Leadership Lessons in the Global Arena and Stewardship of the U.S. Economy

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The 2011 NACD Board Leadership Conference ended with an intellectually stimulating power session on the global economy. David Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell International and director at JP Morgan, began the final session with a keynote on leadership lessons in the global arena. As one of President Obama’s appointees to the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Cote called for an “American competitiveness agenda,” and the need for the U.S. government to enable business, as well as regulate it.

Cote issued a hard lesson to the audience: We are in a different global economy than twenty years ago. This economy will move forward with or without us. To move forward, our politicians need to work together. He offered six areas of focus:

  1. Debt reduction. According to Cote, if the average family acted like the U.S. government, it would be making $21,000 a year, but spending $35,000.
  2. Energy policy. Policy efforts in this area should include both energy efficiency and generation.
  3. Free trade. The U.S. should foster a more thoughtful relationship with China. Furthermore, China should be viewed as a partner, competitor, and supplier.
  4. Math and science education. Cote observed, “We need more engineers, and fewer lawyers.”
  5. Infrastructure development. The nation should be spending a higher percentage of GDP on improving roads, bridges and ports.
  6. Tort reform. Cote noted that as a nation, “We have let the pendulum swing too far in an attempt to root out society’s inequities.”

Cote finished his speech urging the audience to express their opinions to their government representatives. The session then moved to a panel discussion titled “Stewardship of the U.S. Economy,” moderated by Robert Hotz, senior managing director of Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, Inc. Hotz and Cote were joined by Kathi Seifert, director at Supervalu, Eli Lilly and Company, Revlon, Appleton Papers and Lexmark, Inc.

Hotz opened the session with a question to the panelists: What can corporate directors do to restore confidence in the U.S. economy? Based on her experience at New North, Inc., an initiative to restore economic vitality in the Wisconsin area, Seifert offered five key learnings for directors:

  1. Collaboration is critical
  2. Build on your strengths
  3. Be flexible in your business in order to achieve growth
  4. Have the work force to drive growth
  5. Retain the companies you have in the area.

Cote also offered two recommendations to the audience, echoing Seifert’s need for flexibility in the business, and encouraging voters to urge policymakers to solve the new issue of “uncertainty of government debt.” He also stressed the need for directors to make sure that whatever companies they are associated with have the flexibility to respond to changes. He warned that unless the U.S. and European governments address debt and the uncertainty of demand and regulations, we will be met with a recession.

Seifert emphasized the need for companies to build on strengths and have a strategic priority for growth. She said it’s also necessary to drive collaboration, partner with others and be open to ideas from the outside. In today’s environment, companies must look to drive growth in any way possible.



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