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CxO: Insights On The Midterms, Marketing And Musk’s Terrible Week

Here is an excerpt from this week’s CxO newsletter. Sign up here if you’d like to get it by email, and have a great week.

Happy Election Day! Here at Forbes, of course, we are tracking the money. While hundreds of billionaires have donated large sums in an effort to tilt the odds in their favor, former President Donald Trump has given nothing. Here are the billionaires battling for control of the House.

Big Business is no longer reliably aligned with Republicans as the party has swung further to the right. While CEOs might like lower taxes, they increasingly find themselves at odds with the GOP stance on everything from abortion access and transgender rights to climate change and refugees. If you’re an executive whose employees and other stakeholders are pressuring you to take a public stance, saying the election was stolen and all news is fake sounds like career suicide in most circles.

Political blowback doesn’t help. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has reportedly sought to oust the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a longtime party ally that endorsed more than two dozen freshman House Democrats in the 2020 election. Under pressure from employees, Disney CEO Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, incurring the wrath of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. And both parties continue to clash on energy, with some Republican lawmakers seeking to punish companies that avoid fossil fuels or factor climate change into decisions. It’s hard to push a sustainability agenda when you’re punished for trying to do the right thing.

One business leader who is sure to get plenty of attention tonight is Twitter CEO/Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator Elon Musk. He seems to be reveling in his newfound power with a stream of provocative tweets since acquiring 82% of Twitter for $44 billion a little more than a week ago. Although his net worth has dropped since taking over Twitter, Musk seems convinced that his plan to propel the platform to profitability will succeed. Bitcoin billionaires and other crypto kings are certainly cheering him on.

But let’s pause a moment to consider whether Musk’s success in one realm means he’s likely to succeed in another. He spent years mulling over the challenges of clean energy and going to Mars before producing viable technology at Tesla and SpaceX. Twitter was where Musk became better known for producing SEC fines, conspiracy theories and insults. So perhaps it’s no surprise that his opening moves as CEO of the social-media platform included mocking influencers, alienating advertisers and laying off half of Twitter’s staff – only to then ask some to come back. In his first several days at the helm, Musk has shown a remarkable disregard for the factors that make a platform successful. It’s also clear that charging users to authenticate their profiles with that blue check mark won’t be enough.

Musk would not be the first leader to discover that different industries require different strengths. Plenty of other business rock stars stumbled when they moved on to new gigs. Ron Johnson brought a new standard of excellence to retail with the creation of the Apple Store. He brought that same attention to layout and the customer experience when he moved to J.C. Penney 10 years ago. When I met him early in his tenure, he talked about ditching coupons and buying 55,000 mannequins that would be dressed “in a whole new way.” But his consumers wanted discounts, not a deep experience, and Johnson was replaced by the previous CEO after 18 months.

Bob Nardelli, hailed as one of the best operators in GE’s history, stumbled when became CEO of Home Depot. While his plan to cut labor costs may have been a good one, he didn’t do enough to engage key stakeholders along the way.

That’s a lesson every leader could take to heart. If Musk keeps mocking core users and writing lol (‘laugh out loud’) after noting platform usage is up, he may find the joke is on him.

Insights from the Forbes CMO Summit: I’m just back from a truly refreshing and memorable Forbes CMO Summit in Miami. Credit belongs to Seth Matlins, Managing Director of the CMO Network, who explains why he wanted an in-person event that was less about broadcasting messages to the world than discussing among each other the issues that really matter. As Matlins puts it: “Marketing has become an industry of tactics–of checklists, a practice of prefixes, losing sight of the common suffix…marketing. It’s all just marketing… things we make, say and do to get people to buy. I think we’ve lost sight of this, and the people we sell to, as well.” Here are some highlights from the event, courtesy of my colleagues Emmy Lucas and Gabriela Lopez Gomes.

Tough times in tech: Elon Musk is not the only tech chief feeling pressure to cut staff. Citing global economic challenges, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison told employees in an email that the Silicon Valley payments giant had to let go of 14% of its staff. Meanwhile, Facebook’s parent company Meta is said to be preparing for large-scale layoffs. Other tech companies that have cutting back staff include Shopify, Netflix, Snap, Coinbase and Robinhood.

Could Fed Chair Powell tank the economy? A longtime admirer of his predecessor Paul Volcker, there’s growing concern among economists that Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell may be cleaving to an outdated playbook.

Are Latino Voters More Vulnerable to DisInformation? Latino voters may be the fastest-growing voter group, and increasingly divided when it comes to how they vote, this Brookings study suggests they are more vulnerable to disinformation. One reason is where they tend to source news; another is how social platforms have tended to be more lax in policing content that’s not in English. To be fair, Paul Barrett at NYU points out that all of us are vulnerable to disinformation in this excellent study on the toxic impact of social platforms the last election.

$2.04 Billion: That’s how much one lucky California resident will get from the winning Powerball ticket sold at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena in the November 7. Under California law, the name and address of the winner will be disclosed. Let the lobbying from family and friends begin.

Future of Work 50: Be sure to check out Jena McGregor’s fantastic package on the 50 leaders, thinkers, innovators and teams shaping the future of work. And join us on Nov. 15 for the inaugural Forbes Future of Work Summit.