15 CEOs Reflect On Their Pandemic Year
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15 CEOs Reflect On Their Pandemic Year

Bosses from Moderna to Chipotle talk about their challenges and share lessons for the times ahead.

By Emily Glazer and Francesca Fontana
Fri, May 21, 2021 1:39pmGrey Clock 7 min

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.”

Nandita Bakhshi

Bank of the West. Working from her home office in New Jersey.

PHOTO: HANNAH YOON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“[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.”

— Nandita Bakhshi

 

Adena Friedman

Exchange operator Nasdaq Inc. Working from Nasdaq’s New York office.

PHOTO: GABRIELA BHASKAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Adena Friedman

 

Juan Andrade

Insurer Everest Re Group Ltd. Working from Everest Re’s New Jersey office.

PHOTOS: GABRIELA BHASKAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Juan Andrade

 

Chris Hyams

Job-search site Indeed. Working from his home office in Texas.

PHOTO: MARY KANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Chris Hyams

 

Stéphane Bancel

Vaccine maker Moderna Inc. Working from Moderna’s Massachusetts office.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BUCHER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Stéphane Bancel

 

Sharmistha Dubey

Online-dating giant Match Group Inc. Working from her dining room in Texas.

PHOTO: ZERB MELLISH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Sharmistha Dubey

 

David McCormick

Hedge fund Bridgewater Associates LP. Working from his kitchen in Colorado.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BUCHER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— David McCormick

 

Michel A. Khalaf

Life-insurance company Metlife Inc. Working from his converted-closet office in New York.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BUCHER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Michel A. Khalaf

 

Andi Owen

Furniture company Herman Miller Inc. Working from her home office in Michigan.

PHOTOS: SYLVIA JARRUS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Andi Owen

 

Julia Hartz

Event-ticketing company Eventbrite Inc. Working from her home office in California.

PHOTO: MARISSA LESHNOV FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Julia Hartz

 

Chris Nassetta

Hotel chain Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. Working from Hilton’s Virginia office.

PHOTO: GABRIELLA DEMCZUK FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Chris Nassetta

 

Jean Hynes

Investment firm Wellington Management Co. Working from her home office in Massachusetts.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BUCHER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Jean Hynes

 

Brad Karp

Law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Working from his home office in New York.

PHOTO: GABRIELA BHASKAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Brad Karp

 

Lynn Good

Electricity and gas company Duke Energy Corp. Working from her home office in North Carolina.

PHOTO: TRAVIS DOVE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Lynn Good

 

Brian Niccol

Restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. Working from Chipotle’s California office.

PHOTO: ROZETTE RAGO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“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.”

— Brian Niccol

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

Working from home or from deserted headquarters, bosses of companies from Moderna to Chipotle talk about their challenges and share lessons for the times ahead

 



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”