The panel noted that disruption is not a new phenomenon: As long as there have been companies, there have been new upstarts and business models that have threatened to unseat those companies. What is new today is the delivery of disruption (from many more directions than in the past) and the pace of that delivery (much more rapid than in the past). Rupert Soames, Group CEO of Serco, a U.K.-based business services group, made the point that a discerning eye is key. When dealing with rampant change, it is essential to understand which issues simply scratch the surface of your business and which ones truly threaten to cut to the core.
Disruption is an omnipresent consideration today. If a business is agile, disruption can be an exciting prospect, and present meaningful opportunities. On our equity research team and, in particular, within our Global Leaders strategy, we focus extensively on the idea of exceptional customer outcomes. A high proportion of the opportunities that arise from disruption stem from something exceptional being delivered to the customer. In the consumer realm, this may mean capitalising on the disruption of the Internet to create more personalised experiences, or providing a leap forward in convenience through home delivery, new pricing models or other innovations. Ron Dennis, Chairman of high-end automotive firm McLaren, noted that his firm’s intention is always to deliver something special for the consumer, but the end result of this can lead to disruption versus its industry’s status quo.
The panel agreed that disruption in business and replacement of old models with new ones are occurring at a much faster speed today. This poses challenges for companies and their managers, as it becomes harder to justify speculative investment in capital or R&D and far more difficult to navigate longer product development cycles in a rapidly changing environment. Dame Fiona Kendrick, Chairman of Nestlé U.K. and Ireland, talked about how in the face of disruption elsewhere, it is even more important to focus on longer-term value engines, like brands and talent.
In a discussion on disruption, it was perhaps inevitable that Brexit—perhaps the most disruptive force looming over the U.K. economy today—would come up. Our three panellists spanned the consumer, automotive and business services industries, so it was a good opportunity to hear from leaders across the economy. To their credit, the panellists did not offer speculation about the eventual outcome of Brexit negotiations, nor did they claim any silver-bullet answers. They emphasised an increased focus on varied issues such as talent retention, migration and tariffs that are likely to be important for their businesses as they attempt to navigate this transformative period.
Overall, the discussion underlined the importance of agility and adaptability for businesses as they confront uncertainty and capitalise on disruptive change.
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