The Bloomberg 50
Bloomberg Businessweek|December 07, 2020
THE PEOPLE WHO DEFINED AN UNPRECEDENTED YEAR

There was a joke on Twitter this fall: Decades from now, Ph.D. candidates in history will specialize in a particular day from 2020. Which is to say this year was, uh, big. Covid, a reckoning on race, and a U.S. election made compiling the fourth annual Bloomberg 50 easier in ways (many people are doing notable things) and harder in others (many people are doing notable things).

Here are a few rising above 2020’s high bar in our look at the people in business, entertainment, finance, politics, and science and technology whose accomplishments merit recognition: Aurora James (page 44) got retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and Tim Bray (page 63) quit his executive job at Amazon.com to protest the firing of workers who’d raised concerns about Covid. The president of Taiwan (page 74) kept the pandemic under control, and when Australian wildfires raged, comedian Celeste Barber (page 50) raised millions in relief.

Check out page 75 for alums of our list whose 2020 efforts also deserved a nod. To see who might appear on next year’s Bloomberg 50, turn to page 76—though we’d be lying if we said we could predict the next few days, let alone 2021.

SUMIT SINGH

CEO, CHEWY INC.

DANIA BEACH, FLA. As the retailer came to dominate the online pet supply business, its stock price more than doubled, driving up its market value by almost $15 billion, to $26 billion.

Chewy, which sells everything from dog toys to equine joint supplements, added millions of customers in the wake of lockdowns and a spike in pet adoptions. At times, surging orders stripped its virtual shelves bare of popular dog and cat foods. Now that inventories are under control, Singh and his team are touting a recession-resistant business model: They continue to see gains from consumers who like Chewy’s pets only focus and easy returns policy.

Singh, who joined Chewy from Amazon.com Inc. in 2017, has been CEO since 2018 and led the company to a successful initial public offering last year. Prior to joining Amazon, he spent a decade at Dell Technologies Inc. His next test at Chewy will be retaining customers and winning over new ones who shop at supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and neighborhood pet stores. Wall Street is also waiting for the company to expand internationally.

Bailey Lipschultz

BILLIE EILISH

SINGER-SONGWRITER

Eilish won the “big four” Grammys in January—best record, best song, best album, best new artist—which nobody had done in a single year since Christopher Cross in 1981.

She sings in a smoky soprano about suicide fantasies and heartache (“Take me to the rooftop / I wanna see the world when I stop breathing, turnin’ blue,” she begins on Listen Before I Go). And with green-streaked hair and oversize outfits, she looks straight out of a Nickelodeon cartoon. Yet for all her deliberate outrageousness, Eilish is a fairly normal 18-year-old. She lives with her parents, who dutifully ride along with their daughter on tours. Her older brother, Finneas, is her musical collaborator, and they work out of a recording studio in the family’s Los Angeles home.

Eilish has been embraced by an industry that’s often celebrated young female stars for their conformity, not their rebelliousness. Her Grammy-winning song, Bad Guy, is a pulsating track on which she razzes people who act tough, and in August, she performed a new track called My Future at the Democratic National Convention: “You don’t need me to tell you things are a mess,” she said by way of introduction. Eilish also co-wrote and sang the theme for the James Bond film that’s scheduled to be released next year.

—Devin Leonard

JANE FRASER

PRESIDENT AND CEO, GLOBAL CONSUMER BANKING, CITIGROUP INC.

NEW YORK In September, Fraser was named Citigroup’s next CEO, and when she assumes the role in early 2021, she’ll be the first woman in the top job at a major U.S. bank.

A 16-year veteran of Citigroup, Fraser has done stints as global head of strategy and head of Latin American operations. Last year she took over the consumer unit, the world’s largest credit card issuer. One thing she’s been focused on in 2020 is increasing deposits from U.S. customers, with an emphasis on getting people to sign up for checking accounts on their mobile phones; in the third quarter, average North American deposits climbed 19% from a year ago, to more than $182 billion. Fraser has also been in charge of Citigroup’s domestic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

One of her most immediate tasks as CEO will be fixing the bank’s data and risk management systems, which it’s failed to update for some time. Regulators including the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are requiring the improvements. Fraser has started by analyzing what part of Citigroup’s technological infrastructure needs the most attention. The process is expected to take years.

