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The letter

The letter

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Every year Larry Fink, one of the biggest names in finance, writes a letter to the business world. Why has it become one of the most anticipated events in the calendar?


Transcript
Claudia williams, narrating:

Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.

Today, a man and his letter and what it can tell us about the state of capitalism.

*** 

Every year, in early January, a letter is published. 

It’s usually a couple of thousand words long, and it’s addressed to the chief executives who run the world’s biggest companies – and the shareholders who invest in them.

The letter is written by a man called Larry Fink.

“BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, his annual letter is officially out this morning…”

CNBC

Growing up in California in the 1950s, Larry Fink’s parents saw his older brother as the “smart one”. Larry Fink was forced to help out in his dad’s shoe shop… whereas his brother didn’t have to.

But several top investment banks disagreed with the Fink parents and he has gone on to become known as the king of Wall Street. He’s now the founder and chief executive of the investment giant BlackRock.

And over the past decade, his annual letter has become a highly anticipated moment in the corporate calendar. 

That’s because he is one of the most influential voices in business. 

“Larry, it’s great to see you. I imagine clients all around the world want to have a few minutes with you so I’m so thankful…”

UCLA Anderson

Since his first letter in 2012 when he publicly criticised his fellow CEOs for pursuing short-term strategies, Larry Fink’s letters have become an event.

“Now Fink’s annual letters CEOs closely watch of course and this is considered a watershed in the world of business often times changing the conversation, the dialogue with these letters… “

CNBC

They’re read in boardrooms and newsrooms, and shape the global agenda about how business is done.

“I’ve now been to a number of dinners where your letter has already been the topic of conversation…”

CNBC speaking to Larry Fink at Davos, 2018

Every year, Larry Fink’s letter tends to land one big point with companies and the people who run them. Recent letters have covered the importance of long-term strategies, looking outwards, and having “purpose”. 

The theme of this year’s letter?

“Quote, stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism.”

Fox Business

Put simply, Larry Fink is hailing the power of capitalism with a conscience. 

So, what does his 2022 letter tell us about where capitalism is now?

***

To understand the main point Larry Fink made in his 2022 letter, we need to go back and look at what he’s been saying for the past few years.

This is him speaking in 2018…

“I believe the companies that have purpose are the best companies in the world because it unites their employees, it connects the clients, but most importantly it brings the organisation…”

Larry Fink speaking to CNBC

Cue: business leaders rushing to publish their company’s “purpose” and announce their green agendas. 

Why?


Because BlackRock is the world’s biggest investor, managing more than $10 trillion in assets. And if Larry Fink says companies should have a purpose and be more green, companies will follow.because they want to be part of BlackRock’s investments.

“And I’m really pleased to say that $4 trillion of money has moved into more sustainable strategies and it’s accelerating, I talked about in my 2020 letter the tectonic shift that we are going to see…”

Larry Fin speaking to CNBC

His comments are all part of a bigger debate: what is the duty and responsibility of a company? For decades the dominant economic idea was that businesses have no social responsibility, their only duty is to their shareholders.

But Larry Fink has clearly moved the argument, telling companies they need to stand for more than just generating income, and insisting they have a role in both helping society and reducing the risks of climate change. 

Of course there are plenty of people who argue that capitalism isn’t the answer here. 

And lots of critics have pointed out that, well, BlackRock’s own business practices can fall short of Larry Fink’s great ideals. The asset manager still invests in fossil fuels and other industries with high greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the letter Larry Fink explains he doesn’t think that divestment will solve the problem of climate change. 

And he directs his attention to one key group. He’s saying to people who only care about making money: it is good business to be a good business.

***

There’s one line in this year’s letter that’s grabbed the attention of boardrooms and newsrooms. 

He wrote, “Make no mistake, the fair pursuit of profit is what animates markets”. 

In other words, Larry Fink is saying that investors still want to back companies that make money – but companies who thrive in the long run have to behave well while they go after profit.

“What I’m trying to say is, many people believe social values or environmental issues are political and woke. I don’t believe that… and it’s about building deeper, broader connectivity with your stakeholders and for that you’re building durable profitability…”

Larry Fink speaking to CNBC

He believes profit isn’t incompatible with doing the right thing.

“Basically what he was saying in his letter was you can have capitalism and have appreciation for other stakeholders besides shareholders.”

Yahoo Finance

So you can keep shareholders happy by making a profit, and, at the same time, appreciate communities, customers and the environment. 

And the pandemic has shown CEOs also have a duty to look after their staff. 

For companies that have expected their workers to go to an office five days a week for stagnant wages in an atmosphere where mental health is never discussed, he also has a message: “That world is gone.”

So what is the big takeaway?

Although lots of people think it’s an either or situation – that companies either care about the environment and social causes or they make profits – Larry Fink’s 2022 letter makes his own stance clear. That you can – and must – have both. 

For Larry Fink, it’s those companies that will be far more sustainable in the long run.

The message is this: Help save the world – and make money while doing it.

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.


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