Business Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

At the World Economic Forum 2019 in Davos, top-ranking business representatives have underlined the importance of a development that has been described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Popularized by World Economic Forum founder, Klaus Schwab, the term basically means the change in economy and society related to digitalization. According to the economist, this is an ambivalent development:

"There have never been times of higher promises and dreads."

Klaus Schwab (2016) on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

On the topic of “Business Leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution,” presenter Roula Khalaf of Financial Times started the discussion with a question: How do business leaders measure up to their stakeholders in times of rapid technological and political change? IBM CEO Gini Rometty replied that it isn’t only about technology but also about society. In other words, a lack of trust in technology is as fundamental a crisis as the technological competency of people.

Open communication is key

In the following sequence, Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, added that companies need to communicate in a clear way, and should also show empathy for the needs of people. Companies should point out that technology is a driving force behind lots of positive developments. According to David S. Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, this situation also offers the chance to communicate in an authentic and value-based way.

In terms of employees’ lack of digital skills, the discussion showed that companies address this urgent issue in different ways. Education, however, seems to be an essential factor for all. IBM and SAP, for example, support various educational projects on a large scale. Bill McDermott underlined that the search for talent for his company has become a global undertaking.

Roula Khalaf then asked if focusing on short-term success is possibly a reason for people not to trust companies anymore. While the panel did not completely embrace this idea, they did support a focus on longer-term goals, especially in communication and strategic planning. In this context, the companies should also communicate their sustainability goals, underlined Hiroaki Nakanishi, Executive Chairman of Hitachi.

Confidence to master the challenge of Brexit

Presenter Khalaf then discussed the rise of political risk even in Western democracies. Consequently, Brexit was a particular topic for the circle. Hiroaki Nakanishi insisted to all parties involved: “I have no expectations, but please avoid a No Deal.” Nevertheless, business leaders were convinced that they would also overcome the crisis. David S. Taylor reaffirmed that his enterprise would prepare for all scenarios and added a commitment to his British customers. Gini Rometty showed confidence and mentioned that, in the course of history, companies had mastered political instability before, and they would also overcome these uncertain times.

Header-Photo: copyright World Economic Forum / Boris Baldinger.

Tilmann Schaal Tilmann Schaal has worked in digital communications for more than 15 years and has been in charge of Perspectives until May 2019 as well as The Classic Car Trust’s news blog from 2012 to 2018.


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