Many countries and industry sectors are heading into the most turbulent environment seen in the last century. Three simultaneous industrial revolutions, dramatic increases in competition, huge fiscal imbalances, growing geopolitical tensions and a fractured social contract are combining to create a veritable smorgasbord of risk and uncertainty.
The hurricane is gathering force and stormy weather lies ahead.
Yet these same factors also imply that this will be the best possible environment for strong businesses to outperform. How can you make the most of this opportunity?
Read on >>
There is a cold bite in the air. It aches and alerts in equal measure. Despite the chill, it is a sunny day at altitude, and very quiet. My skis are perched on a ledge at the start of a run with a characteristically threatening name.
There are only two other adventurers in sight – one glides effortlessly in the distance having conquered today’s challenge. The other sits entangled in a mess part way down the hill. One, two, three - - - go.
Read on... for John Sheehy's take on five snowsports lessons for your business.
The world’s greatest economies have been built on international trade and investment. From the Greek and Roman Empires of ancient times to the Ottoman Empire and British Empire, global commerce has created huge wealth and unparalleled economic advantage. Meanwhile, every century or so, technological development and political decision-making have combined to catalyse significant shifts in the global balance of power. In the UK, this included the advent of steam power, mechanisation of manufacturing and adoption of steel-hulled ships for transport during Britain’s industrial revolution. Scientific and industrial innovation thus enabled the creation of the largest, richest and most powerful empire of all time.
Much of that technology and experience was exported to the United States, enabling the construction of the railroads and creation of the United States of America, creating the military, financial and technology powerhouse of the 20th century. The same is true for the world’s greatest commercial enterprises. The world’s first companies – the Dutch and British East India companies – were formed around 1600 to pursue international trade. At their peak, they both owned merchant navies with massively more ships than any country has today. Today, the five largest listed companies in the US are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, three of which are barely twenty years old. Importantly, all have built their success on innovative new technologies, and all five have businesses that are global in nature. Importantly, these five companies alone have accounted for a material part of overall stock-market growth in the US since 2000. Collectively, they have a market value of $3.5 trillion, more than the entire capitalisation of Australia’s Stock Exchange.
So, it was with great interest that I attended the Belt & Road Trade and Investment Forum in Beijing last week. Read on...
We have a leadership crisis in Australia and it is hurting our nation on the world stage. In our latest Pottinger Perspectives piece, Nigel Lake revisits the startling lack of ambition in certain corners of Australia’s public and private sectors.
Innovation, technology, digitisation, renewable energy and so on – the list of 2017 themes of disruption goes on, but the structural, political and personal inhibitors to Australia’s next era of growth – one that is not dependent on the old economy principles of our past successes – are standing in the way.
We invite Australia’s leaders to stand up from the crowded mass of the status quo and make bigger, bolder and braver decisions.
Most of the first wave of tech unicorns and start-up billionaires were B2C businesses. The likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook started out by solving problems for people, rather than for companies (even if the latter two ended up making most of their revenue from corporate customers).
As a result, the technology landscape has changed massively for consumers over the last 15 to 20 years – arguably much more so than it has the workplace. But dramatic changes are afoot. There is huge excitement about the potential of B2B tech companies to have a transformational impact on many aspects of business. Massive amounts of capital are flowing into a new breed of start-up, focused around the tech hubs that have emerged over the last couple of years. A host of new buzzwords has been created - FinTech, HealthTec, AgTech, MediaTech and the like. Early starters like Palantir, Tableau and WeWork have created huge value for their shareholders. And at the other end of the alphabet, Australia’s Atlassian demonstrated that this can be achieved without the need for much external capital at all.
But the barriers to B2B success are huge. Read on... for our take on the 12 pre-requisites for success as a would-be B2B unicorn.
A Consultant, Banker, Lawyer, Psychologist and Engineer walk into a bar…
“This feels like a joke!” says the Psychologist.
“Oh, don’t start all that again,” says the Banker. “We’re just here for a drink.”
The five experts take a seat at a round table in the middle of the room. Shadows are cast across their faces by the low-hanging light above them. The room is dimly lit and rain taps against the single-glazed window beside the door. It is a Tuesday.
“What will it be?” asks the Waiter, placing two menus on the table.
“Wine,” say the experts in unison.
They smirk. The Lawyer chuckles. “We might need a minute or two,” says the Engineer, fully aware of his own inexactitude. The Consultant picks up one of the menus and holds it firmly in two hands. “OK people – let’s start with the universe of opportunity and narrow things down from there.” “We’ll be here all night!” says the Banker, impatiently. “Just look at the prices and pick something good.” “Work with me on this – red, white or rosé?” asks the Consultant. A gust blows and the door of the bar rattles on its hinges. Read on...
Many of the world’s largest and most successful businesses have been built by mergers and acquisitions. From Sinopec to Facebook, Pfizer to Mizuho, Time Warner to Unilever, M&A has been a crucial contributor to the success of each business. But of course the reverse is also true – some of the world’s largest and most disastrous corporate failures have been brought about by ill-conceived, ill-timed, or poorly executed transactions.
Chroniclers are fond of reminding us that history repeats itself. This seems as true in the corporate world as anywhere else, no doubt because many of the lessons of recent events are so often ignored.
With the world economy already a decade into the low growth era, boards and executive teams are under more pressure than ever to buy their way out of the financial doldrums. Meanwhile the cost of debt is at 5000 year lows, and equity markets are not far from all time highs, making both transformational and catastrophic acquisitions easier than ever to finance. With these exceptionally difficult choices in mind, we’ve looked back over the last thirty years of M&A to identify the root causes of the more epic disasters. These are the Seven Deadly Sins of M&A: the warning signs that boards, CEOs and advisors can and must look out for in the year ahead. Read on...