Jenny Surane

JOHN ROBERTS

U.S. CHIEF JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT

He was in the majority 97% of the time in the term ended in July, his highest percentage in 15 years.

For the first time, Roberts stood firmly at the court’s ideological center, casting the pivotal vote in almost every divisive case. He sided with the conservative wing to bolster religious rights in cases involving taxpayer subsidies for private schools and contraceptive insurance coverage. But the appointee of President George W. Bush joined the liberals to deliver narrow victories for abortion rights and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He did the same in a big win for LGBTQ workers fighting to sue for job discrimination. And when right-leaning critics of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sought to topple the regulator by arguing that its director had an unconstitutional level of independence, Roberts wrote an opinion allowing a president to fire the director while leaving the agency intact.

Things are about to change. Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s arrival shifts the court further to the right and decreases the chance that Roberts’s vote will decide rulings. Whether his influence endures depends less on his vote than on his ability to persuade what could be the most conservative court in generations.

Greg Stohr

AURORA JAMES

FOUNDER, FIFTEEN PERCENT PLEDGE

Nine retailers in the U.S. and Canada, including Macy’s Inc., Sephora USA Inc., and West Elm, have signed on to her pledge, which asks that they dedicate 15% of shelf space to products made by Black-owned businesses.

After the police killing of George Floyd in late May, James watched her inbox fill with emails and her Instagram feed flood with posts from brands decrying racism. She wanted more than platitudes. “I needed to reconcile the hurt I was feeling as a Black woman and also the fact that I’m a business owner,” says James, creative director and founder of shoe and handbag line Brother Vellies in Brooklyn, N.Y. “These two sides of me needed to converge.”

Days later she’d made it happen. She used Instagram to spread the idea of the pledge—15% because it’s roughly the share of Black people among the U.S. population—and tagged nine companies in her post to get their attention. Her targets were Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, marijuana dispensary MedMen, Net-a-Porter, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods, businesses she said were “built on Black spending power.”

For most companies, only 2% of merchandise on store shelves is from Black-owned businesses, according to research from the Fifteen Percent Pledge Foundation, the nonprofit James founded shortly after announcing her campaign. Many of them have had a disproportionately difficult time during the coronavirus pandemic because such businesses didn’t get loans from the Paycheck Protection Program—a $350 billion government effort to keep workers on payrolls—at the same rate as White-owned ones. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says 58% of Black business owners have dipped into personal savings to stay operational, compared with 33% of business owners overall.

James was raised in Jamaica and Guelph, an hour’s drive from Toronto, and worked in mall retail, at a modeling agency, and for Fashion Television. She studied journalism at Ryerson University, then moved to the U.S. right before Barack Obama’s first term began. Since 2013, James has run Brother Vellies, which she started with $3,500 in savings. She opened her store in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood in 2018.

The retailers that joined her pledge aren’t tied to a timeline. But James works with them to find smaller, Black-owned companies that fit their needs. None has hit the 15% threshold, but Black entrepreneurs have told her that Sephora and West Elm touched base directly about orders, she says.

Sephora and MedMen are the only original targets that signed on. In addition to West Elm, the others are Indigo Books & Music in Toronto, Rent the Runway, Yelp, the U.S. edition of Condé Nast’s Vogue —and as of late November, InStyle US and Macy’s, the largest retailer to sign on. Yelp will try to have 15% of its lists focus on or include Black-owned businesses. On Instagram, James said of Vogue’s pledge, “Thank you to Vogue for committing to hiring more Black freelance photographers, writers, stylists, beauty teams, and models.” She says one day she’d like to see a Black-owned business that benefited from the pledge reach a $100 million valuation.

Analysts say it could appeal to shoppers who say they’re more likely to spend with companies that share their values on racial justice. “That potentially could be the catalyst to help that retailer recover faster” from pandemic losses, says Chadwick Roberson, vice president for investment management and research at retail and consumer analyst Momentum Advisors LLC.

