BlackRock is the world’s largest asset management company, overseeing $6.3 trillion worth of investments. Since 2012, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, has sent out an annual letter to CEOs of the companies that BlackRock invests in on behalf of its clients.
In early 2018, the sixth of these letters was published, titled A Sense of Purpose. This letter generated significantly more reaction than those before it, liked over 8,000 times on LinkedIn and the subject of countless news articles.
In 2019, the most recent and highly anticipated letter again focused on purpose, now highlighting “the inextricable link between purpose and profits” and serving as a call to action for companies to lead on societal issues.
BlackRock’s annual CEO letters have become a rallying cry for responsible long-term business strategy. This makes them useful as a proxy for monitoring the overall discourse of the private sector on its role in society.
We decided to analyse the content and impact of his annual letter to help us better understand the shifting expectations for business and the extent to which purpose, sustainability and stakeholder engagement are becoming more mainstream aspects of management.
In the analysis presented here, we trace the emergence and evolution of central themes in the letters from 2012 to 2019. We present thematic and content analysis of the letters across each year. Our analysis tracks the changing outlook on corporate social responsibility from a fiduciary imperative for clients to a societal obligation.