A CEO Q&A with Curtis A. Morgan, President & CEO Vistra Corp.
What does the Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation mean to you?
At Vistra, we have four core principles — one of which is caring about our stakeholders, which includes our employees, our customers, our communities, our suppliers and our investors. The updated Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation from Business Roundtable helped create that broad net. And to all those constituents, it was an easy thing for us to sign onto — that’s because we believe it. I firmly believe that in the long run, the new capitalism is going to require companies to be more than just about profits and shareholder value. You’re going to have to participate more broadly and be a part of the solution for the communities — in particular, for diverse communities. I think we have to play a role, so that we can level the playing field.
What is one of the most important decisions you have made for Vistra this year?
This has been a quite an eventful year, especially with COVID-19 and social unrest from the death of George Floyd and so many others. These issues have awakened many corporations. At Vistra, we’ve come together around these issues as a company, closer than we were before, and it’s something that we’ll continue to do. With COVID-19, we needed to make sure that we communicated well within the company even though we were working from home. To me, that was a big deal. And the second thing and probably the most important thing I’ve done in my career is sitting down and personally listening to over 20 sessions with many members of our workforce, most of them diverse employees, hearing their stories, announcing to the organization what we are going to do in response to those listening sessions.
How has being a CEO changed in the last several years and how much do you think it will change in the years ahead?
No longer can you just be the CEO inside the four walls of a company. In this day and age, I think you also have to be externally focused and pay attention to long-term sustainability of your company. You have to understand your environmental footprint and the effect that you have on your communities. And I think you have to lead outside of the organization and in the community as well. So being focused solely on the company is not going to “get it done” in today’s world and understand not only your environmental footprint but how you can do things to improve the world. It starts with your company, but it also has to have a reach outside of that, understanding what your impact is on the rest of the world. CEOs need to think more broadly than they have in the past.
What is your vision for the future of America, and what role in this vision do business leaders serve?
What CEOs can do is approach our elected officials and say, “This is why we need to come together. I’d like to see our country come together because when we do, there’s nothing that could stop us other than ourselves. We need to come together around climate change. We need to come together around diversity inclusion. And we can be a better version of America.” We’re always about forming a more perfect union, and I think we can head that way or we can allow these things that are happening right now — such as social unrest — to divide us and conquer us. Or we can allow it to bring us together and be better than we ever have been. CEOs can — and should — have a role in that in an apolitical role to bring other parties together that may not otherwise be interested in working together.
What have you learned in the past year that will inform the decisions you make for your company moving forward?
The listening sessions that we held with our employees were a real eye opener for me. We now have a number of actions that we’re going to take in the spirit of diversity and inclusion. For me, it’s important to make sure that we follow through on those and that our company works for everybody by providing people the right training and development, opening up the right doors, and making sure that our company reflects our customers in our communities. That’s, that’s a big challenge for our company, but I so look forward to that. Because in my view, challenge equals opportunity. You can look at it as a threat or you can look at it as an opportunity, and I choose to look at it as an opportunity.