The World of the 21st Century CEO by John Bell
Yesterday I identified the successful 21st century CEO as someone who is constantly thinking about the future. History has shown us that the best performers were those who made the right strategic moves to create a future in which their company would enjoy significant competitive advantage. Their strong sense of vision and belief in proactivity helped them get to the future first. Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Larry Page are excellent examples.
I also made the point that 21st century CEOs will not allow the changing business, social, economic or technological environments to negatively impact the performance of their enterprise. These leaders will find a way to drive through the challenges with strategies that are right for their business and their customers. That is not to say they should take the changing environment lightly. Some of the changes I am prophesizing may initially appear demanding; yet, they offer opportunity.
At this point I will gaze into my crystal ball and prophesize the environments in which 21st century CEOs will operate, a decade from now.
1. Business will be more complex. Computers were supposed to make things easier for us. Partly true; they also supplied a plethora of information. I know from my marketing background that the human brain can absorb only so much. Today’s web offers a bottomless pit of data. If you were to read every Wikipedia post it would take you 123 years to finish. Imagine what lies 10 years ahead.
2. CEOs will be time-starved. You are likely thinking they are already time-starved. It’s going to get worse, even with advances in communications technology. Complexity, changing markets and shareholder pressures will escalate. To meet growth goals, companies will have to sell more to the same customers and find a heap of new customers in foreign lands; China will be opportunity number one. Unfortunately, the hours in the day will remain at 24.
3. Forward integration will be a driving force. Today, Apple has only 361 of its own stores, worldwide. Guess where that number is headed? Dinosaur companies the likes of Campbell’s Soup who have been plagued by stagnation will have to break their paradigm with daring forward integration initiatives such as retail soup kitchens. Web opportunities will expand one-to-one marketing, negating middle-men.
4. People will demand balanced lives. Businesses that help them achieve a balance through relevant products and services will reap the commercial rewards. This quest for balance will also affect labor strategy.
Employers who seize the opportunity to satisfy employees’ needs will re-discover loyalty in the work force.
5. Corporate social responsibility will be a given. Failure to join the fight to save the planet will bring unbearable consumer backlash and excessive tax penalties. Great CEOs will lead the fight and their companies will stand out as model corporate citizens. Who better to be the custodian of the all-important corporate brand than the CEO?
6. Industry consolidation will turn on its end. Mega companies will be broken up into smaller pieces for a plethora of reasons, the most important being the need to regain strategic control, to find singularity of purpose and to reinvent the powerful concept of the specialist (versus the generalist).
7. Working from home will decline. Despite roadway congestion and the quest for balanced lives, working away from the office will fall to the power of teamwork in the best companies.
Face-to-face interaction will be an integral spoke in the wheel of competitive advantage. So will a flexible work week.
How leaders view environmental changes such as these often determine their future. CEOs who constantly whine about the new world are destined for failure. Others who are upbeat and keen to influence the future are the winners. Winners prioritize and exercise the principles of great leadership according to the unique needs and the conditions of the enterprise they lead. They are the leaders who will drive their companies to the future, first.
John Bell is a retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard, now part of Kraft. As a strategy consultant, he has counseled some of the globe’s most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies. A past contributor to Fortune magazine, he currently seeks a publisher for his first novel. John can be reached at his blog.
Photo courtesy of Whisper of Unremitting Demand