James’s idea isn’t without critics. Some of the companies that have signed on aren’t brick-and-mortar retailers with shelf space to give. And some have noted that Black-owned small businesses need financial resources to scale up before they can fulfill orders for major retailers. James says the foundation is working with its partners on a solution.

In the future, James wants venture capital firms to agree to have pledge-compliant portfolios. But for now she’ll continue to run her business while hopping on Zoom calls with CEOs who are interested in joining her cause. “In a year that’s been so tough for so many people, having that opportunity to have positivity is so worth it,” she says.

Jordyn Holman

JAMES GORMAN

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, MORGAN STANLEY

NEW YORK Morgan Stanley unveiled a $13 billion takeover of retail brokerage ETrade Financial Corp. in February, then sprang another surprise in October with the $7 billion purchase of the fund company Eaton Vance Corp.

Inside Morgan Stanley’s Times Square skyscraper, Gorman is mostly alone. The faces he sees are those of stern-looking bankers in oil paintings lined along the wood-paneled wall outside his office. They’re reminders of the people who came before him at a company that traces its roots to the Gilded Age tycoon John Pierpont Morgan.

After a decade atop the place, Gorman has made his own big mark, with two of the largest deals by a top Wall Street bank in years. They came along with record profits and a soaring stock price. “How could you not be happy?” Gorman asks. “We just hit a $100 billion market cap, we’ve done two signature transactions in two areas of the business where we needed to do something, and we’ve navigated Covid without the organization falling apart.”

Ever since the recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown, major banks have been looking for opportunities to expand. But the Melbourne-born Gorman was more willing than his peers to pounce on acquisitions. “I think we’ve been the only bank in the last 10 years to do deals,” he says. “I don’t see myself as a dealmaker or not a dealmaker. I think of myself as hopefully strategic and that if you find good deals, you shouldn’t be shy about it.”

Gorman has long believed Morgan Stanley needed to pivot from its reliance on the rarefied business of high finance, which involves things like playing matchmaker for blue-chip corporations and helping hedge funds trade. These activities are profitable but subject to the whims of markets. The ETrade and Eaton Vance deals give Morgan Stanley more ways to earn steady fee revenue helping to manage individuals’ nest eggs. Its money management businesses now make up about 60% of revenue. It will soon be the steward of $4.5 trillion worth of other people’s investment assets.

“Finance has become less swashbuckling, less sexy, and a little more boring,” says Tom Glocer, a Morgan Stanley board member and former CEO of Thomson Reuters Corp. “People like James stand out in a time like this. He will be known as one of the great CEOs, not just in banking but one of the great CEOs, period.”

Gorman’s landmark year also brought a less welcome distinction: He was the only senior executive at a top Wall Street bank to disclose that he’d gotten Covid-19. He self-isolated and has recovered. Currently, less than 20% of the staff in Morgan Stanley’s New York headquarters is back in the office. “We did a lot of Zoom calls,” Gorman says, reflecting on the challenges of lockdown. “I did them from my home—people seeing you in casual clothes, sitting in your home office—and I think it gives them comfort to know that you’re not freaking out.”

—Sridhar Natarajan

BONG JOONHO

FILMMAKER

At the Oscars in February, his movie Parasite, a dark comedy exploring class differences in Seoul, became the first non- English film to win best picture, and Bong became the first South Korean to win best director.

Parasite smashed commercial expectations, taking in almost $260 million in global ticket sales against an $11 million budget, and Bong used the movie’s success to remind myopic American audiences that other countries produce great cinema, too. In October 2019, he told New York magazine that the Oscars were “not a big deal” and “very local,” and in his acceptance speech for best foreign-language film at the Golden Globes on Jan. 5, he said, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Bong’s 2003 crime movie, Memories of Murder, was rereleased in the U.S. and U.K. this fall, and he’s adapting the 2014 film Sea Fog, which he co-wrote and produced, into a new movie project.

Kelly Gilblom

STRIVE MASIYIWA

CHAIRMAN AND FOUNDER, ECONET WIRELESS INTERNATIONAL LTD.

JOHANNESBURG His foundation paid $10 million in cash and other assistance to more than 1,700 health-care workers in Zimbabwe to urge them not to strike over eroding wages.

