers. But what is that new normal? Not only do corporations have to change the way they do business due to the coronavirus but as importantly, our country has reached an inflection point due to a groundswell of focus on civil liberties and social justice. How is Corporate America going to respond to this hopefully new norm? And have more of a focus on social and racial equality. To talk about this with us today is Julie Hyman. Julie is an on-air anchor at Yahoo finance, and she co-hosts the program: On The Move. Julie has covered financial markets for over 20 years and spent the bulk of her career at Bloomberg television, as an anchor and Senior markets correspondent. Julie, it is so great to have you here with us today.
Julie Hyman: Thanks for having me.
Jeffrey: Before we get into the heavy topics of how companies are responding to what I am terming the new normal. I would like to introduce you to the audience and explain your background a little bit. From your time as a reporter at the Washington Times to working at the Paris Bureau for Bloomberg and then as a Bloomberg television host and now co-hosting On the Move, your show at Yahoo Finance, it seems you have always been on the business finance and corporate reporting side of the news. For doing this for so long, what do you enjoy about that? How is your industry changed over the past 20 years?
Julie: Wow, that is a big question. I enjoy following how markets, finance, business, kind of intersects with everything else, right? Because what I have discovered during my time covering all of these topics is that they do kind of intertwine with politics, with regular people’s lives in ways that people are not even cognizant of. So it is nice to draw those connections. What I also really like about it is the sort of education piece and explanation piece. If you will, sort of explaining to people how markets work, how businesses work, and why they should care for that matter as well. In terms of how the business has changed during my career, I think it is like many businesses, it has become a lot more digital. That has been a big change. This just has been happening in journalism generally, not just business journalism, of course. A lot less locally-based, but what has also been interesting in business news in particular is the increased transparency. I find that when I started, there were sort of more scoops. There was more inside information one could gain as a reporter. Not the sort of SCC not allowed inside information. But to find out stuff that other people did not know. Just because of disclosure because of social media, you have to work harder to sort of find those kinds of nuggets and stories that are not widely available and known.
Jeffrey: It has changed the digital aspect of it. It kind of brings it a little quicker. The news gets to people a lot faster and you have to be more on top of it, I guess from that aspect.
Julie: Yeah, you have to be more on top of it. But there is also because of that in part, there has always been a good space for analysis. I think now it is more important than ever because things come so quickly. It is very important to sort of take a step back and explain things to people. Rather than, you have to have your sort of first blush analysis, but you also have to take a beat and say “Okay, this is what this means.”
Jeffrey: I think you guys did that well. So we have mentioned before you host a show on Yahoo Finance called On The Move and you have been doing that for a couple of years. And you talk about localization but you guys moved into a brand new studio last year, I believe.
Julie: We did.
Jeffrey: Yes, and Kevin Chupka was telling us about that a couple of months ago. But you are now producing and co-hosting the show from home, right?
Julie: Yes, I am. My normal home is New York City, but we have had a place in the Catskills for about eleven years. So when this began we came up here and so I have been doing this show from our spare bedroom here for the past several months.
Jeffrey: What have you, I mean, working from home we all have similar experiences. I was telling you about the construction across the street. What are the learnings that you have now on producing live television from home? What do you think when you get back to normal, whatever that is. Are you going to keep any of these learnings? Do you think any of this will be ongoing for you?
Julie: That is a great question. I think some of the things that serve you well anytime, serve you well now, being nimble. I think we have dealt with a lot of technical difficulties as everyone has. I think we have learned to sort of deal with those and talk through them. I think there is a certain level of transparency that you did not necessarily have in the studio. In other words, if a guest needs to unmute themselves, you just say “Can you please unmute yourself?”. Whereas in the studio there would be people, sort of audio people frantically working behind the scenes to repair that stuff. I personally as a consumer of news and also as a maker of news programming, I kind of like it when the behind the scene shows. So I would not mind preserving some of that when we get back to it. That has been interesting and educational and it has also been an equalizer in a nice way.mA CEO can forget to unmute him or herself as equally as a fellow reporter or anchor can. We are all sort of in the same boat right now. We are all operating under pretty stressed conditions in some cases. We are all concerned about becoming ill. We are concerned about people we know who have become ill or even died in some cases. We do not know what the economy is going to do. We are all sort of experiencing this together. I hope that we can retain some of that feeling and empathy as we go forward. That just goes for regular life and being fellow humans, but I hope it also goes for the workplace and sort of trying to see into what our colleagues and what our interview subjects might be going through as well.
Jeffrey: I think that is, not only is it a fantastic segway, but it is a fantastic sense of it. I mean I think this whole aspect makes us more human. It shows our humanity and it takes a part of that veil. I want to segway into the topic of this podcast, about companies. Companies both big and small, now that we are coming back to work, we have to manage our businesses, we have to manage our employees around a lot of new complexities. So we have the coronavirus right now. Finally a larger focus on social justice issues. Companies have to manage both of these dynamic issues simultaneously. As you have been speaking with all the CEOs out there and different work, you know from the C-suite. What do you think has been the cumulative impact of these two situations and this historic moment in time, both in brand image and personas of these large corporations. How have these companies been able to adapt?
