COVID-19 has changed the way we work and live. In response to the public health emergency, Milken Institute Chairman Michael Milken is engaging a range of industry leaders and medical experts to help us better understand and confront a crisis that has not only altered our current day-to-day but will change the course of how we work, socialize, and fight disease for years to come.
Ep. 120: Foresight, with Julie Sweet
“The crisis happened at a time of exponential change in technology that was already transforming the way we work, how we engage with clients, how we make decisions. … And then you instantly had behavioral change at a scale that we've never seen in the past.”
Julie Sweet believes large companies should be flexible and light on their feet. Case in point: her own Accenture. When she became CEO of the multinational professional services company in 2019, she instituted sweeping changes to its operating model and invested billions in a new cloud system, which left their half million employees in 120 countries in a much better position to withstand the pandemic. It is this kind of foresight that led the New York Times to call her “one of the most powerful women in corporate America” and Fortune to rank her number one on its “Most Powerful Women in Business” list.
“I am talking to many companies now who say we want to move as fast as we did, “she tells Mike. “And my simple question is, ‘What have you changed?’ Because large organizations in particular can’t operate in crisis mode forever. What do they need to change to compete and to be successful in what I call the new reality?”
Ep. 119: Revolutionary, with UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna
“Diagnosis goes hand in hand with vaccination, and of course with therapies as well. What CRISPR is doing is providing for rapid turnaround testing at a lower cost and higher throughput than we've had with other technologies. We'll see that happening in various testing labs, certainly around the U.S. And the nice thing about that is it really does go hand in hand with these vaccines that are coming forward.”
When Jennifer Doudna first spoke with Mike on the podcast four months ago, she was looking forward to her revolutionary CRISPR technology being applied to COVID diagnosis. Today, the Innovative Genomics Institute, which she founded, has tested more than 100,000 virus samples, including many in the underserved communities around UC Berkeley, her academic home. Another development since August: Dr. Doudna received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her game-changing co-discovery of CRISPR, which may one day help facilitate the elimination of genetic diseases.
“We have the sequence of the entire human genome now,” she reminds Mike. “That's been available for the last two decades. And what hasn't been possible up until now is an easy way to manipulate the code. Allow scientists to make a change to an individual gene or to a set of genes to understand first of all, how they work, but also, really importantly, make changes that correct disease-causing mutations. And that's what CRISPR now enables.”
Ep. 118: Core Values, with Google Cloud’s Thomas Kurian
“The process of digitization – whether that was e-commerce in retail, or online gaming for media, online streaming in the media business, digital platforms for the public sector – was already underway. But it enormously accelerated with the pandemic.”
In his two years as CEO of Google Cloud, Thomas Kurian has seen revenues for his company’s services soar more than 40 percent. The Indian-born former president of Oracle believes that the “new normal” of telecommuting will continue to help drive future growth – as long as Google Cloud remembers its core values and who it serves.
“Leadership during this time of transition,” he tells Mike, “a time of difficulty in many cases, has been not just about the tactics and the strategy, but also the purpose and the mission. And that has helped us unify our entire organization around this notion of supporting customers during this period of change for them. And we call that the notion of customer empathy.”
Ep. 117: High Priority, with World Bank Group’s David Malpass
“The bigger part of our response over the next year, and then really over the next five years, is how do you really help countries get bigger private sectors, more jobs, including jobs for women and education for girls.”
When David Malpass began his five-year term as president of the World Bank Group in 2019, he could not foresee that months later his institution would face its greatest test since the post-World War II era. Since its founding in 1947, the World Bank has had one mission: to end extreme poverty and promote shared, sustainable prosperity among its 189 member countries. But as the pandemic ground on throughout 2020, the fallout created extreme challenges to those goals, beginning with our youngest and most vulnerable.
“With COVID hitting, as many as a billion children are still out of school in the developing world alone,” he tells Mike. “And the data shows pretty clearly that when children are out of school, they move backwards. So one of our priorities is to get kids back in school … in a safe way. The food programs and nutrition programs, the vaccination programs – those are all driven at the school level. And so that becomes a high priority for what we're trying to do.”
Ep. 116: Encore, with Sherry Lansing
“When we get out of this pandemic, I suspect people are going to want to flock to the movie theaters. But they're also going to say, I still want my content delivered. So, the movie industry is going to face a decision. Do they offer it both ways – on your iPad the same day as the release in the theater? What's the model? They're determining that as we speak. And I think COVID has upended the movie business even more than usual.”
Most actresses who come to Hollywood don’t end up running a major motion picture studio. But in 1980, Sherry Lansing became the first woman to do so, first leading 20th Century Fox, then Paramount Pictures for more than 12 years. She had a hand in over 200 films including “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart,” and “Titanic.” Since her retirement, she has embarked on what she calls an “encore” career of philanthropy. The Sherry Lansing Foundation is dedicated to cancer research, health, public education, and encouraging seniors to pursue their own encore careers.
“Every project I've ever worked on was hard and took a long time,” she tells Mike. “And one of the traits you have to have in any job is resiliency. And you also have to believe in something outside of yourself, that what you're fighting for is worth fighting for. It's worth the time, it's worth the effort. If you don't have that belief, you will give up.”
Ep. 115: New Heroes, with NIH’s Francis Collins
“It has been a year of terrible tragedy. … And yet, it's also been a year of heroism: the first responders, the healthcare providers, putting themselves at risk to try to help those who are suffering. But I also think there are heroes that have risen to this challenge in the research community, in the business community.”
When NIH Director Francis Collins first spoke with Mike in April of 2020, he was marshalling an army of researchers among his 6,000 research scientists to tackle the coronavirus. He had already successfully directed the Human Genome Project from 1993 to 2008, during which much of the genetic groundwork was laid that would later contribute to the development of Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA-based vaccines. With light now appearing at the end of the tunnel, Mike checked back in with Dr. Collins for further insight and perspective.
“We are going to get past this,” Collins affirms. “And then I pray, let us not forget the lessons we've learned. Let us not slip back into complacency. Let's keep in mind that we are a vulnerable blue planet and that it's up to all of us to anticipate the things that we might need that science could bring to bear on the next problem, and not wait until it's a crisis.”