Larry Fink Is ‘Worried’ About Losing BlackRock’s Culture in the Pandemic

“Cultures were not meant to be done in a remote fashion,” the BlackRock CEO says.

Larry Fink (Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

Larry Fink

(Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

Keeping BlackRock’s culture intact is likely the most difficult challenge for the world’s largest asset manager in the Covid-19 pandemic, according to its founder and chief executive officer Larry Fink.

“Cultures were not meant to be done in a remote fashion,” Fink said Thursday at the virtual Morningstar Investment Conference. “I really am worried about this whole idea of culture and how long you can keep that culture together.”

BlackRock, which manages about $7 trillion of assets globally, has hired about 400 young people since July, according to Fink. “They’ve never been to the office yet,” he said. “Are they going to have the same experience as the young analysts who joined us five years ago where they were physically there?”

While Fink sees New York-based BlackRock performing well operationally since the outbreak of Covid-19 sent cities into lockdown, he said he’s unsure how well the firm is keeping its cultural fabric intact globally. “Culture is what binds and unifies as an organization,” he said, explaining that it “permeates with all your employees” as they connect with clients.

BlackRock’s workforce is being transformed by the pandemic and probably won’t ever be “100 percent back in office,” according to Fink. “I actually believe maybe 60 or 70 percent — and that’s a rotation of people,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ll ever have a full, you know, cadre of people in office.”

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After the world learned this year that many jobs may be done remotely using technology, some workers may prefer avoiding long, daily commutes to the office even after a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available, according to Fink. Meanwhile, BlackRock’s three major centers in San Francisco, New York, and London are dependent on public transportation — and “a great fear” remains in each of those cities about using it, he said.

About 30 percent of BlackRock’s “leading executives” have been at the office in the past week, according to Fink. Beginning next week, the CEO said he will be back in the office “with more consistency,” or at least three days a week.

“We are trying to create some form of normalcy,” Fink said. He acknowledged a “a huge reluctance” among BlackRock employees to return to the office due to health fears or concerns tied to their children. “But we’re going to give it a try,” he said, noting that employees will be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. “We’re going to do it smartly and safely.”