This past Monday and Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal convened an extraordinary conference of about 100 CEOs to develop and recommend issue priorities for the new Administration. (See the participant list here.)
This meeting brought together the nation’s industry power players. Several Senators and Congressional representatives participated, as well as Rahm Emanuel, the President-elect’s new Chief of Staff, and others who advise Mr. Obama.
Based on their business’ core focus, the attendees were assigned into four major areas: 1) Finance and the US Economy, 2) Energy and the Environment, 3) American and the Global Economy, and 4) Health Care.
Then in the General Session that followed, the focus groups’ recommendations were incorporated into a final list and reranked by all the participants. Here’s the graph showing the relative ranking of all issues.
Predictably, economic issues ranked highest. Fiscal stimulation was the CEO Council’s top priority, but the nation’s economic vision and tax policy came in 3rd and 5th, respectively.
Perhaps most surprising — and this has caused a lot of buzz — was that an educated workforce came in second. This is clearly something that the nation’s CEOs are worried about.
The health care group – co-chaired by Angela Braly of Wellpoint Inc., Dr. Denis Cortese of the Mayo Clinic, Jeffrey Kindler from Pfizer Inc., and Dr. Daniel Vasella from Novartis AG – identified Obesity as the nation’s top health priority. Dr. Vasella said that that two-thirds of Americans older than 20 are obese, “and their children are becoming obese now.”
The health care group’s second priority was Tort Reform. Third was Defining and Measuring Value. Fourth was Payment Reform that would move toward paying-for-value. Fifth was Building the Health Care Workforce, with an emphasis on primary care, nursing and other allied health professionals.
In the General Session’s aggregation and re-ranking of priorities, Defining Value and Payment Reform was the highest ranking health care priority, coming in 7th among all 18 priorities listed. Tort Reform was second, at 10th, and Obesity was 3rd, tied at 12th with Universal Health Care Coverage and Electric Cars. Interestingly, the Health Care Focus Group had not identified Universal Health Coverage as a priority, but the General Session participants added it. Building a Health Care Workforce was the 5th health care priority in the General Session, coming in 17th.
This was a hugely important event for national priority setting. Rarely do the CEOs of the nation’s largest companies — America’s most influential group through both their business practices and their Congressional and legislative lobbying — come together and develop consensus on the solutions that would make America stronger. By placing their imprimatur on this list of 18 issues, they have provided much needed leadership on the national priorities agenda.
Even so, we should not necessarily take their recommendations as the last or only word on issues for the country. By definition, business leaders have a business, not a social, perspective and, like the rest of us, they may see the world through a prism of self-interest.
But there are times when the special and the common interests converge. Many of the issues identified in this session can be characterized as meeting that criterion. I hope the Administration pays attention, distinguishes what’s best for us all, and acts to bring real solutions to fruition.
Equally important, the chances for real change would be significantly greater now if the CEO Council’s participants followed-through by collaborating on an action-oriented effort, strengthening it by opening participation to all business and like-minded groups. Now that they have seized precious high ground, they should optimize the opportunity though activities that can lead to results.
And kudos to the Wall Street Journal for sponsoring this forum.