Runaway inflation in Zimbabwe has rendered its currency almost worthless. With $8 billion in unpaid debt, the country can barely afford services for its citizens, and the deterioration is epitomized by the woeful state of the health-care system. Medicine shortages and recurring strikes over pay and working conditions were common even before the coronavirus pandemic. Masiyiwa, a billionaire who’s originally from outside of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, paid monthly stipends from ZW$5,000 to ZW$10,000 ($62 to $124) to health-care workers to stay on the job. When Covid-19 hit, he offered an additional ZW$500 a day for anyone hospitalized by the virus and $ZW50,000 for permanent disability or death. His program ran through July, and since its expiration some workers have gone back on strike.

Masiyiwa, whose telecommunications company operates in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, has had his run-ins with Zimbabwe’s government, which he sees as pursuing policies detrimental to his wireless business. More than 90% of the country’s commerce is conducted via mobile-money transactions because of cash shortages. The government accuses Econet, which dominates the industry, of fueling black-market currency trading and money laundering, accusations the company denies. Masiyiwa sees his donations as giving back to his home country, even though he lives in self-imposed exile, mostly in Johannesburg and London.

Godfrey Marawanyika

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA

MANAGING DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the IMF has increased lending to member nations by 50%, to $270 billion.

Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist with a doctorate from the country’s Karl Marx Higher Institute of Economics (now the University of National and World Economy), is the first IMF chief from an emerging market. Through grants, the fund has helped 29 of the poorest member nations cover their IMF loan payments, and Georgieva is raising money from rich nations for more relief. In March she scored a victory when the U.S. Congress agreed to an expansion of the IMF’s lending capacity (though in April, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin blocked her plan to bolster members’ access to currency reserves).

This year, Georgieva has hired two female department heads to replace men, raising the women’s share to 40%— eight of 20. The IMF has also started a YouTube channel with videos on topics such as how to compile macroeconomic statistics, improve central bank law, and use fintech to contribute to financial inclusion.

—Peter Coy

SWIZZ BEATZ & TIMBALAND

COCREATORS, VERZUZ

More than 20 million people have watched Verzuz performances on Instagram Live since they started in March.

Music producer Timbaland was at home drinking wine when he decided to entice (perhaps taunt) his producer friend Swizz Beatz. He posted three videos of himself making music—or playing it while talking about how great it made him feel—to his Instagram feed and tagged his buddy.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the two had discussed going on tour, playing hits from their catalogs, and bringing on collaborators at each stop. Now that Covid-19 had stranded them at home, Timbaland wanted to revive the idea as a virtual concert: “I said, ‘I think we should just do it now.’ ”

An hour later, the two were live on Instagram, taking turns playing clips of songs they’d produced for big-name artists such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Missy Elliott. At the peak of their performance, about 20,000 people watched Timbaland prance around his studio while Swizz played tunes on his car stereo. “No promo, no nothing. We just popped up on Live and went for about five hours,” Swizz says.

Within days, the stream had morphed into something they called Verzuz—part performance, part competition, part history lesson, with each one- to a three-hour-long episode featuring two legends playing their hits and telling stories. (There’s no official winner, but Instagram Live lets viewers comment in real-time.) At first, Swizz and Timbaland recruited fellow producers before expanding to recording artists such as neo-soul singer-songwriters Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. There have been hiccups: R&B producers Teddy Riley and Babyface had some technical issues, so the stream was cut short and delayed a day. “The numbers tripled” when people tuned in for the second try, Swizz says. “People seeing us fight and keep it moving and not fold under pressure—that was a very important Verzuz for us.”

The audience grew this summer when the duo signed up pairs including rappers Snoop Dogg and DMX and soul singers Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. An Aug. 31 stream featuring Brandy and Monica, rival R&B singers in the late 1990s, peaked at 1.2 million viewers—a number on par with what some of the most-watched U.S. cable networks attract in prime time.

The show’s popularity has been a boon for Instagram Live, a feature of the social network that hadn’t generated much enthusiasm in the music world before the pandemic. Prior to quarantine, musicians generally used it to offer up a behind-the-scenes look at a tour or recording session. The first one to harness Live’s power was D-Nice, a DJ in Los Angeles who hosted marathon sets early on in the lockdown that lured Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and Mark Zuckerberg to his feed. Verzuz took the idea to the next level, giving music fans something closer to a concert experience. “They’ve changed the way streaming happens,” says Fadia Kader, who works on music partnerships for Instagram.

