What Are Management Gurus Talking about These Days?
Management is not a science set in stone. Renew or die – that’s the motto of any worthwhile guru who wants to remain one of the leaders. Companies and corporate managers are less and less interested in topics that are obviously far removed from the business world. “There has been a change in our economic cycle,” notes Antonio García, chief executive of Thinking Heads, the largest speaker agency in Spain. In his view, productivity is going to be a major focus for management gurus in 2008. After several years of uninterrupted growth, the real estate crisis has provided a wake-up call for the entire population. The experts say that when times are uncertain, sales are the first thing to suffer because consumers become more cautious again. García believes that talk will now focus on how to use creativity and innovation to attract new customers, especially in Europe and the U.S., where the liquidity crisis is battering several sectors, including banking and real estate.
Although some personalities from outside the corporate world still have appeal – notably, star athletes -- managers increasingly demand that groups of speakers “resemble their own kind” so they can serve as an inspiration for solving everyday problems. This trend originated in the United States. Businessmen will continue to be in high demand at seminars and conferences, as well as at summer university courses such as the Menendez Pelayo International University in Santander, and the Complutense University conference at the Escorial, near Madrid.
One such guru is Javier Fernández Aguado, author of 1,000 Pieces of Advice for the Entrepreneur, and professor of ‘business creation’ at the MBA program of IADE, the institute of corporate administration, and a division of the Autonomous University of Madrid. Fernández says that “the future of the Spanish economy and the overall European economy requires a higher level of involvement from very small, small and midsize companies. Governmental institutions are reaching their hiring limits because it is very hard for an economy like Spain’s to raise their budgets.” In his view, “Sustained and sustainable economic development must involve the growth of entrepreneurial initiatives. Among the many advantages of this trend is its adventurous style -- audacity, creativity and innovation are usually required for launching and maintaining a company, unlike other professional alternatives that are often less challenging.” That’s why companies, business schools and universities will make every effort to strengthen their courses and conferences about entrepreneurship, both this year and in the future.
Storytelling is another new trend in Spain. In this age of crisis, there is nothing like communicating an idea with enthusiasm, even if that idea is negative. “Companies need managers who are capable of telling stories, not just providing data,” notes García. In his opinion, China is in a state of decline. The giant of Asia, which has been the focus of so many conferences and magazine covers, has lost ground to other regions. Eastern Europe, one of the most attractive locations for the real estate sector, will occupy the spot held by China, argues García. In an environment of consolidation, “managers are in demand, not leaders.” Topics such as compensation and leadership are losing ground to such questions as how to improve productivity and the search for alternative ways to resolve a crisis (such as real estate), which are attracting more attention.
Overcoming the Crisis
Carlos Rodríguez Braun, professor of the history of economic thought at the Complutense University in Madrid, says “the quality of management will be put to the test in 2008 because we’ll need to solve the real estate crisis. That sector has known about that for some time already, and the general public became aware of it during 2007, when the long cycle of expansion exhausted itself and we began to see the negative impact of over-investment stimulated by expansive monetary policy. Managers will have to weather the storm, minimize their losses, find alternative investments, and be more attentive than ever to the opportunities that every crisis opens up. They’ll need to figure out which investments will be the success stories of tomorrow.”
Traditional ways of advertising seem to be a thing of the past. The gurus have raised the level of discourse, and have signaled some of the new trends, such as ethnic marketing (targeted at immigrants) and branding. One of the major trends of the future will be the ‘country brand.’ Fernando Cortiñas, international sales director of Telefónica Soluciones, believes that this topic is important because “a good country brand helps any country export its products and services, and vice versa. In economic terms, a strong country brand lowers the elasticity of the supply of its products. Many consumers are prepared to pay higher prices for products of strong brands that are produced in a limited volume. (For example, he cites Bordeaux and Champagne wines, two regional brands that have a very strong identity.)
Significantly, regional brands are something more frequently promoted by local politicians than demanded by the marketplace. In Spain, some regions are spending a lot more money to promote their own brands but very few of those regions wind up having their own identity.” According to Cortiñas, “in markets such as the United States, people are hard put to identify where Spain is (and often believe it is south of the Rio Grande), much less know where Catalonia or the Basque Country are located. Despite the efforts of some politicians, consumers identify those regions merely as ‘Spain.’ As a result, Spain has to continue investing in promoting its products with a strong brand of ‘Spain,’ which distinguishes it as a modern, innovative and advanced country that is also an agreeable place to relax and travel.”
