New research released today sheds light on the big themes of this week’s Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. The research answers two central questions: What worries today’s business leaders most? And how are the most successful leaders responding?
The answer to question No. 1 is clear: What worries business leaders most is “the ‘Uber syndrome’ – where a competitor with a completely different business model enters your industry and flattens you,” says Judy Lemke, CIO of the Schneider trucking company, as quoted in a massive new study from IBM. You don’t often see research this comprehensive: It’s based on interviews, mostly in-person, with 5,247 C-suite executives in 70 countries worldwide. Their big concern, disruption, is what the Global Forum is largely about.
Consider that the surveyed global leaders believe industry convergence is the most important coming trend. “I can’t just understand my own industry. I must also understand retail, technology, entertainment, and more,” IBM senior v.p. Bridget van Kralingen tells me. The trend is on display everywhere here, starting with IBM’s own CEO, Ginni Rometty, whose company last week bought most of the Weather Company. To which many people responded: Huh? But it makes sense as industries converge, and IBM sells customers not just processing power and software but also valuable data they don’t have (weather affects almost every business) plus advanced analysis of it (from Watson cognitive computing). Selling high-value data and analysis to companies – that’s also a fast-growing business for General Electric, represented here by vice chairs John Rice and Beth Comstock, and for Siemens, whose CEO Joe Kaeser is here, and for Alphabet, whose CEO Larry Page was our dinner interviewee last night. Increasingly, your competitors, big and small – “behemoths and ankle biters,” as van Kralingen says – aren’t who they used to be.
Or what about Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, being interviewed on stage later today? He owns the data pipes into millions of American homes, plus a great deal of content going through those pipes via NBC and other networks, and he can sell you Internet connectivity as well as telephone service, and if you have a business he’ll sell you advertising. How many previously distinct industries is that? He’s now in competition with BT chief Gavin Patterson and maybe Cisco chairman John Chambers, both on stage yesterday, plus Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, both on stage today, not to mention Alphabet’s Page.
How do leaders win in this disorienting new world? The research identifies a small group of successful companies, which it calls torchbearers, that share several key traits. They decentralize decision-making more than market followers do; in a tumultuous environment, sending too many decisions to the top is hopelessly slow and disconnected. And most notable to me, they focus more on customers and less on competitors. That would seem an obviously wise practice; if you focus on your known competitors today, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. The survey respondents know this. This year, for the first time, most of them expect new competitors to be outsiders, while just two years ago they primarily thought new rivals would come from their own industry. They know the world has changed, yet most companies act as if it hasn’t, doing exactly the opposite of what the torchbearers do.
Our Global Forum this week is called Winning in the Disruptive Century. The new IBM research, only highlighted here, is deep evidence of why that is now every business leader’s goal.
Main-stage sessions of the Fortune Global Forum are livestreamed at Fortune.com/globalforum2015. For information on specific sessions and timing, visit www.fortuneconferences.com. Full sessions from the main stage will also be available on demand on our Fortune Magazine YouTube channel. You can follow what’s being tweeted about it at #FortuneGlobal.
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What We’re Reading Today
Elizabeth Holmes defends Theranos tech
Speaking at the Fortune Global Forum, CEO Holmes confirmed that her company uses Theranos technology for just one medical test, but only because it awaits FDA approval for more, which she says it will “absolutely” get. The only mistake she would admit to making, as reports question the functionality of the Theranos devices that pushed her startup’s valuation to $9 billion, was not “communicating” the data behind the technology. Fortune
Ben Carson leaps into GOP lead
The trend of supporting non-politician candidates continues as Carson gets 29% support among GOP voters, says a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. It’s the highest number any Republican candidate has received so far. Donald Trump falls to second with 23%, and Senator Marco Rubio is third with 11%. NBC News
Bill Winters reorganization of Standard Charter begins
The Asia-focused bank announced it would cut 15,000 jobs by 2018 and raise $5.1 billion to recapitalize. The bank also reported a $139-million third quarter loss as it struggles with poor performance in China and emerging markets. The layoffs come as Winters, hired in June, speeds up his plans to reshape the bank and cut $2.9 billion in annual expenses over three years. BBC
Amazon adds paternity leave, increases maternity leave
Jeff Bezos‘s company, which has long fought the trend of increasing perks at technology firms, adds six weeks of paid paternity leave and ups maternity leave from 8 weeks to 20. While Amazon says the changes came from an annual review of benefits, Bezos may have been nudged by a New York Times article portraying an intense and uncaring work environment. NYT
Building a Better Leader
To establish trust with coworkers…
…first establish credibility. Fast Company
Google founder Larry Page decides what to tackle next by…
…asking “Is it going to affect a lot, a lot of people?” Fortune
It’s better to wait for the right position…
…rather than taking a lower-level one. Employers see the lower position as a blemish. USA Today
VW’s emission scandal hits Porsche vehicles
What did new Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller, who served as Porsche CEO before being promoted in September, know about the company’s emissions cheating program? New allegations claim VW used the emission cheating software in Audis and Porsches, VW’s two most profitable lines, as well as in Volkswagens. VW has denied the charges, saying U.S. regulators are trying to hurt a non-American automaker. Fortune
U.S. to Walgreens: Sell 1,000 stores
As Walgreens Boots Alliance looks to acquire Rite-Aid for $17.2 billion, U.S. regulators say it would need to close up to 1,000 stores to comply with antitrust laws. CEO Stefano Pessina is willing to do so, though the company believes it will likely need to shutter only half that many. NYT
Google battles with EU regulators
In a 130-page filing, Google parent company Alphabet claims European Union regulators have “no basis” for charging Google with antitrust violations. The regulators say Google skewed its search results to favor its own services. The response indicates that Larry Page and Alphabet are prepared for a long legal battle. WSJ
Up or Out
Ralph Loura, CIO of Hewlett-Packard’s enterprise division, will leave the company now that HP has split into two organizations. WSJ
Fortune Reads and Videos
Activision buys ‘Candy Crush’ maker for $5.9B
It’s an effort to cement its place among mobile gamers. Fortune
Google’s self-driving cars recognize kids
And kids in costume. Fortune
How can companies better secure their cybersecurity?
Start with taking the most basic steps, which many don’t do. Fortune
Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown calls for cleaner energy
It took him a year to pass a clean energy bill in California. He says that at the federal level it would have taken seven to ten years. Fortune
“There has to be that intellectual honesty and the capacity to suffer short term results…If we didn’t make these bets we’d still have stage coaches on the freeway.” – John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo, discussing how to transform a company at the Fortune Global Forum. Fortune
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