C-suite leaders need to understand many developing news stories and trends in order to keep up with a changeable industry. Over three parts, discover the 24 stories to watch in 2024 to elevate your insights.
The ability to continually anticipate change is a hallmark of a great leader.
Through the combined efforts of intuition, data, networks and curiosity, these leaders have curated for themselves a fine-tuned, constantly evolving ecosystem of information feedback loops that they use to refine decision-making, investments, partnerships and more. It isn’t something taught per se as developed organically; a natural cohesion of intelligence gathering, communities and self-improvement.
Today, the world is becoming yet more connected and complicated. The task of anticipating change has become more necessary therefore—but more difficult.
Trends that impact the C-suite seem to come from many more corners of the globe: fiscal policy, international geo-politics and innovation have dominated Boardroom discussions since the Post-War period. Fast forward nearly a millennium(!) and executives today must concern themselves with demographic and generational shifts, the outsize role of the customer, regional and sometimes even local politics, ethical and moral dilemmas, to say nothing of advancing climate change and complexifying issues within our globalised economy, such as supply-chain resilience.
It should be noted that no single leader is expected to be able to follow the above in great detail and perform in their role to a high standard. As the best leaders discovered long ago, one’s network should be utilised to keep up to date with what one may have missed within this global overload of information.
With that in mind, discover 24 stories that cover well the full spectrum of themes with which all leaders should at least familiarise themselves if they are to keep abreast of important developments facing their industries, split equally over three articles, focusing on:
Part 1: Today
Part 2: Tomorrow
Part 3: The Future
Stories to watch Today
1. Twin Troughs: Suez and Panama Canals
The world’s two arteries of global trade, the Suez and Panama Canals, are experiencing twin pinch points in their ability to support the world economy—for two very different reasons.
For the Suez, an increasingly regional conflict as a result of the Israel-Palestine war now involves rebel-Houthi warriors in Yemen attacking commercial ships entering the Red Sea. Shipping giant Maersk and others are rerouting ships round South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, adding two weeks to an Asia-Europe sea voyage. As the conflict grows in complexity, our reliance on such an important trade route becomes more and more problematic, and its impact on the economy, access to products, and the global supply chain should be watched more closely.
For Panama, an El-Nino year (a one-every-seven year climatic shift in weather patterns precipitated by changing Pacific Ocean water cycles) is threatening the Central Americas with some of its driest conditions in decades. The Panama Canal had to reduce the volume of ships passing through for the first time in its history. Climate change is compounding this regular weather phenomenon. Close attention to further El Nino (and its sister, La Nina) years should be considered in Boardrooms for those organisations particularly exposed to trade bottlenecks.
2. An evolving ecosystem of AI regulation
As the welcome party for generative AI continues, some late-in-the-evening confetti is being thrown at technology firms and the wider industry in the form of regulations; many, many regulations.
The Group of Seven (G7) nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA, as well as the European Union) finalised its 11 International Guiding Principles to govern AI, known as The G7 Hiroshima Process. The UK’s AI Safety Summit last year birthed the Bletchley Declaration. Three EU institutions responsible for new legislation–the Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament–are in the final stages of agreeing the terms of the bloc’s new AI Act. The US and China both have different stances and rules out. This is to say nothing of the new data regulations coming into effect in 2024.
I know many in the C-suite are busy wrapping their heads around what’s in, what’s out, and what’s everywhere, and getting to grips with these developments—or connecting with those who do so for a living—would be a smart move.
3. Pandora’s recycled diamonds pivot
Environmental and social governance as a business principle is undergoing a fascinating shift. Public sentiment data suggest buying habits are finally catching up with the “purpose industry”, and from oil and gas to fast fashion, ESG transformations are picking up pace, greenwashed or not. Yet, perhaps inevitably, ESG has become politicised, especially in the USA. Businesses are struggling to manage public, board and shareholder approval when these may be at odds between one another and within one another, with those grievances now acidly shared online.
That makes Pandora’s announcement of only sourcing 100 percent recycled diamonds for its products all the more interesting. Not only is it a clear signal of its intention to reduce its carbon impact (mining accounts for almost as much as 99 percent of a jeweller’s carbon footprint) to other organisations within and outside its sector, but as the number one jeweller globally in terms of volume of jewels sold, it is by no means a plucky middle-grounder looking for a competitive advantage.
