What challenges do American businesses face today?

Management Executive

Thomas A. Stewart is the Chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer (CMKO) of the global management consulting firm Booz & Company. Stewart most recently served as editor and managing director of Harvard Business Review, and is a best-selling author, an authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management, and an influential thought leader on global management issues and ideas.

During Stewart’s six years with Harvard Business Review, the magazine was a two-time finalist for general excellence in the National Magazine Awards, and received an “Eddie” in 2007 from Folio Magazine.

Previously, Stewart served as the editorial director for Business 2.0 and as a member of Fortune’s Board of Editors. He is the author of two books, Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations, and The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the 21st Century Organization, published by Doubleday Business in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

Stewart is a fellow of the World Economic Forum. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, and holds an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Cass School of Business at City University, London.

  • Transcript


Question: What are the greatest challenges American business faces today?

Tom Stewart: let me broaden it first.  Because I think that the biggest problems in which business is engaged today are … are climate and climate change and … and global poverty.  And I think business actually is starting to get engaged in it.  I mean the climate change business has been a source of the problem, and …. and industrialization has been a source of the problem.  And I guess industries are a part of industrialization.  But businesses are also going to be the source of the opportunity.  Peter Schwartz of the Global Business Network likes to say that climate change is a really interesting thing because there’s a lot of money to be made from remediation of the problem.  But I think this is . . .  I mean, this is a baseline issue for everything, and if business is not engaged in it as a solver of the problem, business is gonna be engaged in it as … as … as being told … told what to do.  So I think … I think that’s very important.  I also think that as business is part of it in this global adventure – for large businesses at least – you’re seeing a lot of really serious talk about adaption … about what used to be the charitable acts of social … of corporate social responsibility.  You’re actually seeing a lot of engagement in that, and a lot of sort of business intellectual excitement about … about … about these possibilities.  So I think those are two big issues outside.  I think inside, the … the biggest issues that … I think these issues sort of come and go.  Right now in the summer of 2008, among businesses, you know, we always see … where there’s been a few years of pretty good times.  Profits are high.  I think there’s a lot of concern about sustaining performance.  I mean managing for the long term.  Can we keep this going or are we going to screw it up?  And I think that’s a big topic.  I think a big topic has been a lot of stuff about innovation, which is partly related to that same question about keeping things going.  Can we come up with new ideas?  Can we …  Can we come up with innovations?  I’m starting to see – and this depends a lot on the business – in some industries, a lot of trying to figure out what technology means for my business or the businesses on which I depend.  I mean everybody who has any retail operations.  I mean obviously e-commerce, bricks and clicks, all of that sort of stuff has been – for the last 10 years has been – a big challenge.  It’s anybody in advertising or media watching the emergence of new media such as this, watching advertising money flow from television to the Internet, from magazines to the Internet, from . . . you know … from … and seeing what’s happening with that.  This is … this is utterly transformative of … of whole big sects.  And so that … dealing with the technology or … or the … the business model change of … caused by technology is … is central.  And related to that, there’s a whole lot of conversation by … about business model innovation.  Gary Hamil talks about management innovation.  There are similar … or they’re looking at the same problem, which is the issue of not just how do I lead or manage better.  Not just what is strategy, but are there ways …  How do I actually look at my fundamental, economic model … and figure out whether there are ways of doing it differently or how do I … and … and changing it.

Recorded on: 6/22/07