DealBook Online Summit: LeBron James on Voting, Elizabeth Warren on Stimulus, Jamie Dimon on Leadership

That’s a wrap. On the second day of our two-day summit, we heard from leaders in business, policy and culture on the world’s economic challenges, innovation in the age of Big Tech and the role of corporations in addressing inequality and civil rights.

  • The N.B.A. star LeBron James and Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, discussed their efforts to combat voter suppression.

  • Ursula Burns, the former chairman and chief executive of Xerox; the activist and rapper Michael Render, known as Killer Mike; and Robert F. Smith of Vista Equity Partners addressed the significance of corporate pledges on racial inequality.

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren provided the post-election outlook for politics and policy. (“Personnel is policy,” she said.)

  • Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase talked about how “C.E.O.s are being asked to do a lot of things today that they weren’t asked to do in the past.”

  • Ruth Porat, the finance chief of Alphabet and Google, stressed that a more diverse workplace makes for “stronger, sharper business decisions.”

  • Tim Sweeney of Epic Games said it was his “duty to fight” Big Tech gatekeepers on behalf of all developers.

Thanks for joining us, and subscribe to the DealBook newsletter for information about upcoming events, including the DealBook D.C. Online Strategy Forum on Dec. 2-3.

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Well that’s always the question. And we have some things that’s going on in Georgia right now that we’re discussing and we’re going to continue to figure out ways we can create change because this we did not want this to be just a one-off. You know everyone heard about the election and we knew how important the election was. Obviously, you know. But we don’t want to be a one-off brand. We’re not a one-off group. We’re not a one-off team. We want to continue to figure out ways because the fight isn’t over. The fight is still there and we know that and especially in the black community we’re fighting every single day to be heard, to be respected and to be inspired. So and that’s my job, along with a lot of other people that follow me and a lot of other people that want to be a part of this. It’s our job to continue to let the youth know and our communities know that, yes, we have a fight going on, but we will not stop.

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LeBron James, the four-time N.B.A. champion, said Wednesday that the voting-access organization he started, More Than a Vote, in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election is “not just a one-off.” It will remain active in the Senate runoff elections in Georgia and beyond.

“We’re going to continue to figure out ways we can create change,” he told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Mr. James began working on the voting initiative, which turned sports arenas into coronavirus-ready polling places, after police brutality came to the cultural fore, again, after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis in May. “That made me so angry,” he said. He convened fellow players and called team and arena owners around the country to aid the effort to make voting safer and more accessible during the pandemic.

There was some initial resistance. “But at the end of the day, having that conversation, letting them know how important it was, they heard me,” he said. “They heard my fellow players as well.” Anyone who knows him, he added, knew better than to tell him it might damage his brand, or to question his motivations. It was “absolutely” the time, place and moment to act, he said.

“We’re all more than the title we’re given with our job,” Mr. James said.

Mr. James’s involvement was “critically important,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, who joined the conversation at the DealBook Online Summit. “At this moment of tremendous activism, where we were saying everyone has to be at their highest level of citizenship, Mr. James and the N.B.A. players came through,” she said.

But their work is not done. Ms. Ifill’s mantra is “leave no power on the table,” and she says her group will keep working with More Than a Vote to teach people about their voting rights ahead of the Georgia runoffs. “I want people to start to understand you need to start exercising your vote in every election,” she said.

Ms. Ifill and Mr. James both said that their work is about civic responsibility and accessibility, not partisanship. “We never told anyone who to vote for or who not to vote for,” Mr. James said. “We never said anything about one candidate or the other candidate. We just wanted people to exercise their opportunity to vote and create a change.”

His own mother voted for the first time in the presidential election. “It was probably one of the best days of her life and it made me proud,” he said.

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In terms of even black business, I define a black business three ways: it’s either totally owned and and operated by black people and good to my community or it’s not owned by black people, but it employs black people, and it is good to my community. And lastly, the small businesses that came in later from immigrant populations that were moving into our city even if they could not hire, and me having a small business or two now, I understood, sometimes you just got to hire your family, right. Even if they could not hire us as long as they dealt fairly with our community. Those were the three things in my household. If you were all black owned or if you hired black people, and if you couldn’t, if you treated my community well by reinvesting.

