February 4, 2016 | by Bob Weidner

A Startling and Humbling Moment

Why we must think more critically about our businesses

“Knowledge is power.  —Sir Francis Bacon 

You’ve very likely seen that quote before. You may not have realized that it goes back more than 500 years, first articulated by a 16th century philosopher and statesman. But its full meaning in today’s tough, quickly shifting business environment, came back to me recently in one of those wake-up moments we all have from time to time.

It was at our Tubular Products Division Conference in January, listening to Peter Navarro, professor of economics and public policy at the University of California, Irvine. He was giving one of the best, and more alarming talks I’d heard in a long time on China and how its changing fortunes will affect our industry. Peter is a compelling speaker and his topic was “What Happens in China Doesn’t Stay in China.”

It was a powerful presentation, detailing a profoundly disquieting list of China crises, from a slowing economy and domestic unrest, to an accelerating military build-up and capital flight as the country’s rich elite pull their money out of the country. “As China’s economy slows, it will increase its dumping,” Navarro said. “What happens in geopolitics has a far-ranging effect on your business model. You have to keep up on this stuff. The worst thing you can do in business is ‘stick to your knitting,’ hunker down and just concentrate on your immediate business problems.”

He paused. “How many of you read the financial press everyday?” he asked. I looked around the room at a surprisingly small number of raised hands. And I was struck at that moment by the realization that when times get tough, we all tend to hunker down, “stick to our knitting” as it were, narrow our vision and contract our horizons to just take care of the problems in front of us. Even though I do read the Wall Street Journal every day, I felt strongly that Navarro was challenging all of us to seriously consider our obligation to broaden and sharpen the lens we use to look at the world.

As Sir Francis Bacon noted so long ago, knowledge is power. It is especially true in a world that is changing as quickly as ours is now. That means we have a profound and humbling responsibility to ourselves, our families, our organizations and to the people who work with us: to be on top of things and to know and understand what is happening around us. Knowledge can dispel fear. It can give us the tools to meet the challenges that face us.

The products and services we offer at MSCI are designed to provide the information and tools you need to improve your businesses. Our conferences, our leadership and professional development programs, our proprietary market and industry data all provide original, relevant insight to help you compete better, grow faster, and prosper. 

We purposefully offer you a chance to look up from this week’s balance sheet and understand how powerful waves of change are sweeping the industry.

We are well aware, for instance, that our conferences often offer a broader look at the world than many of you expect. I am asked frequently why we don’t have more presentations on specific products. But narrowly focused market predictions for tubular or flat rolled or specialty metals products are available everywhere. Instead we bring you the challenging China analysis of Peter Navarro, the call to action on trade policy from Bill Hickey, and a sharp examination of the digital marketing revolution from Mitch Joel. A crucial part of our mission is to give you the opportunity to think more broadly and critically about your business, your industry, and the world. We purposefully offer you a chance to look up from this week’s balance sheet and understand how powerful waves of change are sweeping the industry. 

We believe that anything less would be a disservice to our members. We are here to help you develop the leaders and strategic planning and vision for your enterprise that will serve you well as the world changes. Knowledge is power. 

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” At MSCI we are dedicated to helping you change your businesses and your world for the better.

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