A Conversation We Need To Have


It’s time to get serious about the role of business and tech in our society. Join us in San Francisco for the Shift Forum.


The initial lineup for the Shift Forum is now online. It’s always a let down when I see it on the page — the names and session titles never do justice to the people who are coming or the tapestry of conversation that will ultimately flow from the event. So I’m sitting down today to try to weave a bit of color into the stark black and white of the agenda’s format — in the hopes of enticing you to come, yes, but also to frame the conversation for those who are participating.

When we started thinking about the Forum two years ago (next month’s event is our second annual edition), we knew that business in the United States was at a crossroads. Trump had not yet won the Republican nomination, and Big Tech still enjoyed unrivaled admiration around the globe. Still we sensed storm clouds forming — and since then a cynic could argue that the deluge is upon us.

That’s a fair assessment, if incomplete. Yes, we have an administration that has thrown our system of democratic capitalism into deep conflict. And the impact of “America First” rhetoric has dramatically increased global skepticism of western capitalism. To make matters worse, our vaunted technology companies now face Congressional inquiries, European regulation, and widespread consumer unrest. But with crisis comes opportunity. What if the disruption we are enduring is in fact an opening for a new approach to business?

That leads to the thesis of this year’s Shift Forum: Business Must Lead. This theme will be integrated throughout the Forum’s program, from the in-depth interviews with CEOs, policy makers, and foundation chairs to presentations from a truly diverse group of startup founders, innovators, and free thinkers. And for our second straight year, Shift Forum is committed to gender equality and diversity onstage — we’ve worked hard to ensure the broadest range of compelling and challenging voices will be heard. And the most important voice — the Delegates — will be central throughout. We’ve left lots of time for networking, for Q&A, and for participation in the program. This is a conversation, after all, not a broadcast.

The program is bookended by individuals representing several core elements of the Shift community: Progressive leaders of major corporations, challenging new approaches to business structure, and forward thinking policy makers in positions of significant influence. Opening Forum is Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks. Starbucks has been an early proponent of a “multi-stakeholder” approach to management, with a focus on investing in its employees, suppliers, and impacted community. Following Johnson are two innovators with new approaches to both capitalism and government: Eric Reis, founder of the lean startup movement and now CEO of the Long Term Stock Exchange, and Jennifer Pahlka, whose Code for America is rethinking how government services are delivered. Two days later, we close the conference with Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, widely seen as a leading candidate in the 2020 presidential race.

In between we’ll be exploring interconnected themes across what we call “Pillars” — core topics that directly impact business. For 2018, our core Pillars include:

Policy and Politics.

Helmed in large part by veteran presidential journalist John Heilemann, our Policy pillar includes conversations with Donna Brazile, the former head of the DNC, Anthony Scaramucci, he of ten days of infamy in the Trump White House, and Renee DiResta and Laura Rosenberger, who are both working on the fake news/platform issue in DC and the Valley. We’re also welcoming one of the nation’s most experienced Republican strategists, Michael Murphy. We’re also joined by Ray Mabus, the former Secretary of the Navy under multiple Presidents (and also the former governor of Mississippi). We’ll also meet Michael Tubbs, the first black mayor of Stockton, CA, who is implementing a basic income test in his city.

From business and academia, we’ll meet Laura Tyson of UC Berkeley, who served as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under Clinton, as well as Anat Admati of Stanford, whose thinking on financial policy is fundamental to how capitalism is changing. Kent Walker, general counsel of Google, will sit with me for a conversation about the extraordinary reach of his company, and how it navigates its relationship to nation states as well as its customers and vast network of business partners. And Adam Mosseri, the man responsible for Facebook’s News Feed, will also endure my questions — this one in particular is noteworthy given all the news about News Feed these days. And of course policy will be top of mind for all our conversations, including with Bill Anderson, the CEO of Genentech, as well as Sue Desmond-Hellman, the CEO of the Gates Foundation.

Besides the aforementioned governor of Colorado, we expect several more high profile names to be added to this track. Our Policy Pillar is programmed in partnership with Microsoft, which has been an invaluable partner to Shift Forum since the beginning. Microsoft President Brad Smith was planning on being there, but his pending case on email privacy has just been slated to be argued in front of the Supreme Court on the dates of the event. We reluctantly agreed that a SCOTUS date beats Shift Forum in the competition for his calendar. Just.