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The rapper and activist Michael Render, known as Killer Mike, believes that investing in the Black community will yield returns for everyone.

“I’m a product of public and private cooperation,” he told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on Wednesday for the DealBook Online Summit. “I’m a product of believing in one’s self and turning the dollar in the African-American community.”

He was joined by Ursula Burns, the former chairman and chief executive of Xerox, and Robert Smith, the chairman and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, for a wide-ranging talk about race and corporate America.

Here are some of the issues they addressed:

Investing in the Black community.

“Our community does need some help. We need a modernization of a banking infrastructure that gets to our community.” — Robert Smith

“We have given so much of this country, unequivocally, we deserve some special treatment. I don’t want welfare. I don’t need social programs to take care of everything. I want to see a targeted investment in communities.” — Killer Mike

”It’s how you give money here and give money there. How you give opportunity here and there. It’s not that we have to fight against each other. We don’t have to have a scrum in the street for a scratch of food. That’s not the country we live in.” — Ursula Burns

Education and student debt.

“In my life, I’m an engineer, I have never had an African-American science teacher my entire life. — Robert Smith

“I’m a mechanical engineer. I never had an African-American science or math teacher.” — Ursula Burns

“I would love to see more people become teachers in our neighborhoods. But if they have crushing student loan debt, that’s a travesty. The federal government can make changes about this.” — Robert Smith

Quotas and board diversity.

“If you spill dirt into the water, you get fined. If you lose a whole lot of money, you get fired. If you do not diversify your company inside, then there should be some negative consequences for that.” — Ursula Burns

“It’s only controversial when you talk about Black folk. There was no controversy on quotas when they were doing land giveaways in Middle America. There wasn’t a problem with quotas when the country was started.” — Killer Mike

The definition of a Black business.

“It’s either totally owned and operated by Black people and good to my community. Or it’s not owned by Black people, but it employs Black people, and it is good to my community. And lastly, the small businesses that came in later from immigrant populations that were moving into our city, even if they could not hire us, as long as they dealt fairly with our community.” — Killer Mike

Whether Robert Smith’s $140 million settlement with the Justice Department over tax fraud will affect his philanthropic efforts.

“I can learn from my mistakes. And I have. It’s clear to me that in order for me to focus on the problems of the present, I need to resolve the issues of the past and problems of the past — and the settlement offered me that ability to do so. So I’ve agreed to it. I’m moving forward, I’ve made right with the government. And — now I’m absolutely committed to continuing my important work.” — Robert Smith

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CEOs, a lot of us can drive by the worst parts of our society, the inner cities, the South Bronx et cetera, we can drive by literally and figuratively. And we should not. We should say, and I’m gratified to see a lot of CEOs, Doug McMillon, the chair of the BRT, these CEOs, white men, are saying this is our problem too. And we are going to double down and try to be part of fixing it. I think we should.

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In this era of upheaval — from social injustices to the fraught politics to the pandemic — it’s more important than ever for business leaders to speak up, even on issues not directly related to their companies, said Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase.

“C.E.O.s are being asked to do a lot of things today that they weren’t asked to do in the past,” he told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Online Summit on Wednesday.

Speaking personally, Mr. Dimon added, “I’m a patriot before I’m the C.E.O. of JPMorgan.”

It is that attitude — which he said he shared with other chief executives, like Doug McMillon of Walmart — that has led corporate America to call for unity after the contentious 2020 election, to speak out on erasing the racial equality gap and to demand that political leaders help out ordinary Americans.

“If you travel out of Washington, D.C. and New York City, there is deep, deep, deep frustration” with political leaders, particularly over stimulus negotiations. When asked how he would handle the talks, in which Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked, Mr. Dimon declared, “You need to just split the baby and move on. This is childish behavior by our politicians.”

(Would he himself be interested in taking a more active role by seeking to become Treasury secretary, as some have speculated? He demurred: “I love what I do, and I have never coveted the job ever. I love my country, so I will help anyone who has that job.”)

Other issues that Mr. Dimon addressed:

  • On the racial justice protests that sprang up this year in the wake of killings of Black Americans by the police, Mr. Dimon said, “Covid and the murder of George Floyd pointed out something we already knew: That there’s been inequality in America, and the racial part is even worse.”

