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How Should Companies Navigate the Future? Think Fast

November 3, 2015, 12:45 AM UTC

The world’s largest companies have to change—and fast.

That was the conclusion of the opening session at Fortune‘s Global Forum, which kicked off Monday in San Francisco. The CEOs of two long-standing companies, IBM and Wells Fargo, discussed their approach to today’s disruptive forces. (Hint: they embrace them even at the expense of short-term results.)

“Five years ago we didn’t have a mobile offering,” said John Stumpf, chief executive of Wells Fargo (WFC). “Today over half of our customers are mobile and it’s their No. 1 channel. Our industry hasn’t changed that much in the last 100 years.”

Ginni Rometty, the chief executive of IBM (IBM), also talked about how the pace of change has ramped up and the new businesses the technology giant has entered as a result: cloud, data and mobility. “The one thing different today is the speed of change,” said Rometty.

Another big technological shift is the move to building software products on a common underlying technology, or platform. That’s part of the reason IBM, under Rometty, has been busy partnering with other tech companies like Apple, Box and Twitter. Rometty has also made close to 40 acquisitions since she took over as CEO in 2012, all an effort to reinvigorate revenue growth at the 104-year-old company.

“You have to have the wisdom to know what must endure and what must change,” said Rometty.

But while the pace of technological change is faster than ever, transforming a company with close to 400,000 employees still takes a lot of time. Rometty’s rules for change? Don’t protect the past, don’t define yourself as a product and steward for the long term.

Both leaders acknowledged the challenges of keeping an eye to the long term. At Wells Fargo, a company founded more than 160 years ago, the metrics that create long term shareholder value—things like deeper customer relations—don’t always translate to the top line or bottom line, at least not immediately.

“There has to be that intellectual honesty and the capacity to suffer short term results,” said Stumpf. “If we didn’t make these bets we’d still have stage coaches on the freeway.”

For more about IBM and Wells Fargo, watch this Fortune video: