Why do you go to the World Economic Forum?
I have been attending and speaking at Davos for 10 years. Given my role as Chairman of Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, I have a unique perspective on the issues and concerns that keep many of the world?s top CEO?s awake at night. The World Economic Forum has recognized this and has often asked me to moderate or participate in the opening sessions on business, or to address a broad topic that affects many companies and their leaders. For instance this year I participated in a panel on how companies should think about leading out of a downturn. While my co-panelists Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP, Carlos Ghosn CEO of Nissan Motors and Indra Nooyi, President of Pepsico Inc., all shared challenges they personally faced in their roles, I shared a broader perspective built not only from my experience but from the collective research and analysis of my Bain colleagues who had analyzed what made companies successful who had not just survived earlier downturns, but had come out of it in a stronger competitive position than then went into it. It is also an opportunity to meet and learn from some of the best CEO?s in the world with whom I do not have regular direct contact.
What did you strike most at this year's Davos?
What was most striking at this year?s annual meeting in Davos was the level of anxiety shared by leaders of both government and business. This was perhaps not surprising. I think that anyone would agree, that times are hard. What we confront today is no mere downturn. With the addition of corporate and banking scandals, governance and reporting upheavals and now the specter of war, we have something else entirely. Ongoing uncertainty. All that feels certain right now is that we will have more of it. And that was very evident in the discussions in Davos.
What we face in business today is a chronic condition. Chronic uncertainty. The consequences of not recognizing this condition for what it is - and taking action - can be devastating. Many of the CEOs I talk to, are beginning to recognize this. And they are beginning to ask a larger question: "How do you lead in times of chronic uncertainty?"
I believe that responding to chronic uncertainty with a strategy of "just wait and see" is ill advised. Time will reduce, not increase, your options and your degrees of freedom to move. I believe that being indecisive, waiting and seeing,- "Waiting for a sign",- only works for holy men and prophets. However uncertain the circumstances might look; the most dangerous move -- is no move at all.
Of all the years I have been going to Davos, the concern shared about the near term future was the gloomiest I have ever seen it.
Lessons learnt Davos is also about new insights and ideas. What did you learn at this year's Davos?
Perhaps the most important lesson and one of the brighter spots in Davos this year was the way the organizers had put together a dialogue between business leaders and NGO?s that in the past tended to be adversarial. As a result some really great work was done on important topics such as Aids, where a combination of NGO?s, business people and public figures have started to put together an approach to address them.