Julie: I would say first of all sort of by way of a backdrop. I think over the past several years, there has been this corporate movement to sort of take on some of the roles that were traditionally more governmental. You see this in places like Davos, but you also see it in just everyday corporate operations. I think, to be frank, this is particularly true because the Trump Administration has not been as active perhaps on some of those issues. For example climate activism, you have seen corporations try to pick up that mantle over the past several years as the US has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. We are already seeing some movement in that direction. Some of that movement has been not genuine, to be honest, and some of it has been more genuine and more real. But there has been that sort of shifting movement and self-perception on the part of companies. You saw that reflected in The Business Roundtable adoption, late last year, that companies were going to focus more on all stakeholders not just shareholders of the company? I think now that has been put to the test in a lot of new and interesting ways during coronavirus. You have seen several companies when this first started happening who said, particularly retailers, whose folks were still going to work. “We are still going to pay people if they decide that they do not feel safe. Or we are going to give them a bonus for coming to work under these conditions.” You’ve even seen it health-wise much more recently now, Target, Walmart, CVS, Starbucks. All of these companies have been saying the federal government is not having a mask mandate, but we are going to have a mask mandate for anyone coming into the stores. So on the health side, it has been happening. And now it is happening on the social justice side as well. Wherein companies, I think over the past several years, it was more sort of consumer pushing, right? The consumer said, “I expect certain things from the companies I buy from and deal with.” Now the companies themselves are starting to finally become a little more proactive on these issues as well.Just sort of getting back to what I was saying earlier, I think part of what may be happening also, is that leaders of companies again are experiencing this if not equally. We know for example coronavirus has affected people of color in a higher percentage than it has non-minorities. However, I think that even captains of the industry if you will, they have been stuck at home too. They have been seeing what has been going on. They probably have people in their families who have been affected by all of this. Their employees are affected by this. I think in a way it has been an equalizer. Maybe that has also created more of an empathetic response. Maybe I am viewing that naively in thinking that. That it is entirely altruistic because I am sure it is not entirely altruistic right? Some of these companies want to have a good image and image of social justice and image of caring about people’s health, or maybe it is a combination of both.
Jeffrey: I think it has to be a combination of both because I think we started by saying we are all human and we all have these same issues. We are all going through this together. I think that is what is showing right now and I think that is great. But have you found any industry sectors or companies that you think are making these pivots better than others?
Julie: I mentioned some of the retailers and some of the actions that they have been taking. I have been pleasantly surprised by a company like Walmart, which was you know, used to be the Boogie Man. That would come in and shut down all the local businesses and in town. In some cases now on issues of social activism have been a little bit more out front. I think financial services which traditionally have not been that inclusive, I think they still have a ways to go. I mean listen Corporate America in general still has a ways to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion. I do not know that this is industry-specific rather than sort of company-specific of companies that are pushing ahead and doing a little bit better with it.
Jeffrey: We are certainly seeing this from the PR side. People have been stepping up and saying great things. You mentioned Walmart, right? So now masks are necessary and all Walmarts and I think that is fantastic. But what about from a kind of a fundamentalist systemic change like a change in hiring practices, more diversity in the c-suite? Do you think at this time, this actually will lead to more sustainable systemic change?
Julie: I hope so. I mean if you listen to Barack Obama, for example when he made comments about this and if you listen to some other folks who have been watching this fight for years, they will say well the difference now is that you also have a lot of white people who are taking to the streets who were participating in these protests. We have seen a little bit of loss of momentum perhaps or at least not as many protests going on as this has progressed. We have still been having a lot of conversations with people whose job it is to improve diversity and inclusion. I think they have been very busy filling these calls and trying to improve things. I think it is an open question. We are not going to know until we know, I mean a lot of companies right now also are not hiring. It is tough to tell if they are going to change their hiring practices because they are not hiring anybody right now. Technology, which has been one of the industries, I guess about industries that are doing it right. I think Tech has pretty clearly been an industry that is not doing it right over the past several years in terms of inclusivity. They are hiring in many cases. So we will see what happens. It is really difficult to know right now. A lot of companies are saying the right things, but I think we are going to have to just wait and see what the proof is.
Jeffrey: As you mentioned a lot of companies are not hiring and that brings me to another topic here. That is our economy. So when we take a look at the market and economic impacts that the pandemic has had versus if we look back at the 2008 recession there, what parallels do you see if any, and what are some of the tangible differences?
