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Leadership2050; introduction, critical questions and your feedback


2050 is the critical date when we will know if we have successfully solved the existential risks that the world is now facing[i][ii][iii][iv]. It will also be the date when we will know if the current and future leaders of companies can find the solutions that the world needs to transcend these risks and turn them into opportunities. It is this challenge that this Newsletter will focus on by asking these following questions; who are these leaders that are addressing these challenges, what decisions are they making and what solutions are they bringing to the world? 

Between 1950 and 2000 there were outstanding achievements by many industries and companies. When we look at the Energy, Telecoms, IT, Consumer Products, Transportation and Healthcare industries as examples, we can see the incredible technological innovations, shareholder returns, products and services that they have contributed to the world over this period. 

However, as we move into the next period of history, 2000-2050, we see that many of these industries and companies are running out of road. Their technologies, products and services, business and organising models look increasingly unsustainable. The ideas upon which they have implicitly or explicitly based their business on are increasingly being challenged. 

In addition, much of the growth in this early period of history was dominated by the Europe-America axis. This next period already has many other parts of the world competing to provide the dominant technologies, business models and products and services that consumers will buy. 

In addition, many of the industries that were built in this period of history use the Earth’s resources in an unsustainable way. As their products and services are produced and consumed, the impact they have upon the environment is unsustainable from many perspectives. 

We have seen the positive impact that business has on many people’s lives. Lifting people out of poverty, giving them skills, capabilities and a sense of purpose are things that many companies have done well. However, as job security significantly diminishes and technology rapidly automates and eliminates many roles, what will the role of companies in society continue to be? How will they continue to attain their legitimacy?  

We have also seen that one of the consequences of major industries and economic power being concentrated on the Europe - America axis has caused the benefits described above largely being accrued by those with a European heritage. 

All of this has led to a sense that diversity and inclusion of people are not just the right ethical approach but are also good for business. The talents that are brought to bear on the challenges and opportunities a business encounters are enhanced by having a diverse group of employees and a culture that focuses on inclusion and high performance. In addition, how are truly global companies built, operated and led, particularly a pivot east and south from the Europe-America axis? When you look into the detail of todays so-called global companies, it’s something very few have done. There are paradoxes here that need to be transcended. Low-cost labour has been a major driver of economic growth, as have been the rise of the middle classes in emerging markets. However, high levels of unemployment and low paid jobs in regions in the US and Europe, and environmental damage from plastic and other waste have often been the consequences. Reconciling complex factors like these will be a critical leadership challenge between now and 2050 if extreme politics is to be avoided.  

The final challenge a business faces is how it uses technology. AI, Social Media and Automation are only beginning to show their potential to impact the lives of consumers. However, this impact is not without problems. Whether these technologies enable the building of civilised societies is one of the biggest challenges we face. It is not just decisions concerning how these technologies are designed and used that are a challenge. The successful implementation of them is not easy too. With technology being one of the major sources of solutions that address these challenges, leaders who know how to lead the digital transformation agenda will be increasingly important. 

All of the above has been underpinned by ideas that have been produced by scholars and thought leaders. Shareholder primacy, net present value of capital, business process re-engineering and the need for scale have all had a powerful effect in focusing the minds of those leading businesses, which in turn have led to the growth of their industries. 

This leads us to the focus of what the Leadership2050 Newsletter is about. Many leading thinkers have strongly suggested that the period of time between now and 2050 is critical to the future of our planet and the people who live on it. Business has the power to be the solution to the challenges we face and, if it continues to operate in the way much of it does, a major cause of the problems that will arise over the next few decades. 

If you are interested in this subject, please contribute to the discussions by providing your views on the following:

1.     Who are the leaders that you believe will address the challenges that the world is facing between now and 2050?

2.     How would you characterise them in terms of what they do, how they behave and what they deliver? 

3.     What are the decisions that they have taken that have impressed you?

4.     What are the organising mechanisms that are emerging (business and organisation models)?

5.     What solutions and technologies are emerging strongly and may one day be core to how we live? 

6.     What business and management ideas do you believe might shape success over this period? 

Therefore, this Newsletter will focus on leaders and the decisions that they make, models of organisation and business, and application of technology that will define a successful transition to 2050. It will also seek to understand more about the ideas that shape this journey. 

I look forward to being in touch with the second Newsletter in two weeks’ time. Until then, please take a look at the questions and let me know your thoughts. I hope that this will not just be a Newsletter but a conversation about what Leadership2050 looks like, illustrated with concrete examples of what is emerging today. 

Finally, you may be interested as to why I am publishing this newsletter? As a Senior Fellow of Management Practice at Said Business School (SBS), University of Oxford, my research and teaching focuses on how leaders transcend 21st century challenges such as disruptive technology change and the climate crisis. Also, how they create cultures that are diverse, inclusive, resilient and high performing, alongside the ongoing challenge of delivering profitable growth. At Oxford I direct the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme, and in this capacity work with leaders from many geographies, industries and governments. All of this has given me a deep understanding on how good leaders create value and bad leaders destroy it, as measured from multiple perspectives. One could argue that never before has this been so important on a global stage. Hence why I am undertaking this work.  

[i] https://www.oecd.org/g20/topics/energy-environment-green-growth/oecdenvironmentaloutlookto2050theconsequencesofinaction.htm

[ii] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/what-the-world-could-look-like-in-2050-if-we-do-everything-right-on-climate/

[iii] https://www.businessinsider.com/ways-the-world-will-be-terrifying-in-2050-2015-3?r=US&IR=T#millions-could-be-without-food-5

[iv] https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/the-economy/assets/world-in-2050-february-2015.pdf