Corporate Board Member recently interviewed Edie Weiner to get her outlook on the economy, jobs, and emerging issues for directors.
Here are some highlights from the interview (click here for the entire article):
When do you foresee the recession ending?
I don’t, because I don’t consider it a recession. I think that this is a fundamental transformation, and it [has been] coming for a long time. It started before the financial crisis, and the financial crisis exacerbated the speed with which everybody felt the transformation.
There has been an evolution of economies. We’ve been through the agricultural era, the industrial era, the post-industrial era, the emotile era, and what we’re moving into is what we call the metaspace era. And none of these go away. Each succeeding [era] is built on the one that came before. But what you used to make money on becomes commoditized because technology allows it to become so inexpensive that you just can’t get the same margins you used to on it, so you have to move up to the next value proposition.
The thing to understand is that we were in the agricultural era for tens of thousands of years, the industrial for 200, the post-industrial for 45, and the emotile for about 20 to 25, and we’re still there, but we’re moving into what we call the metaspace. So the real story is the collapsing of the time that it takes for technologies to come together and create enormous efficiencies in the way we do things. The problem is that we can’t grow new businesses fast enough to satisfy the labor that’s been displaced by the efficiencies, and that’s why we feel so much pain, and that’s why we’re not going to see those jobs come back.
What do you think boards should be concerned about, looking a few years into the future?
I think they need to be concerned about a couple of things. Number one, are the products and/or services that they’re offering or that they count on going to be around in the next three to five years, or will they be disinter-mediated by new players with completely new business practices, technologies, and delivery [methods]? There’s such a rapid replacement effect taking place now. So you have to wonder whether what you’re doing now will still command the dollars that you’re projecting for the next couple of years.
That’s an extremely important concern. That’s the core of your business. And that’s a real worry that I would have if I were a director. I would really want to know what game changers are out there that could completely disrupt the services and products that we’re currently offering, and I wouldn’t necessarily trust that I could get all that information inside the company. I would want to know from experts who are looking outside what is going on that could change the world of this company the way it exists.
And I would also be concerned about whether I’m doing the right things in order to get the best talent because in the end, whatever it is that [you] do, it’s about your people delivering to the marketplace.
Speaking of talent, do you foresee a time in the future when American public boards will be more diverse?
There’s no question about it. That’s already happening, and will continue to happen. However, it’s interesting when we think about what diversity means. If you declare diversity as being people who look different, speak different languages, or come from different parts of the world, if that’s your idea of diversity, then that is not stepping up to the business case for diversity. That’s the public relations case for diversity.
The business case for diversity is to have different ways of thinking on the board, different viewpoints. And that’s not an easy thing because much of what the board is about is having a comfort level with each other. I’m not concerned about diversity that you can see from the outside. Where I’m concerned is will the board step up to the need for diversity from the inside, and how comfortable will [directors] be with those voices that don’t track with what the CEO wants to hear or what the majority of the board wants to hear?
It really depends on the kind of company you are, but if you’re saying that you want to be a global company and you’re saying that one of the concerns is that you’re really not sure where your competition is going to come from in three years, why would you want people on your board who know the last 20 years and not the next 10?