More and more, the importance of the country brand in management is directly related to the greater importance of globalization within the corporation. As Juan Carlos Cubeiro, director of the Eurotalent consulting firm and professor of leadership and team building at the University of Deusto, notes, “the globalization of the Spanish corporation is one of the most important issues for our economy. Although large companies in such sectors as telecommunications, banking, energy, construction and real estate have invested a great deal in foreign countries – especially in Latin America and Europe – small and midsize companies, along with family-owned companies of various sizes, simply do not think about establishing themselves in other markets. This is something unpardonable in a globalized world. No matter what their size, companies need to have strategic plans that involve the globalization of their operations, something that offers them multiple competitive advantages.”
According to Cubeiro, “regional development agencies and many chambers of commerce are doing a great job organizing trade missions to the Far East, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Spanish companies that could improve their foreign presence must invest time and money in exporting their products; in creating subsidiaries and in linking up with foreign companies. Globalization is in itself an exciting project not only because it can mean an increase in your company’s size and revenues but because it brings in new customers, raises the level of innovation, stimulates innovative internal processes, and improves the training of professionals within your own company. Competitiveness is not something that is conferred on you; it’s something you win.”
Globalization hasn’t simply opened new frontiers to corporations. It has also provided them with access to talented new workers who can move from one country to another. As Manuel Pimental, former minister of labor and social affairs [in Spain], notes, “because of certain demographic factors and the aging of the population, our need for immigrants is not something temporary, required only in times of economic growth. It has become a structural deficit. We are going to need immigrants whatever happens in the economy, barring an unpredictable disaster. INE, Spain’s national institute of statistics, forecasts a major change in the country’s population: In 15 years, there will be more than four million new immigrants in our country, and the total population will reach 50 million. We have to prepare for that reality.” For that reason, companies will earmark a large portion of their resources in coming years to training their increasingly international staff, while searching for new talent outside their own geographic borders.
Knowledge-based companies will continue to play an outstanding role at conferences and in training sessions. Electronic commerce and e-democracy have lost momentum, giving way to Web 2.0, the arena where more and more innovations are being generated. The new social networks that this is creating online represent an authentic revolution in the traditional concepts of how corporations communicate with their stakeholders (shareholders, customers and suppliers). According to Javier Etxebeste, former European director of Search and Markets for Yahoo!, public debate will focus on three key areas: free software, free geographical information and [access to] Web services. “There is a lot of public information about geographical locations for GPS services that will continue to be under lock and key. However, the debate will become more and more intense. If the government doesn’t do it, it will be us citizens who liberate the public information, and create maps on the OpenStreetMap site, or post parking information on Tagzania.com.”
Etxebeste says that the digital revolution will also move toward online services for public administration. “The Web services model will bring the world of [Web] 2.0 into public administration. The easy reutilization of public statistics and data that is in the public domain is not only a right that all citizens should have, but is also an engine for the creation of value-added services. Look at the example of Everyblock, an American Web site that provides public-sector information on a creative map that is always changing. The most practical Web services model is Nestoria (a real estate search engine). However, although INI, Spain’s national institute of statistics, has more data, you have to wonder, where do they keep it?”
Some topics of discussion will never go out of style, such as the environment. Thinking Heads has found that climate change will continue to be a focal point for many debates. Although Al Gore and his documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, seem to have lost their power to attract a large audience, the environment is a topic that increasingly worries people so new gurus are cropping up, and the topic will acquire renewed momentum. Gore’s baton could be passed on to such candidates as Jean Michel Cousteau and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., notes Antonio García.
Sebastián Álvaro is the director of the Spanish TV program, “On the Edge of the Impossible,” which looks at high-risk, adventurous expeditions. Álvaro says he considers it “quite predictable that we will continue to have recurrent problems related to the environment, the countryside, and energy. Those problems will continue to be a concern in any democracy. Climate change has been the leading issue in the past, in good measure because of the documentary polemics of Al Gore. And it will continue to be so. The impact of climate change on Spain, according to current forecasts, will be more serious than in northern Europe, and it will create problems that must be urgently addressed: desertification, deforestation, water shortages, and rising sea levels. It’s surprising that during the [latest] election campaign [Spain held elections in March], there was barely any debate about the draining of water basins, or about nuclear power plants, or about the catastrophic change in store for the countryside from the construction of windmills and solar panels.” Álvaro believes that all of these questions “must be studied rigorously and in great depth because they have enormous significance.”
In coming months, he notes, “we’ll also be talking about rampant urbanization, which is doing away with the last remnants of the Spanish coastline from Gerona to Portugal and from Bayonne [in France] to Fuenterrabia [in the Basque Country]. [Real estate] speculation and the failure to protect natural locations are also destroying the Pyrenees mountains from Leon to the Sierra Nevada” in Spain. Other countries that are beginning to have a real estate boom, he adds, can start to suffer the same problem.