Around the world in 80 keynote speeches … insights from a year working with some incredible businesses

December 22, 2017

We live in the most exciting time … more change in the next 10 years, than in the last 250 years … connected technologies, augmented intelligence and unlimited imagination.

What could we do? What will you do?

I spend much of my time travelling, advising business leaders, and delivering keynotes, meeting the most fascinating companies and innovators, and helping to share the stories of their success too.

In 2017 my clients have ranged from BNP Paribas (rethinking how leaders add most value in the investment bank for a changing world) and Coty (innovating the world’s most disruptive portfolio of beauty brands), to Cartier (how to reinvent luxury in a digital world) and the CTBTO (a new strategy for the UN-supported body that seeks an end to nuclear weapons). I was privileged to host the Thinkers50 European Business Forum (the premier event for Europe’s business leaders) and to write for some of the world’s top magazines.

As director of Thinkers50, we have made huge steps forward in curating the world’s best management ideas for business people to embrace for innovation and growth, working with many of the world’s top business thinkers and leaders. I’ve also taken on a roles asprogram leader of IE Business School’s new flagship executive development, the Global Advanced Management Program, to be launched in 2018:

So is the world changing as fast and dramatically as the hype would have us believe?

This year I visited 45 different countries, spoke at over 80 different events, plus many more workshops and seminars, and took over 200 flights. From Athens to Warsaw, Miami to Boston, Johannesburg to Qatar. And most often to Madrid. Good for the frequent flyer points, but I don’t want to see anymore airports for a little while.

Actually I had some great vacations too – even with more flights!

So here are just a few of the places and companies that have inspired me in 2017:

  • Barcelona. Whilst the Catalans fought over their future, the city was the destination for many of the world’s top beauty brands. Coty has combined its French heritage with P&G’s global brand portfolio to create a new force, rethinking everything in beauty, from brands to business models.
  • Chicago. Driving north from O’Hare airport, along the shore of Lake Michigan, I was amazed by the number of healthcare companies, big and small. Atos Medical are a great example of the shift to innovative care solutions, service more than product, with direct patient relationships.
  • Dubai. Innovation is everywhere, preparing for World Expo 2020, and realising that a nation needs to do more than sell oil, and attract tourists. Emirates is now twice as big as any other airline, focusing on being a hub not a destination, and the Museum of the Future showcases where next.
  • Hamburg. Germany used to be the industrial powerhouse of Europe, but the engineering mindset that loves quality and precision is finding it hard to explore, innovate and change. BASF to Bayer, BMW to Bosch struggle to keep pace with a new generation of agile global players.
  • Guayaquil. The largest city in Ecuador is a hub of social innovation. Mashpi Lodge is a great example of responsible tourism, with sky bikes through the Andean cloud forest, or Nevada Roses with its closed-loop ecosystem, and the most amazing organic fair-trade chocolate by Pacari.
  • Odense. Denmark’s third largest city has reinvented itself, from remote land of HC Andersen’s children’s storytelling to Europe’s leading robotics hub. The city itself is being rebuilt as a smart, social metropolis, and has just attracted Facebook (and Thinkers50) to create a base here.
  • Pretoria. MMI is a merger of South Africa’s two largest insurance companies, Metropolitan and Momentum, bringing together very different organisational cultures and operating models. They are now focused on growth, and whilst the RSA economy is weak, Africa is growing rapidly.
  • Qingdao. One of China’s fast growing cities, and not too far from South Korea, it is the home of Haier (and also of Thinkers50 in China). Their “rendanheyi” (or win-win) business model has created over 200 micro businesses, retaining entrepreneurship whilst achieving scale.
  • Zurich. Iron deficiency is the world’s most common health condition, and particularly debilitates women. Working with a fantastic innovator in new treatments, Vifor Pharma, we were inspired by the Lucky Iron Fish Project in Vietnam – finding simple, human solutions to complex problems.

For more

From Amazon Go’s checkout-free shops to Magic Leap’s next generation virtual reality, L’Oreal’s intelligent hair brush to Norman Foster’s droneports that helps aid agencies reach people in need quicker, 2017 has been a year of incredible innovation. Here are a few more reminders:

  • Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency grew from $1000 to $20,000 over the 12 months of 2017. Whilst the bubble will eventually burst, the underlying blockchain technology is set to revolutionise businesses far beyond finance, democratising markets, and how consumers engage with brands
  • Boom Technology. Dubai Air Show saw the launch of a “new Concorde” aircraft, featuring the iconic delta wing and able to fly at Mach 2.2. In collaboration with Virgin, Boom is on schedule to launch next year, bringing back memories of when I could breakfast in LHR, and again in JFK.
  • Brewdog. The Scottish craft beer entrepreneurs became a $1 billion-valued “unicorn” in 2017, partly through consumer crowdfunding, aka “Equity for Punks”. Known for its provocative marketing, and strong brews, it opened a brewery in Ohio, and plans a DogHotel with bedside DogTap if thirsty.
  • GZ Media. Digital tech isn’t everything, as seen by the trend for vinyl records. The world’s largest manufacturer comes from the small Czech town of Lodenice, and produces 25 million records a year. Live Nation is the world’s most profitable music company, live events soaring in a digital world.
  • Hyperloop. 3 years ago Elon Musk launched his vacuum-tube 760 mph trains, and the first 1 mile test loop is now in place. By open-sourcing the technology, companies across the world are all working on perfect and implementing next generation travel. Tesla and SpaceX were just starters.
  • Jio Phone. Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani launched the Jio Phone in 2017, an (almost) free smartphone for the hundreds of millions of aspirational Indians who he serves, and a radical rethinking of the telecoms business model. Handset and calls are free, data comes at a small fee.
  • Stripe. 26 year old John Collison from Ireland is now the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. He co-founded the $9bn software system that enables companies around the world to more easily accept online payments. Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel is slightly wealthier, but two months older.

What I take from these insights and experiences is that the sensationalist phrase I started with – more change in the next 10 years, than last 250 – is very real, and happening right now. Across every sector, in emerging and developed markets, digital and analogue, companies big and small are shaking up our world.

They embrace the new technologies in smart ways, they focus on ways to make life better, and they are driven by leaders with the courage and foresight to look beyond today’s priorities and paradigms, to shape the future in their own visions.

For more

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