‘It’s smaller than I thought’ -- a common phrase overheard in the presence of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre museum in Paris. A wildly undeserving observation, however, when thinking about the impact of the painting and its meticulous execution. Likewise with successful joint ventures.
Joint ventures can be an efficient way to add scale, avoid the risk of an outright acquisition, enter new markets and create new business relationships. But they also bring huge risks and uncertainties when undertaken in the dark. If would-be partners don’t think through strategy and execution carefully in advance, they are more likely to destroy value rather than create it. Small partnerships can create disproportionately large and painful problems, whilst large ones frequently fail to create much value at all. Happily, art provides a compelling framework for bringing light and clarity to the creation of joint ventures, as we explore below. Read on...
Will business ever match the rigour of science?
The notion of modern day science emerged in the early nineteenth century – William Whewell coined the term scientist in 1833. Before that, anyone investigating how the world worked was known as a “Natural Philosopher”. As a concept, “science” is much more than simply a word that represents technological development and invention. At its heart, it is a methodology for gathering the right data or facts, analysing them in a rigorous and reliable manner, and interpreting the findings and assessing their meaning. It is a process for evaluating theories about how parts of the universe really work, examining “proof”, and hence arriving at “truth”. Thus science is a philosophical paradigm. It is designed to support the development of thinking, increase in human understanding, and reliable decision-making.
Every half-decent scientist understands the scientific method, and the importance of how experiments are run, data is gathered and ideas are tested. Unscrupulous researchers may seek to bend the rules or bend the data, but the global community of peer reviewers who subscribe to the scientific method will scrutinise their data, their analysis and their findings. There is no “bend it like Beckham” when it comes establishing the veracity of a new theory. This process – this philosophical paradigm – has been responsible for the most dramatic period of technological advances and associated economic development that the world has ever seen. It is no co-incidence that the industrial revolution followed hard on the heels of the birth of the scientific method. Since the start of the industrial age, there has been technological revolution after revolution, with the pace of change accelerating decade by decade. As one example, the smart phone has changed the lives of billions of people in the seven short years since the iPhone was born. So it is nothing short of remarkable, then, that the same rigorous approach to gathering and evaluating data and reaching conclusions has never been brought to the world of business. Read on...
We’ve all heard of the concept of the bucket list – the things that you really want to do before you die. But have you ever thought of making a bucket list for your company? The cold hard truth is that very nearly all organisations will meet with the corporate undertakers in the end. As an example, the world’s first company, the Dutch East India company, was founded in 1602. At its peak, it employed nearly a million Europeans. Once richer and more powerful than most nations, it eventually died an ignominious death, appointing receivers in 1800. And at the other extreme, the large majority of small businesses and start-ups fail, the majority of them before their tenth birthday.
The last two decades have seen the spectacular overnight insolvencies of some of the largest businesses in the world. Some, such as Enron and Bear Stearns, were simply allowed to die a natural death. Others, including some of the largest American banks, were shepherded into the arms of larger, stronger organisations, allowing at least parts of the business to survive. In every case, those who were involved in the oversight and management of the companies in question will surely have had regrets as the new landlords or administrators walked in the door. And for many of the employees, the impact was profound, including lost jobs, lost investments, unexpected career changes and worse. Read on...
How many record labels rejected The Beatles? How many publishers said ’no’ to Harry Potter? If the next Facebook walked into the Facebook boardroom, would Mark Zuckerburg and colleagues invest in the new pretender? Or would they think that the company was simply too speculative, too different, too risky? Remember, eight years later the original Facebook listed at a $100 billion valuation, having added an average of over 300,000 monthly active users a day since its launch in 2004. Revolutionary successes are by definition easy to see in hindsight, but how do you spot a business that will define a generation before it becomes great?
Around the world, opportunities for dramatic and revolutionary change walk in and out of meeting rooms every day. Projects that offer a billion dollars of upside opportunity, with genuinely limited downside risks, are quietly rejected. Often the risks appear too great, or the vision is too far removed from where the perceived opportunities lie. Meanwhile, some CEOs and leadership teams are being criticised for a lack of boldness. With the benefit of hindsight, some business decisions that maintained the status quo have destroyed tens of billions of dollars of value. But, over the near term, evolution feels much safer than revolution. There are, of course, many ideas that succeeded in attracting investment, and then have slipped quietly into history without leaving any legacy. But how many truly great ideas or businesses or stories or bands have gone undiscovered, because they were too new, too different, or too far ahead of their time to resonate with those who had the opportunity to support them? The Fab Four, JK Rowling and Walt Disney all succeeded despite great scepticism, but this was down to a very small number of individuals who decided to back their judgement and try something completely new.
Read on here...
PS: Since this article was written, the Netpage technology was decommissioned, so you can no longer experience the excitement of print media that is truly interactive... For some of the lessons we've learned from this and the many other start-ups we've worked with, see "Entrepreneur or Gonetrepreneur"
Great companies stand out from the rest. They are leaders who drive the direction of entire industry sectors. They are more highly valued than their competitors. Their customers embrace them and loyally support them through thick and thin. And every management team wants their company to be seen as one of the greats.
But what does it really take to be a great company? The management books written on great companies refer to “competitive advantage”, “sources of differentiation” and “customer centricity.” The problem is that this jargon refers to ends, not means. Competitive advantage is not an ingredient of success, it is an outcome of the process of achieving market leadership. True leaders have several points of differentiation, but that description provides no insight into how a company goes about differentiating itself. Being “close to the customer” is a feature of great organisations, but what did they actually do to become customer centric?
Read on here... or watch the video below!