Digital Surge: The Future of Retail, Adobe Charges Ahead +More

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Summer doesn’t officially start until next week, but in much of the country it feels like it’s already here; and for a lot of major businesses, this is the season to bring more people back into offices. I went out to a business lunch this week for the first time in nearly a year and a half (which felt amazing), and I talked to a few CEOs about how they’re navigating the journey to the new normal, with ambivalent employees and a customer base with new digital habits.

Two CEOs of Fortune 100 companies gave me perspective.

Shantanu Narayen leads Adobe, a digital economy powerhouse whose tools create and track many of the professional images and video in the economy. Adobe’s quarterly earnings report showed businesses is booming, particularly in North America, where the vaccination push is adding gas to a hot recovery.

Roger Crandall leads MassMutual, an insurance giant where demand for life insurance has boomed in the pandemic, as has his demand for digital tools and processes to make employees more efficient and speed the underwriting process.

And I spoke with Ron Johnson, whose company delivers digital products to customer homes and sets them up. He’s seen more than one retail revolution, and shared his thoughts on how they play out. The theme of the week is Digital Surge.

Return to the Office or Stay Home? On the Other Hand

Is it time to get back to the office? Or should remote work be the new default? I argued both sides in the latest edition of On the Other Hand, on CNBC's Squawk Box:

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Designs on the Future: Adobe Sales Surge As Digital Economy Powers On

Adobe turned in strong earnings and projected more to come. I got time with CEO Shantanu Narayen to talk about what’s working, how long it will last, his plans for a return to the office and the outlook for Silicon Valley as a destination:

The Pandemic Boosted Millennial Demand for Life Insurance: MassMutual CEO

MassMutual is a Fortune 100 insurance company, and it saw demand spike during the pandemic. CEO Roger Crandall told me how workers are using technology to get customers signed up more quickly, and what worries him as the economy leans into reopening:

A Retail Pioneer Reflects: Target, Apple, J.C. Penney and Enjoy

Steve Jobs reached out to visionary Target executive Ron Johnson more than 20 years ago when he was thinking about building Apple retail stores. Johnson would help Jobs build the most successful retail effort in modern times, then leave for what became a debacle at the helm of J.C. Penney. Now Johnson is leading Enjoy, a new high-service consumer shopping experience. Johnson talked to me about the highs and lows, and was refreshingly blunt about his triumphs and mistakes:

Taking Your Career Temperature: Trivago CEO Axel Hefer

Almost 15 years ago, trivago CEO Axel Hefer was working for a private equity firm when the financial crisis hit. He wasn't happy in the job, but wasn't sure he should quit. In a recent Fortt Knox conversation, he told me how he figured out what to do next:

If you know me, you know that I like projects. I put a lot of thought into things that are important to me, at it's not limited to Fortt Knox. My company, Fortt Media, is the home of The Black Experience in America: The Course, a curriculum I researched, designed, taught and then built into an interactive experience. I'm still building it, and crafting teacher training to increase its impact.

To share what I've learned from the process so far, and to learn from others who are passionate about Black history education, I'm participating in the Teaching Black History Conference, hosted by the Carter Center for K-12 Education at the University of Missouri, led by LaGarrett King. My presentation will be 7/23 at 8 a.m. ET. It's $99 to attend (virtually). Register here:

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