Axios What's Next

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Good morning! 2020 seemed like a bad year to be a CEO, but 2022 is way worse, Erica Pandey reports.

  • And scroll down to read about the latest subscription service you can get.
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Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,219 words ... 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: A hard year to run a company

Illustration of a man in a business suit crouching in a confined space
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

2022 is shaping up to be one of the hardest years ever to run a company — even harder than 2020 when the pandemic first hit, corporate leaders and analysts tell Erica and Axios markets correspondent Emily Peck.

Why it matters: Uncertainty, the CEO's most dreaded nemesis, abounds. Supply chain snarls, lingering COVID disruptions, labor shortages, inflation, rising pay, and soaring demands for new benefits and work flexibility are driving up costs and complexity.

  • Toss in a surge in individuals starting their own small businesses — and others simply quitting work altogether — and you see why c-suite anxiety is spreading fast.

The big picture: 72% of CEOs worry their jobs aren't going to survive the challenges ahead, according to a survey AlixPartners released at the end of 2021. That number is up from 52% the year before.

What they're saying: "After two years of them sitting at home getting well-paid, seeing their stock appreciate — yeah, this year is going to be more challenging," says Lisa Shalett, CIO of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

  • "They're struggling to find their way," particularly around workforce challenges, said Ted Bililies, managing director at AlixPartners, who works with CEOs and boards.

The Great Resignation is forcing companies to raise wages and beef up benefits to try to attract talent. America has some 11 million open jobs, but people aren't jumping to apply for them.

  • The median tech salary in the U.S. increased 7% between 2020 and 2021, per Wired. And some companies are driving pay more aggressively: Amazon just hiked up its maximum base pay to $350,000, from $160,000.
  • Less-sexy industries, like manufacturing and autos, are having an even harder time attracting talent, Bililies said.

Inflation and supply chain issues are driving up the cost of doing business, irrespective of the ways the workforce is changing.

  • The year-over-year change in costs for companies on the S&P 500 is at 13.4%, the highest it's been in a decade, according to research Shalett released earlier this week.

Firms are also realizing they'll have to navigate remote and hybrid work even after the pandemic. That means figuring out new ways to manage teams and rally employees.

  • 61% of remote workers say they're working from home because they're choosing not to go into the office, while just 38% say they're staying out of the workplace because it's closed or unavailable, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

What to watch: The rise of remote work means job opportunities are no longer tied to place, and workers might not have as strong social connections with their colleagues. HR analysts warn that those dynamics could lead to higher rates of turnover in the longer term.

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2. Vaccine mandates depend on local politics

Data: Indeed; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

When it comes to job postings with a vaccination requirement, 9 of the top 10 cities went blue in the 2020 election, according to a new Indeed analysis, Erica writes.

  • The one metro area that went red is Fayetteville, Arkansas.

By the numbers: In January, 7.1% of job postings in blue metros advertised required vaccination compared with 4.4% in red metros.

  • Politics appears to be a more significant determinant for whether or not a job will require vaccination than more relevant factors, such as whether or not the job requires in-person work, says Indeed economist AnnElizabeth Konkel.

Between the lines: It’s not surprising that Democratic-leaning cities have a higher share of job postings requiring the jab, as these are also the places with higher rates of vaccination. But the size of the gap is noteworthy.

  • "I figured there would be a difference," says Konkel. "But I was surprised it was this large."
  • "It's a good example illustrating that employers are taking the temperature in their local markets," she says. "This is a labor market where employers want to appeal to job seekers and certainly not offend them in any way."

3. Netflix for flying

Illustration of an airline ticket with a large infinity sign printed on the front
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Alaska Airlines is taking a flyer on a subscription service, joining the recurring-payment ranks of Netflix, Amazon and Peloton, Nathan Bomey writes in Axios Closer.

Why it matters: The subscription economy is taking over more areas of our lives, offering new payment and service options while threatening to disrupt businesses that can’t keep up. And as the fifth-largest carrier in the U.S., Alaska Airlines has the heft to shake up the marketplace.

How it works: Subscription options include six, 12 or 24 roundtrip flights annually to and from 13 destinations in California as well as Phoenix, Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada.

  • Customers can pay as little as $49 monthly for the cheapest option, Flight Pass, providing six flights a year that must be booked at least 14 days in advance.
  • A more flexible option, Flight Pass Pro, starts at $199 a month, providing flights that can be booked up to two hours before departure. Customers still pay taxes and fees averaging $14.60 per one-way segment, according to The Points Guy.

The bottom line: Frequent travelers might jump at the subscription idea. If so, expect other airlines to follow.

4. Driving at night is about to improve

Headlights glaring at night
Headlight glare is a nuisance. Photo: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Cars will soon be equipped with new smart headlights that automatically tailor light beams to the darkest parts of the road.

Why it matters: Adaptive driving beam headlights will make the roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and animals.

  • Plus, they automatically dim to avoid blinding oncoming drivers, or shining directly into the rearview mirror of the car ahead.

Driving the news: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week issued a new rule allowing the new high-tech headlights, which are already common in Europe.

How it works: The system uses computers and sensors to automatically send LED light beams where they are needed.

  • The beams spread out like a fan that continually shape-shifts, depending on road conditions.
  • “You have the ability to basically create a light pattern on the fly that is optimized for real-time conditions,” Sam Abuelsamid, principal mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights told AP.

What to watch: Smart headlights will show up first in luxury models, then gradually in all cars.

5. The downside of life-changing implants

 Illustrated collage of an outstretched hand, eyes, pulse rates and an ear.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A nightmare scenario: A cutting-edge, life-changing device embedded in your body fails and the company behind it is all but gone, Joann Muller writes.

It happened to more than 350 blind people around the world who received artificial eyes only to be abandoned by the company that invented them, Second Sight Medical Products, the technology journal IEEE Spectrum writes.

Why it matters: Entrepreneurs are rushing to cash in on recent advances in brain technology with hopes of reversing depression, treating Alzheimer's disease or restoring mobility.

  • But not all companies will succeed, and the risk for early adopters is that their high-tech implants turn into just another obsolete gadget.
  • The fallout of Second Sight's saga is a reminder of the perils of relying on private companies for essential health devices.

Details: Second Sight ran into financial trouble in early 2020 and abandoned its retinal implant technology as it struggled to avoid bankruptcy.

  • Now it's merging with an early-stage biopharmaceutical company, Nano Precision Medical, that is developing a new implant for drug delivery.

What they're saying: “As long as nothing goes wrong, I’m fine,” Terry Byland, a double-implant recipient, told IEEE Spectrum. “But if something does go wrong with it, well, I’m screwed. Because there’s no way of getting it fixed.”

Read the full account here.

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