Swizz and Timbaland say they’ve had offers to give Verzuz a new home on TV or on streaming services, but they decided to stay with Instagram and its 1 billion users. (Fans who want to watch on TV can do so through Apple Music; Instagram can only be used on a phone, computer, or tablet.) Liquor brand Cîroc has sponsored the show in a multimillion-dollar deal. Artists who endorse sponsors with a shoutout during the broadcast get a cut of the proceeds, and though Instagram doesn’t allow ads during streams, that could change, Kader says. Almost every musician who’s appeared on Verzuz has seen a major spike in plays on streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music—what Swizz calls the “Verzuz effect.”

The second season started on Nov. 19, with rappers Gucci Mane and Jeezy. “We’re still hands-on,” Swizz says. “We don’t have a big, huge staff. It’s very rare we speak to managers. We speak to the artists, and then management comes in.” And sometimes even two of the most successful producers of this century get a no, such as when 50 Cent declined to perform. “Some people will say, ‘I ain’t doing it,’ ” Timbaland says. “We don’t force nobody.”

Lucas Shaw

ABDALLA HAMDOK

PRIME MINISTER, SUDAN

The former United Nations economist implemented a half-dozen major new policies this summer, maybe the boldest reforms in the Muslim world in a century.

Sudan’s government, an alliance of civilian and military leaders formed after a popular uprising toppled dictator Omar al-Bashir, is meant to be a stopgap. But even with elections expected in 2022, Hamdok has embarked on an audacious socio-political reform program—perhaps surprising since he was a relatively obscure technocrat before his elevation to the premiership, recently serving in a senior UN post.

In July, Hamdok abolished laws against apostasy, ended punishment by flogging, criminalized female genital mutilation, scrapped rules requiring women to get a permit from a male family member to travel with their children, and loosened prohibitions on the sale and consumption of alcohol. Perhaps most remarkable of all, his government has pledged to separate religion from the state, effectively ending 30 years of Islamic rule. The last global Muslim leader to attempt such a transformation was Kemal Ataturk, who turned Turkey into a secular republic in the 1920s.

Still, Sudan remains desperately poor, its moribund economy made even more so by the coronavirus pandemic. Donors and investors could grow less wary, though, now that the Trump administration has removed the country from the U.S. Department of State’s list of sponsors of terrorism, an anachronous legacy of the al-Bashir era.

Bobby Ghosh

REED HASTINGS

CO-CEO, NETFLIX INC.

LOS GATOS, CALIF. Netflix saw the fastest growth in its 23-year history when it added 28 million subscribers in the first nine months of 2020.

This was supposed to be a tough year for Netflix. Apple, Comcast, Disney, and HBO all started services to compete with the $212 billion company. The streaming wars, the thinking went, would distract or siphon off Netflix customers. But by the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, Netflix had stockpiled a mountain of binge-worthy content for people stuck at home with no theaters to go to and little new programming from traditional networks. And because part of Hastings’s strategy is to release new TV seasons all at once—not to mention that Netflix spends more than $17 billion annually on programming—it overwhelmed its competitors with variety and volume.

At a time when challengers couldn’t produce new entertainment, the streaming service released popular docuseries (Tiger King), reality shows (Love Is Blind), movies (The Old Guard), and foreign-language programs (Dark), making it seem as if current events hadn’t affected the company at all. Although record unemployment has forced people to rethink their spending, they’ve been more inclined to cut the cord than to stop paying for Netflix, which will surpass 200 million customers by yearend.

Lucas Shaw

CELESTE BARBER

COMEDIAN

The Facebook fundraiser she started in early January brought in more than A$51 million ($37 million) for Australian wildfire relief, the largest charity drive in the platform’s history.