This is a business decision, first, ESG, second. Remember: a pivot is a change of strategy to attain the same vision, not a change of vision.
As Pandora navigates this, as well as intense scrutiny from environmental impact groups, fellow leaders should watch each move closely.
4. Maersk vs MSC: A classic case study in the making
Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) offer a tantalising case study in risk vs resilience strategy. Arguably the world’s number one and two shipping and logistics firms, Maersk and MSC entered into a highly unusual capacity sharing alliance in 2015. It surprised analysts and regulators especially. Then, during the height of the pandemic in 2019, they said the alliance would wind down by 2025. The reason? The pandemic period was incredibly profitable for the entire shipping industry; the alliance was no longer needed given each of their cash piles had ballooned.
Maersk is betting the supply chain will not recover its early 21st Century stability. It is investing in logistical facilities, warehouses, trucks and more to diversify its business. MSC is betting the other way: it has invested in more ships and has now overtaken Maersk as the biggest shipping company in terms of tonnage of ship stock. I will be following both companies and their relative strategies closely—note how this links with story 1 and the disruption in the Suez and Panama Canals.
5. Billions of people will vote in 2024
Technically, this is 70+ stories in one: 64 countries plus those within the European Union will head to the polls in 2024. Domestic changes in government tend to always impact business policy in some way, but given the strikingly extremestic campaigns, from the US to Bangladesh, from Taiwan to France, leaders would be forgiven for viewing 2025 and beyond through some sort of socio-political kaleidoscope given the sheer number of potential eventualities available.
Taiwan has voted for continued democracy. Bangladesh’s elections have been mooted as autocratic. The United States looks all but set for a Biden vs. Trump re-run. The UK’s Labour opposition party has been readying itself for rule since mid-2023, given the appallingly low approval ratings for the Conservative party. Each will influence the direction of travel for their country and region. Together they may redraw once sacrosanct lines. It is important for business leaders to know the difference.
6. Get to know Generation Z
Ah, generation Z. It is worth stating here that A) there is no agreed-upon definition of who each generation represents by age, and B) it is problematic to assume all members of one generation behave the same.
Those said, anecdotal experiences of working with generation Z are too numerous to dismiss, and emerging data on generation Z is too challenging to ignore. Z’s across the US, Europe, China and South Korea, as examples, are more disillusioned with the social contract between government and population: that translates to a more relaxed work ethic (from a traditionalist’s view), higher demands on HR, often counterintuitive spending habits (they can’t afford homes but they can afford Gucci), a more divergent political sentience (those who are more politically aware and far more aware than other generations, and the same in the other direction), and a wider gulf between male and female voting habits, a phenomenon not recorded before in previous generations.
One may say Z’s have a lot to learn about the world. I would argue we have more to learn about, and from, them.
7. El Nino and La Nina Climate oscillations
Local, regional and international weather patterns are newsworthy, yes, but they also impact industrial productivity, human productivity and the resilience of nation states. A drying Panama Canal directly impacts supply chains, but colder Winters in the American Midwest, wetter Winters in Western Europe and hotter Summers in central China, can indirectly impact critical parts of our global infrastructure. El Nino and La Nina climate oscillations are semi-regular in occurrence, every three to four years, on a rotational cycle, so looking ahead to these and adapting business operations would be the smart move for the C-suite and Board.
Why a story to watch Today? Because it will take time, and because there is nothing like experiencing the negative effects of something today to catalyse your mitigation tactics for tomorrow.
8. Post Davos sentiments
Davos 2024 was all about ‘Rebuilding Trust’. Trust in our economy, our partnerships, our leaders, and with each other. How would this land within a public at the sharp end of a cost of living crisis as a lesson delivered by a group far removed from such experiences? So far, surprisingly well. Maybe most people are looking for good news stories.
How should the C-suite translate this overarching message? Employee-employer trust is facing not dissimilar levels of frustration. Years of pandemic experimentation and productivity are having unequal effects on business value today. How empathetic are leaders being towards their workforces? It is tricky to quantify such a qualification. But it should be noted that within the main story of the summit—AI—lies the truth of the matter: positive business change cannot happen without talent. And talent without trust is arguably the biggest stress test for a business today.
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