  • On China, Mr. Dimon said that he wouldn’t have started a trade war with Beijing, but he believed that President Trump at least “got them to the table.” Businesses, Mr. Dimon added, “can help lead the conversation” and move the relationship to a better place.

  • On the nation’s global leadership role, Mr. Dimon had a somber assessment. “We are not good at thoughtful, long-term policy,” he said. A key part of maintaining the United States’s economic strength: “If we don’t get it right, it would be bad for the world for the next 50 years.”

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Here’s what really has me worried. Where are the rest of the Republicans? We have all just kind of baked into our assumptions that Donald Trump is going to put no one’s interests front and center except his own. But the Republicans who aren’t calling him out, that is dangerous. And this is not a game. People around the world, people who would do us harm are watching what’s happening. They’re watching the delay in the transition. The pandemic is raging out of control. There were nearly a million new cases in a week. And Trump is all about Trump and he is being enabled by the Republicans in the House and the Senate. And that is outrageous. And it is dangerous.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday urged the incoming Biden administration to use all the “tools in their toolbox” to push through Democrats’ priorities — even as the party gave up seats in the House and remains at risk of being unable to take the Senate.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris “won on the most progressive agenda that a general election candidate has ever run on in the United States of America,” the senator told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin. She cited some down-ballot victories, calling out Florida’s vote to raise the minimum wage and Arizona’s vote to raise taxes on higher incomes to fund education.

The election, she said, “is a mandate to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to do the things we can do.” She pressed for the cancellation of student loan debt, calling it the “single biggest stimulus we could add to the economy.” Ms. Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, also urged the incoming administration to invest in child care — “because we can do it” — and to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees of government contractors.

She said the pledge that Mr. Biden made to not raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year “makes sense.”

To achieve the Democrats’ aims, Senator Warren urged Mr. Biden to use “all of the tools — and I mean all of the tools of their administration,” which she noted included both executive orders and agency actions.

Ms. Warren, who has been floated as a potential Treasury secretary, declined to comment on whether she wants a role in the administration. However, she said she believed that “personnel is policy.”

“I think it is really important that we have people in this administration who understand the magnitude of the health crisis that we face, who understand the magnitude of the economic crisis — that is right behind that health crisis. And who have a real ambition for making the federal government work for people making it meet the moment.”

Ms. Warren indicated there might be room for Wall Street in the administration — even as a debate rages over what the limits should be on finance’s role in Democratic governance for the next four years.

“Remember, I hired people whose background was on Wall Street when I set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” she said. “The question is: What does your overall team look like? It is important to have a team that brings a lot of different perspectives.”

She also expressed concern over the transition process, as President Trump refuses to concede the election and tries to challenge the results in court.

“The Republicans who are not calling him out — that is dangerous,” she said. “This is not a game — people around the world, people who would do us harm, are watching what’s happening.”

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I definitely think there’s a greater level of impatience in Silicon Valley because if you can make the kinds of transformative changes through technology that we have, why can’t we do it on this issue that we hold so dear to us. And I think the problem is we’re dealing with a societal issue and people take time to change and that is not acceptable. And that is not an excuse. So we are trying to break through it in every way we can. whether it’s unconscious bias or some of these programs that I talked about, allyship, whatever it happens to be. But yes, it is a personal responsibility. It’s moving too slowly.

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Ruth Porat, the finance chief of Google and Alphabet, said Wednesday that patience was waning for Silicon Valley to fully address its challenges with gender and racial equity.

There’s a “greater level of impatience” in Silicon Valley, she told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Online Summit. “If you can make the kinds of transformative changes through technology that we have, why can’t we do it on this issue that we hold so dear to us?”

But unlike many of the technological problems that Silicon Valley innovators seek to solve, diversity is a societal issue, she said. It takes time for people to embrace change.

“That is not acceptable, and that is not an excuse,” she said. “So we’re trying to break through it in every way we can.” She listed addressing unconscious bias and encouraging alliances among the efforts to move the issue forward.

“It is a personal responsibility,” she said. “It’s moving too slowly.”

Still, Ms. Porat said there had been progress made since her days at Morgan Stanley, which she joined in 1987 before rising through the ranks to chief financial officer in 2010.