As Australia’s federal and state governments cobbled together a relief package following blazes that destroyed an area the size of New York state, Barber promoted her fundraising appeal on social media. On Instagram, where she has more than 7 million followers, she’s best known for reenacting posts in a split-screen style that contrasts the elegance of celebrities and influencers with her own awkwardness: Kendall Jenner calmly and coolly navigating her way down a rocky hill vs. Barber’s eye-popping, panicked plummet; singer Dua Lipa posing in a one-piece bathing suit on an exercise bike vs. Barber plopped down on a road bike that’s missing a back wheel.

Barber’s fame helped buoy donations to support fire services in the southeastern state of New South Wales, where much of the devastation occurred, as monthslong fires razed thousands of homes and killed dozens of people as well as an estimated 1 billion animals. On Jan. 14, as donations were rolling in, Barber commented on an Instagram post that she was “feeling the love.” To properly capture her joy, she and her husband re-created a viral video of a supermodel dancing poolside with an Italian millionaire.

Rebecca Jones

LETITIA JAMES

NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

James has filed more than 35 lawsuits against the Trump administration this year, leading the charge against its attempts to disenfranchise minorities and other voters.

The Brooklyn-bred lawyer, who in 2018 became the first Black American and the first woman elected to the role for the state, had a busy summer. In September, James led a group of local governments that wanted to stop the 2020 census from ending early after the administration sought to move up the deadline for collecting results. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the coalition, which civil rights advocates say will lead to an undercounting of urban minorities.) Earlier, in August, she alleged fraud and corruption at the National Rifle Association— chartered in New York in 1871— claiming that members used funds for private jets and family trips; the NRA countersued, saying James had misused her office for political purposes.

That same month she fought back against attempts to hobble the U.S. Postal Service before a rush of pandemic-induced mail-in ballots, heading a suit against Trump and his postmaster general that aimed, in part, to stop the dismantling of mail-sorting machines. In October a federal judge ordered the Postal Service to restore the machines at any facilities that couldn’t process first-class election mail quickly enough.

Cristin Flanagan

ALAN HOWARD

CO-FOUNDER, BREVAN HOWARD ASSET MANAGEMENT

LONDON As the coronavirus pandemic sent global markets into a tailspin, the hedge fund manager traded his way to a 100% gain in investor cash, by far the best among peers.

Traders like Howard place bets on macro trends, reading which way economies will turn and then wagering on everything from interest rates to stocks to currencies. His specialty is rates trading using borrowed money, which allows him to take bigger risks to achieve outsize returns.

That’s about all that’s known about the highly secretive dealings of the Brevan Howard AH Master Fund—other than that the “AH” are Howard’s initials. It’s not clear precisely what moves he made to double investor cash in the first four months of 2020, when peers returned a little less than 3% on average, according to Bloomberg’s index of macro hedge funds, of which the AH Master Fund is not part. It’s also unclear how his fund has performed since April. (One clue: Brevan Howard’s main fund, which invests in the AH Master Fund, was up almost 23% through October.) But this fall he began raising $500 million based on his success earlier this year.

The moneymaking spree has marked one of the most profitable phases of Howard’s career since he co-founded his company almost two decades ago, a dramatic change in fortunes after years of mediocre returns.

Nishant Kumar

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA

OPPOSITION LEADER

She’s spent four months in exile since her unlikely campaign turned into the biggest challenge ever to longtime dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Until last spring, Tsikhanouskaya led the life of a typical Belorussian homemaker, focused largely on caring for her two children and coping with the inevitable challenges of getting by in a post-Soviet republic where the average monthly salary is about $500. But for the past six months, she’s spent her days speaking at international conferences, chatting with the likes of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, and spearheading the biggest democratic movement in the history of the troubled country sandwiched between Poland and Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya became the face of democracy in Belarus almost by accident. In May police detained her husband, Siarhei, a political blogger, as he prepared to challenge Lukashenko for the presidency. After the arrest, Tsikhanouskaya, 38, decided to run in Siarhei’s place and began gathering the signatures needed to register her candidacy. The former English teacher soon received telephone threats, prompting her to send her children abroad—but steeling her resolve to run. “People began calling me, telling me, ‘So many people were collecting these signatures, standing up for you,’ ” Tsikhanouskaya says via Zoom in lightly accented English. “I realized that I can’t betray those hopes.”