Julie: I think that you do not necessarily have a systemic financial risk as you did then. There are some issues with, are we going to see some credit losses when we have just recently had the banks’ report right? All of them are setting aside more money for credit losses, but I have not seen any suggestion that that is going to become more of a systemic problem. So I tend to think there are more differences than there are similarities between that situation and this situation. One lesson from the financial crisis is to be careful. Be careful of diminishing the risks and something I have learned as a journalist for all these years is that you should not talk in absolutes. So to say, “Okay, it is completely different”. There are no systemic risks, which is what I just said. I am going to hedge a little bit and say, “Of course, we do not know.” There is always the Black Swan. There is always the thing that maybe you do not see. What I do think is going to be one of the big effects of this economic crisis is that once again, we are going to see a much more dramatic widening of the Wealth Gap in this country, for several different reasons. Corporate America is going to be fine. Yes, you are going to have some casualties. Yes, you are going to have particular pain in industries like the airline industry, and the hospitality and leisure industry. Corporate America in general I think is going to be just fine. Small businesses are going to go under in pretty unprecedented numbers, especially if we have more rolling closures going on throughout the United States. Businesses have already gone out of business, you know, restaurants and such. That is going to widen the gap. We are going to see because of what is happening with schooling, a widening in the education gap which then exacerbates the wealth gap as well. Because as I mentioned we are seeing communities of color that are more adversely impacted by a coronavirus. I think that the US economy, you know, it might take a couple of years to come back to where it was before as a whole. I am always interested in economic stories. And yes, you talk about the whole but you gotta be interested in the individual stories. Whether it is individual companies and individual people. Because those are interesting and that is good to get back to the human stuff. That is the human stuff. So I think that is going to be one of the biggest takeaways is the widening of that gap in the wake of all of this.
Jeffrey: The only thing you know going forward as you said is we are driving down this road and all we have is a rearview mirror, right? So we do not know what the future looks like. Certainly from a small business point of view, I would have to imagine that is going to trickle down and it has to affect the economy. The economy over the next couple of years along with this election. From working On The Move as a co-host you speak to all these market and economic experts every day, name a couple like one or two insights that struck you the most from your interviews recently.
Julie: We have been talking a lot about the so-called work from home trade. That as more of us migrate to working from home, in some cases perhaps over the longer term, right? Because a lot of the tech firms, in particular, are saying they are going to allow people to work from home for a long time. I think the idea that there are companies that are going to benefit from that is an interesting one. Whether it is the classic ones like Zoom, that so many people are communicating on right now to other sorts of cloud-based companies that are helping people work at home in greater numbers. I think it makes sense to think that there is going to be a longer-term trade for that. We also talked to a strategist today who said another effect perhaps of the longer-term work from home trade is that there is not going to be inflation anytime soon. It is just that it is a lower-cost way to operate. So that is an interesting concept to me. Sort of related to that I think is the idea that the FED is still pumping so much stimulus into the economy. Something Mohamed El-Erian, who we speak to as a regular guest on the show, has sort of hammered over and over again is as long as the FED is out there propping things up, the market is likely to behave as it has to some extent barring a shock-like we saw when this pandemic first came to be. Until the FED starts to pull back, it is hard to imagine things from a market perspective are going to change significantly. That makes sense to me and that is kind of an interesting idea. It also means it is going to be perhaps tougher for people in the market to make money, to sort of differentiate themselves. Then you also have this trend that I think has been interesting, the so-called Robin Hood Trader. I think a lot of strategies have said, “Well that is not affecting the overall Market. It’s affecting individual stocks.” That is not so much a market inside, I am just interested to see how that trend is going to evolve. And whether those people are going to sort of stick around and keep trading at home as the country gets back to work.
Jeffrey: You do not think ten thousand new accounts per hour for Tesla is going to make a difference? It is crazy.
Julie: Well it makes a difference to Tesla but maybe not to things overall.
Jeffrey: I agree. That is the economic aspect of it. What about if we could talk and finish on maybe the social justice aspect of it. The different guests that you come on, it is a very powerful and very topical aspect to discuss. What has been your takeaway from these issues? And where do you think we go from here?
Julie: I think when everyone, “everyone,” I am exaggerating. When how to be an anti-racist is like on the bestseller list for multiple weeks in a row, I have to hope that things will get better. Listen to people who are bigots and who are racists are going to remain bigots and racists. It is people, probably like myself, who have done things over the years because of unconscious bias that now we are hoping to work on a remedy. I am hopeful that those things will get better. I am hopeful that companies, my company, for example, has been having a lot of discussions about these issues in a way that it did not before. I think other companies are doing the same. Maybe it would not be the big dramatic one year, two year change, but you know if my kids are learning about this stuff. I hope that there will be generational change both on an individual and on a corporate level.
Julie: I do think that you know when for example, we talked to a company recently that provides services to corporate boards. They are starting a new effort where all of the board members who are in their network when there is a new position on a board that opens up, they are going to ask everyone to nominate minorities; women, people of color to the boards. Because the old canard is that “oh, well, we cannot find anybody qualified who is a woman or who is a person of color.” And so I think that kind of effort helps put that canard to rest and helps populate these boards with diverse individuals. Things like that do give me some hope that things are indeed going to change even if I am not under the illusion that It is going to be overnight.
Jeffrey: I think that is great. I think you struck upon a great word about that education. And what we could do for our children has been better done for us. I think that is the greatest gift that we can give going forward. Julie, thank you so much for your time today. This has been great. I very much appreciate you being here with us.
Julie: It is my pleasure. I enjoyed it.
Jeffrey: We hope you enjoyed this week’s podcast. If you have any questions, comments, or future story suggestions, please reach out to us on social media. Thank you, and we hope you enjoyed the RP HealthCast.