Day 2 of the World Business Forum was fabulous. The speakers were great, but the best part was sitting in the balcony tweeting and blogging with some of the most interesting people I’ve met in ages. It’s been a LONG time since I felt so at home. The dinner the night before really helped to get to know folks only to find out I follow them or tweet with their siblings all the time.
I have to admit I missed most of Dennis Nally‘s presentation. Dennis Nally was clear on communication highlighting the perils of pretentious prose. He made a big push to return to trust through transparency. He also set a focus on values. I have to share this theme rippled throughout the two-day event. I personally was glad to see it as a constant, recurring plug for honorable acts driven by integrity and commitment. Plus, having spent many spent many years in a consulting institution that really did focus on values, I particularly appreciated hearing it from the head of PWC because they have an opportunity to carry that message in to many organizations and be heard. Go forth and prosper!
Starting off the International Insights Panel Franscisco Gonzalez. He talked about “transformation renewal.” Think about. Claimed (like others) the major issue we face is moving from our short-term vision that drives business. He believes the financial crisis was caused by “short-termism.” He’s totally right. I felt the same when working with my investors. Being driven for my monthly targets (yes, monthly not quarterly – ouch!), I didn’t have time to even pace sales development and it undercut the pipeline. I hope someone is listening to Franscisco because this message is critical to business success in the future. He clearly articulated how his industry must change, and how he’s leading the way. Keep an eye on this guy. He described his business demonstrating what others (like Kevin Roberts from Day 1) advocated.
Peter Voser of Royal Dutch Shell was next. He added a wonderful outside perspective on what’s happening here in the U.S. I almost had a heart attack when he said “U.S. has a powerful contribution to make on the world stage. Many nations are paying close attention to what happens in Congress.” Guess that shows my faith in Congress. I’m not sure we have the leadership necessary to drive the world, with China, to an effective level of globalization that is already here. He challenges the U.S. to take a lead and set the world on the path to sustainable energy future. Again, I’m afraid. Very afraid our leaders are not U.S.-focused (as often accused), rather so vote-focused (which is just down right selfish) that nothing will happen.
One pleasant surprise of the day was Morris Chang, founding chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). He exudes experience and polish. He’s been in the semiconductor business 54 years and witnessed 8-10 downturn cycles. He believes this recent crisis was the second most severe claiming the 2000-2001 Internet bubble pop was much bigger. Kudos to TSMC for spending 10% more in R&D this year. He believes America has the best technical universities in the world, which raises the question how many of these students are Americans and how many stay. Do we train then drain?
Lucky for us, Robert Agnelli from Vale, a global diversified mining company, came to share the stage. This good looking individual with a charming personality filled the room with hope and optimism. He’s intoxicated with competition for natural resources and believes the impact on the land can (and should be) managed. Loves China’s demand and compliments their foresight to secure their supply of natural resources. He believes the most important thing is the quality of your assets. Viva la competition!
As if the day weren’t already a great one…there was Gary Hamel! The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Gary Hamel as the world’s most influential business thinker. And I totally see why. The richness of his insights, passion behind his call to action and clarity of “why now” can not be fully captured by me. The theme was clear. Management is a technology, a social technology, and it hasn’t changed for decades. Yet look at technology in general. It’s changing at such a rapid pace that business are forced to adapt quickly. The pace of change is hyper-critical. Yet our methods of getting organizations to deliver haven’t budged. Interesting premise. Management has stopped evolving and varies little from firm to firm! He claims it takes a financial meltdown to get a real shift in management – careful what you wish for, Gary! Read all his work. All his articles. Practice his concepts where you can. He’s really onto something and believes there is a path forward for those who want to find it.
Finally, a female executive graced the stage. Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft, talked about the success she’s had turning the company around. There wasn’t a whole lot of new material other than the discussions around Oreos, which made me hungry (great product!). After hearing about “noble causes” being a catalyst for the future and necessity in business (thanks, Kevin Roberts), I began to wonder where Kraft’s noble cause will be. They have a real opportunity to help families deal with the over sugaring and mass over-processed food problem that’s affecting weight in the U.S. Overall, I would have loved for her to stand up and show us how her innate abilities (as a woman) are natural and complimentary to the lessons of Lencioni and Hamel. After all, leading with values, collaboration, transparency and trust have often been attributed to common traits of female leaders. (Yes. We have all seen the other side of that female-leadership style, and that’s not the side I’m referring to.) I didn’t see evidence of it. She has mastered (or naturally possesses) an old-school (read: male dominated) focus on numbers and results – that is, maintaining value for investors. Yes, I understand that’s the way the world turns today, but it’s that linear, near-term focus that makes me worry about the future of U.S. companies. I hope she leads by example by creating the next series of case studies using some of the concepts discussed in this forum.
Finally…after being frisked, scanned and having dogs slobber into my bags, President Bill Clinton reached the stage. Now, I’ve seen Al Gore before in a pharmaceutical conference taking credit for AIDs drugs. I honestly didn’t have a great impression of that President/Vice President pair after that. In fact, I didn’t vote for Clinton. But, I have to admit he is amazing. He’s knowledgeable, gracious, and committed to making change “in the areas that he can affect.” Well, Mr. President, you can make a huge difference, and you should go for it. He’s very focused on bringing equality around the world and made a pretty good case why that’s important. He calls it recognizing our interdependence instead of globalization, largely an economic term. That’s honestly a good distinction to make. I now see my role more clearly as a member of this mass interdependency. Thank you, Mr. President.
About what about congress? Clinton said, “It’s like the cat. Once it sits on a hot stove, you’ll never see it sit on a cold one either!” I think I like the boiling frog story better. The story goes that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it jumps out. But when placed in slowly heated cold water, it doesn’t understand the danger, stays in the pot, and is therefore cooked to death. It’s a metaphor for the inability of folks to react to important changes that occur gradually. You decide. I still can’t reconcile what appears to be a need to acquire votes at all costs – picking the near-term need over the long-term potential.
We also saw Paul Krugman. I decided to reflect on all the economists (including David Rubenstein and Jeffrey Sachs from Day 1) in a separate blog. It was an interesting experience to say the least.
The end – part 2