William Dunk is an international business consultant based in Chapel Hill. To learn more about William Dunk Partners, visit www.globalprovince.com Coming from the airport on the long ride into Indianapolis to see a couple of clients, we fell into conversation. Our cab driver was a winning sort of fellow, able to ask and talk about most anything, sparking laughter between the two of us. He challenged us to guess where he was from. “Southern Ohio,” we shot back, guessing correctly from his accent, syntax, attitude, and directness.
Then he went after our origins, trying to connect us up with some part of America. He drew a blank. “You know, you have one of those radio announcer sort of voices. From everywhere but nowhere in particular.” His response did not surprise: it had happened before. The sociologists would call us marginal, since we lack clear identification with a tribe, a geography, a slice of society. Nonetheless, the conversation put us in such good humor that we played hooky and went off to see the toy collection at a local museum. We had a lot of taxi rides like that in the 1980s.
Robert Theleen, leader of ChinaVest, a venture capital firm founded in Hong Kong, but operating both in China and America, likes to tell us how he knows if he truly has a Chinese entrepreneur on his hands. He’ll ask his visitor how things are at home. After a pause of some moments, the true entrepreneur will reply, “Which home?” The wandering conqueror has houses in Silicon Valley, Shanghai, Frankfurt, and the British Virgins and is equally at home and equally alienated everywhere. He knows no borders, only time zones.
The 21st leap
This multination man has become terribly relevant now at the start of the 21st century. In our Annual Report on Annual Reports 2003, now underway, we will discuss the sudden rush of the world’s major companies to jump swiftly into radical new strategies which will demand leaders cut from entirely different pieces of cloth. Even last year, companies were still changing out CEOs but asking the new hires to use the same tired old tactics companies have employed for the last 20 years: insistent cost-cutting, often right into the bone; beefed up support for their major brands; irrational slashing of inventories; imprudent squeezing of suppliers, etc. Now, finally, slash-and-burn is no longer working, and we’re at the opening page of an entirely new chapter in business. New global strategies are on the way. It’s a whole new ballgame.
The million-dollar question is who can implement them. Yesterday’s fellows, whatever their B-school credentials, are really not up to the tasks. They simply do not comprehend the new world we have entered. Unless they are cosmopolitan, cross-border personalities, they don’t have an inkling, for instance, that the critical business knowledge on which they depend is very widely diffused throughout the world, no longer confined to five or six world hubs as in the 20th century. Is this what computer jockeys mean by distributed intelligence?
The answers lie elsewhere and everywhere
Even short-term fixes for business enterprises depend on global finesse. We advise one mid-size manufacturing company whose turnaround chairman has served in over 41 countries during his long business career. Thank goodness, because critical financings have come from Scotland, mainland China, and Australia. Vital new customers have come from France, Japan, South Africa, and Germany. New talent has come in from the 4 corners of the globe. In other words, you have to have a global rolodex these days if you are going to deal with the shortfalls in this economy or that.
Likewise, it has taken a Carlos Ghosn of Middle Eastern derivation, brought up in Brazil, working for more than one French company, exposed to the ways of the U.S., to turn Titanic Nissan completely around and make it a high profit global automobile leader. Ingrown Japan needed this commanding external catalyst to recast its fallen giant. It could use some of the same sort of people in its government, which is floundering amidst gridlock.
We have argued here that leaders worth their salt will have to have the breadth to draw on resources from several nations. They contribute value because they are not fastened on 4 or 5 boilerplate solutions to everything. As importantly, we think, their global personalities can capture the big picture and focus on big problems.
In this vein, please look at Dunk’s Dictum 22, “Don’t Worry about the Copperheads; the Big Bear Will Get You First” (which you will find at the Global Province). Much of the time in business and government, we simply attend to the wrong things, looking for snakes in the grass, when it’s the bears we should be watching for. Consultants refer to this as “getting caught in the weeds.” At this point in history, you need to be global if you are not going to be chewed up by small matters. You may draw on a 1,000 sources but you still must focus on one Big Idea that has a worldly look to it.
The Sunday New York Times Magazine (June 8, 2003, pp. 72-76) looked at New York University’s attempt to become a world-class institution under its new president, John Sexton. It’s had this opportunity many times, but never seized the day. Signally, he is trying to jumpstart the place by beefing up the economics department, having recently hired a West Coast star named Thomas Sargent.
On the one hand, Sargent does not really have the global credentials that would ordinarily put us on his trail. On the other, this prolific economist has his feet firmly planted in macroeconomics, and his new thinking is said to have made policy makers rethink which economic levers should be pulled in more than one economy around the world. Broadly, at least, he is on the right problem (macro fishing), since economic policy is clearly out of whack in virtually all the developed nations as hackneyed clichÃ©s have overwhelmed good forward thinking.
As far back as December 1989 in a publication called Region, from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, we learned of the clear split Sargent perceives between modern economic thinking (such as his own “rational expectations” theorizing) and the tired formulas in Washington. “Most economic policy in Washington,” Sargent said then, “shows little acquaintance with macroeconomics in general.”
That, in a nutshell, is what we are most looking for in global leaders on a variety of fronts…a clear understanding that the old models about how things worked just don’t speak to the brand new world of the 21st. We think that globally adept leaders clearly perceive the difference between the architecture of the world that was and the world that is becoming.
Global Province: www.globalprovince.com