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January 11, 2017 | by Bob Weidner

A Time for Bold Leadership

With the country at a turning point, it’s in need of timely and tough decisions.

Courage is essential for reform.  —Robert M. Gates

My holiday reading, as the New Year dawned, included an invaluable book for anyone who would lead effectively in a rapidly changing world. Gates, as you may remember, was George H.W. Bush’s CIA director and defense secretary in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. His distinctive leadership style and the compelling lessons he offers jump from every page of “A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years in Public Service.” I commend it to you in this time of transformation all along the industrial metals supply chain and at MSCI.

Gates does not equivocate. “If you don’t have the guts as a leader to make tough and timely decisions, for God’s sake don’t take the job,” he writes. And goes on to describe an effective, disruptive—yes he uses that term—leader as one who couples “a willingness to listen” with “a willingness to be bold.”

The forces rushing at us, reshaping the business and political worlds, I am convinced leave us no alternative. Those who survive and prosper will be those with the courage to innovate and motivate; those with the insight and intestinal fortitude to recognize the compelling need for informed, and thoughtful, but bold action.

The country, as we know, is at a dramatic turning point. We in the industrial metals supply chain have reason to be encouraged, even a bit optimistic if you will. There seems to be a confluence of manufacturing interests in Washington, D.C., that offers hope of significant action on MSCI’s public policy agenda. The new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House Trade Council Chief Peter Navarro are friends of MSCI and have spoken at our conferences. Robert Lighthizer, the new U.S. trade representative, with Ross and Navarro are impressively hard-nosed on the trade enforcement, and tariff issues we favor. You can be sure we will be talking with all of them, talking as advocates we believe, with a more persuasive voice than any single individual might manage.

The true test, of course, will be whether a still unpredictable commander in chief will be able to work effectively with Republicans still struggling to unify under a constructive policy banner. Bold and decisive, as Bob Gates says, cannot stand alone. “A leader must make time to think and to plan—to strategize.”

We do look forward to significant movement on tax reform, tougher trade enforcement, infrastructure spending, health care changes, and an easing of overly restrictive energy and environmental policies. We have long advocated reasonable and balanced regulatory rules. And those now seem to be far more possible than at any time in the last eight years. Any and all of these reforms, if implemented intelligently would, as we have said many times, strengthen the industrial metals supply chain and U.S. manufacturing. So far we have heard encouraging talk. Now we will see if all that speechifying can be translated by bold leaders into muscular, constructive change.

I am acutely mindful of these leadership lessons because, as most of you may know, MSCI is also in the midst of transformational change. As our industry is shaken by the unyielding forces of exponential technology, an aging workforce, shifting markets and customer demands, and consolidation, MSCI must dramatically adjust its services to all of you to stay relevant to your continued prosperity.

The Institute is completing a detailed assessment of the industrial metals supply chain business environment and our most extensive survey ever of the industry’s leadership. This comprehensive process of critical thinking is enabling us to more fully understand the challenges our members are facing and the role MSCI can play in helping provide solutions to these challenges. It means transforming our own business model to serve the industry more intelligently, and insure that our members continue to receive a significant return on their investment in the association.

It will be a year of bold and innovative leadership at MSCI. We’ll be offering, for example, powerful new programs for top management at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. We will be continually updating our conference formats, our industry tracking and predictive data, our entire service package as member needs continue to change.

Just as your business cannot grow and thrive by standing in place, neither can MSCI. We are at the edge of a transformative process that has clear business objectives, but no clear end point. We look forward to sharing this transformation with all of you as it evolves.

Bob Gates describes this evolution impressively. “Always have an unfinished agenda in a continuing quest for excellence and success,” he writes. “Like the legendary captain of the ghost ship the Flying Dutchman, the reformer never makes port.”   

Learn more about MSCI's policy agenda and advocacy efforts.