Business Transformation

In partnership with Adobe, we’ll be exploring how all businesses can navigate the transition to a new compact between business and society. That means thinking about the experiences businesses create for their customers, their employees, and their related communities. Eric Reis’ thinking about long term approaches to capitalism kicks off the track, and it will be continued with conversations about marketing and blockchain with Marc Pritchard, the CMO of P&G, as well as Michelle Peluso, the CMO of IBM. One of the leading voices for new approaches to business in the Valley is Reid Hoffman, who joins us on Day Two. I’m also thrilled that Sukhinder Singh Cassidy will present her vision of how to transform the corporate board. And one of the most fascinating innovators in the Valley is Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest, who also joins us to talk about transforming technology’s core business model of engagement-driven advertising.

Speaking of technology, we’ll be delving into the future of tech with noted investors Aileen Lee, of Cowboy Ventures, and Kirsten Green, of Forerunner. And we’ll get a tour of advancements in AI from Abhay Parasnis, CTO of Adobe. We take a deep dive on the changes roiling the financial and insurance sectors with Karen Lynch, President of Aetna, and Lata Reddy, Chair of the Prudential Foundation. And we’ll explore the changing role of the corporation in the public sphere with Carol Christ, the Chancellor of UC Berkeley, and Cindy Cohn, the executive director of the EFF.

The Future of Work

Perhaps no topic weaves all the various threads of Shift Forum together as intricately as the future of work, which we present this year in partnership with Dell. The role of technology, capital, and labor will be debated by Laura Tyson and Tim O’Reilly, entrepreneur and author of a recent book on the subject, as well as Nick Hanauer, who has provocatively urged his fellow plutocrats to wake up before it’s too late. Dell’s Liz Matthews will moderate a read out of our Lunch Dialogs with tables devoted to Future of Work topics, and our Ignite@Shift program, which was a huge hit last year, is back with a similar topic, curated by Brady Forrest. Ignite features fast-paced five minute presentations by challenging thinkers across a spectrum of business experience — it’s not to be missed.

My conversation with Susan Sobbot, former President of American Express, will delve into the role of small business in our economy, a category often ignored in the debate. We’ll hear from Hadi Partovi about Code.org’s goal of helping train 1 billion coders by 2040. And of course, nearly everyone in our Policy and Business Transformation Pillars will have something to say about the future of work.

The Future of Democracy

While we already have a Pillar on Policy and Politics, we’ve a special new category this year, thanks to a partnership with Club de Madrid, the largest forum in the world of former democratic Presidents and Prime Ministers. We’ll hear from at least four former world leaders to discuss a topic existential to all business: Is the future of democracy in question in North America? A pre-conference roundtable featuring 25–30 leaders in business and politics will report out live on stage at Shift Forum. We’ll be announcing the speakers shortly, but I’ve seen the confirmations so far, and it’s a truly special group. While they never ask for credit, I must thank the Omidyar Group for its support of this initiative.


We’ll have a mini-Pillar on the future of food — including an introduction to two fascinating startups in the space. Why food? It’s an industry that touches us all, and where massive change is well underway. The first startup, Aspire Food Group, is rethinking how we get our protein through an unusual source: Crickets. John Chambers, the Executive Chair of Cisco, is backing Aspire and bringing its CEO, Mohammed Ashour. Next up is Pat Brown from Impossible Foods, whose “Impossible Burger” replicates the taste and experience of beef. Not convinced? We’ve got legendary bay area chef Traci Des Jardin doing a taste test on stage, and all conference goers will have a chance to taste both Impossible burgers as well as, yes, crickets from Aspire.

We’ll have many surprises in the program beyond what we’ve laid out here — keep checking the agenda page for updates. I mentioned the Lunch Dialogs, but I’ve not done them justice: We have nearly twenty Forum Delegates who’ve raised their hands to lead table discussions on a range of topics, with a focus on how participants can take action on the issues they discuss. We’ve Perkins Coie to thank for supporting this unique program. Each evening we’ll have an informal Twilight drinks, sponsored by Jobs For the Future. And for our featured speakers and press, we’ve got a special video studio and green room curated by Comcast NBC Universal. And EY is once again partnering with Shift Forum, as is Starbucks. I’m honored by all the support, it makes this incredible program possible.

The Shift Forum is the culmination of an intensive year of work for the NewCo team, and it’s been informed by countless conversations with mentors, colleagues, and leaders across nearly every sector of our economy. The founder of TED used to call his event “the dinner party I always wanted to throw.” I feel like I’ve been at a similar table all year long as we prepare for the three days of Shift Forum next month. Thanks to everyone who’s helped along the way. When you come, you may notice a special badge designation — the Catalysts. These are the folks who’ve inspired my thinking along the way. I hope you’ll join us — I can’t wait to get the conversation started.

Register for Shift Forum here. If you and I have met or worked together, email me for VIP upgrades and discounts. And if you are at a startup, educational institution or non-profit, we have discounts for you as well.

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