Lukashenko, who has routinely jailed political opponents and deployed security forces to maintain his grip on power for 26 years, barred most opposition figures from running. But in July the authorities accepted the applications of Tsikhanouskaya and three nominally independent candidates with no prospect of winning. As the opposition united behind Tsikhanouskaya, she began drawing huge crowds, culminating in a rally on July 30 attended by some 60,000 people—spooking authorities into barring her from holding any further mass campaign events.

Tsikhanouskaya’s platform was simple: She promised to release political prisoners and to step down within six months after overseeing free elections. Although her message clearly resonated, when the results of the Aug. 9 election were tallied, Lukashenko claimed to have received 80% of the votes in a contest the U.S. and the European Union say was neither free nor fair.

Lukashenko’s response triggered unprecedented demonstrations, with crowds swelling to more than 100,000 but remaining mostly peaceful in the face of brutal police crackdowns, mass arrests, and allegations that detained activists were being tortured. When Tsikhanouskaya filed a fraud complaint with the election commission on the day after the vote, she was detained for seven hours in the capital, Minsk. That night she fled to neighboring Lithuania, where her children had been living with friends since June.

Becoming a public figure wasn’t easy. Tsikhanouskaya recalls fearing she would forget what she intended to say during early interviews and speeches. But with time she became energized by the crowds. “I just started to talk from my heart,” she says. She rejects the notion that she heads the opposition in Belarus, saying the movement is self-organizing. More important, she insists that the people who speak out against Lukashenko’s tactics aren’t the opposition at all: “We are the majority.”

Key to Tsikhanouskaya’s appeal, says Artyom Shraibman, founder of political consulting firm Sense Analytics in Minsk, is that she’s a “reluctant politician.” Other than achieving her goal of new elections, “she doesn’t want any power,” says Shraibman, who runs a popular Belarus politics blog on the Telegram messaging service, which is difficult for authorities to block. “She’s demonstrated a level of courage no male politician has shown.”

Tsikhanouskaya’s days in exile are filled by strategy meetings with groups back in Belarus—where she yearns to return, though she says she can’t while Lukashenko remains in power. She says she has few regrets about her current position, beyond the toll it’s taken on her family; with Siarhei in a Minsk jail, the couple’s daughter “cries every evening, ‘I want my dad’ ”—which keeps Tsikhanouskaya focused on doing the work that will let her reunite the family back home. “I don’t have a right to cry, to panic,” she says. “I just maintain a cold mind and do what I have to do.”

Tony Halpin

LINDA KIRKPATRICK

PRESIDENT, U.S. ISSUERS, MASTERCARD INC.

PURCHASE, N.Y. Consumers are now using tap-to-pay 40% of the time in-store, up from only 30% a year ago, according to Mastercard, an increase of billions of transactions.

It’s not easy to change the daily habits of consumers. But it happened recently with credit cards—twice. After years of swiping, American shoppers got used to dipping their cards at checkout. And then this spring, with the pandemic raging and the thought of touching anything suddenly scary, they changed again and started tapping.

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3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

China Comes For Its Tech Giants

The Chinese government’s crackdown on the country’s largest technology companies has raised fears that the industry could be paralyzed or cast into disarray as the economy enters a delicate moment. But one contingent within the tech sector is privately cheering on a broad set of anti-monopoly edicts: startups and their investors.

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Charging DUES, Making DO

Phil and Erin Lockwood never imagined their family would be traveling more during the coronavirus pandemic. But since joining the vacation club Inspirato last September, the parents of three have swapped one annual trip to a Disney theme park for villa rentals in Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica.

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Back-to-Work Blues?

Tech boomed during the pandemic. It may not last

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

ASIA'S BATTERY GIANTS GO GLOBAL

Leaders of the electric-car era are moving to cement their dominance

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Test All of Minnesota? You Betcha

Minnesota is setting an example for other states and the federal government. If anyone is interested

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 18, 2021
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In an unexpected move, Apple announced in late October that it would launch Apple Music TV, a new 24-hour curated live stream of chart-topping music videos, designed to encourage more consumers to subscribe to its Apple TV+ streaming service.

6 mins read
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