At the time, she said, Morgan Stanley was the “best of the best” when it came to addressing diversity. But more people are talking about the issue these days, she said, adding there was an increasing view that building a more diverse workplace was “not just the right thing to do,” but that it would make for “stronger, sharper business decisions.”

The most important way to ensure that diversity improvements stick, she said, is to create steps to put words into action. That is on top of other efforts, like including women and other underrepresented groups in positions of leadership, she added.

“If you don’t have policies and programs, the words are nice, but you’ve got to put money behind what you’re doing.”

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Tim Sweeney at the DealBook Summit

But when a contract goes outside the bounds of the law as Apple is doing and has such a negative and pervasive impact on society, it’s everybody’s duty to fight. It’s not just an option that some of these lawyers might decide. But it’s actually our duty to fight that. If we had adhered to all of Apple’s terms and taken their 30% payment processing fees and pass the costs along to our customers, then that would be Epic colluding with Apple to restrain competition on iOS and to inflate prices for consumers. So going along with Apple’s agreement is what is wrong. And that’s why Epic mounted a challenge to this.

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Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games, the maker of the wildly popular video game Fortnite, spoke to DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on Wednesday about his battle with Apple’s App Store and the future of interactivity and gaming.

Mr. Sweeney said Apple’s 30 percent commission on sales in the App Store was anticompetitive behavior that hurt both developers and consumers. He added that everyone had a responsibility to push back, comparing the struggle to protests during the civil rights movement.

“When a contract goes outside the bounds of the law as Apple is doing and has such a negative and pervasive impact on society, it’s everybody’s duty to fight,” Mr. Sweeney said.

On Wednesday, Apple announced that it was reducing its commission in the App Store for small businesses to 15 percent from 30 percent.

“That’s a fantastic change for all these small developers,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Who it’s not awesome for is consumers.”

He also talked about the future of interconnectivity and how computers were increasingly used as tools to connect people to real-time social experiences, a trend that the pandemic has accelerated.

“It’s not just like you playing this game as a solitary experience,” Mr. Sweeney said. “It’s you and your friends doing something together, just like my generation would go in the woods and play in real forts and this generation is now building virtual forts.”

In response to concerns that children may be addicted to Fortnite, Mr. Sweeney objected to the term “addiction.”

“Addiction is a serious problem,” he said. “If you look at what happens with a heroin or meth addict, I would not apply that term to people who love playing games and sometimes play them more than they ought.”

He added: “If that’s the case, then I’m addicted to programming, and my mom was addicted to gardening.”

Instead, he said, games like Fortnite can be a “healthy social experience” that has replaced in-person meetings for some people. He rejected the comparison of “mindless” video games like Pac-Man to Fortnite, which he said offered players social experiences and opportunities to build things in its “creative mode.”

“These are developing a new generation of diplomats and businesspeople and tech workers and artists and programmers,” he said. “The skills they’re developing there are real in a lot of cases.”

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In the first day of the DealBook Online Summit, the speakers had plenty of newsworthy things to share. Here are the highlights:

‘We’re all in this together’

America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the pandemic was a long-dreaded nightmare, and he called for a nationwide, non-politicized approach to public health measures. “I’m going to try my best to get the people in this country to realize we’re all in this together,” he said. “We’ve got to get out of this together.”

‘I can learn from my mistakes’

Masayoshi Son, the founder and chief executive of SoftBank, has made billions from some prescient bets over the years, but he didn’t shy away from discussing a few of his biggest mistakes. Namely, he turned down an opportunity to buy 30 percent of Amazon before its I.P.O. and poured billions into WeWork. “I would rather accept my stupidity and my ignorance — my bad decisions — so that I can learn from my mistakes,” he said.

‘It may have been important for the president, but not for us’

In a panel discussion, Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, said that announcing a vaccine before the election was always an “artificial deadline,” and said he wasn’t pressured by President Trump to his desired timeline. Turning to the widespread resistance to public health measures in the United States, Bill Gates said he “wouldn’t have expected mask wearing to become controversial,” and put some of the blame on the Trump administration. Heidi Larson, the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, said there was “a lot of resistance to the idea of control” when it comes to following public health advice, especially in this “hyper-uncertain time.”

For more coverage of yesterday’s session, see our live briefing.