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How Hyatt’s CEO is leading with empathy through COVID-19 and a corporate reckoning with racism

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Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian likes to lead with empathy for his workers and his customers. But on Aug. 11 episode of “Leadership Next,” the Fortune podcast about the changing role of business leadership, host Alan Murray asks, “How do you lead with empathy when your business is falling apart?” 

The company’s bookings were down 94% year over year in April, Hoplamazian said, and the business environment was unrecognizable. So to lead his company through the pandemic the right way, he said his leadership team had to take a step back to get acclimated to the new and ever-changing coronavirus business landscape. 

“It’s been the most challenging time in our industry in the history of the industry,” he said. 

The company laid off around 1,300 people at the corporate level, amounting to 35% of staff. And at the hotel level, which usually keeps 130,000 people on payroll, the layoffs, furloughs, and work leaves are still unfolding as government assistance dwindles and demand builds back up slowly. 

These layoffs took a serious toll on Hoplamazian, who called it “the most difficult and challenging time that I’ve ever experienced as a person.” 

To deliver these decisions with as much empathy as possible, he and his leadership team made decisions promptly to avoid uncertainty and set up a care fund to enhance the financial safety net laid off employees would be getting from the government. The company also created a platform on which people could keep in touch with and support those that no longer have access to company email. 

On top of the coronavirus pandemic, Hoplamazian has also been focusing on the corporate reckoning with systemic racism spurred by George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests across the world. Around the 19:45 mark, he and Murray discuss Hyatt’s response and the personal effect the push for equity and inclusion has had on him.

Hoplamazian said he believes that the vulnerability that COVID-19 has created allowed the movement for equity and inclusion to prosper in a way that will have long-term effects on the business world and society at large. 

“My own personal journey in this has been now—and I’m embarrassed to say this—to really understand, probably for the first time, how deep systemic racism is and also how much of an ecosystem it requires in order to rectify,” Hoplamazian said. “I think we’re seeing the whole forest now, not just the individual trees of representation or minority content in our supply chain, but seeing how this extends to our communities. And that to me is the major difference.”

To hear Hoplamazian’s views on mask requirements at his hotels, executive compensation, why testing is so important for the hospitality industry, and how the pandemic will change travel for good, listen to the full episode. 

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Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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One pandemic, two recoveries: New Yorkers are three times more likely to be jobless than Nebraskans

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It’s going to take a long time to get out of this economic mess, but we’re making progress: Since the end of April, the economy has added more than 10 million jobs and the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 14.7% to 8.4%.

But that national recovery is unequal. Employment in some states is back to pre-pandemic levels, while others are at mass joblessness levels surpassing the 2007-09 Great Recession.

When the pandemic hit, the jobless rate in Nebraska soared from 4% in March to 8.7% in April. But the state’s nearly fully reopened economy has helped push the jobless rate back to 4% as of August.

The picture in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the spring, is far less rosy. It saw its jobless rate climb from 4.1% in March to a staggering 15.3% by April. It has since improved to 12.5% in August—a figure that is still above the U.S. peak of 8.9% jobless rate during the Great Recession era.

How can a New Yorker be three times more likely to be jobless than a Nebraskan?

States like Nebraska that are more rural and haven’t been as hard hit by the pandemic have almost fully reopened. Earlier this month Nebraska allowed outdoor gatherings to reopen at 100%, including sports stadiums and fairgrounds. And places like bars and tattoo parlors were reopened weeks ago.

Northeast states like New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut were hit hard by the virus in the spring and are reopening businesses at much slower rates. Case in point: Indoor dinning in New York City doesn’t start back until September 30, and that’s only at 25% capacity. That cautious approach explains why New York’s jobless rate remains so high.

While New York leads the nation at 33,092 lives lost to the pandemic, its case load and deaths are plummeting, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Only .9% of COVID-19 tests in New York are coming back positive compared to over 50% at one point in April. Nebraska has far fewer COVID-19 deaths (452), however, its positive rate is 12.6%—which is above the 10% threshold that adds incoming travelers to New York’s 14-day quarantine.

And joblessness in New York is also elevated by its large leisure and hospitality concentration. That sector was smashed by the pandemic, and has yet to rebound. Leisure and hospitality jobs in New York City alone are still down 48%. And that’s also why joblessness is still so high in tourism heavy California (11.4%), Hawaii (12.5%), and Nevada (13.2%).

While Florida also has a massive tourism industry, its jobless rate is only 7.4% in August which can be chalked up to a more aggressive reopening plan than states like Nevada or New York.

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