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August 25, 2015 | by Bob Weidner

A Wake-Up Call

Our world through a new lens

“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world.”

Malcolm Gladwell

I doubt that best-selling author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell knows anything about our industry or about metals service centers. But he is talking loudly to us nonetheless. We are at a point in time when we must begin thinking critically and entirely differently than we ever have if we are to survive and thrive.

The old rules, the old ways of analyzing the economy and our businesses are simply inadequate for the insight and vision that we will need to cope with the kinds of disruption that are racing at us.

I am particularly mindful of this because at MSCI, perhaps as with many of you, we are approaching that time of year when we start planning for the next year. The usual drill is budget analysis, SWOT assessment, maybe a five-year plan that looks at customer development and market outlook. All fine and all necessary.

But we are also beginning an entirely innovative strategic planning process that will move us beyond our traditional way of thinking about the future. We will almost literally start with a blank page and travel from there. Our goal is to develop an entirely new vision of what a vibrant, prospering, trade association dedicated to thought leadership and to continually improving our services to members, will look like by 2020. 

Traditional business planning that flies under these gale force winds, that lulls us into thinking we can ignore these powerful economic levers, cannot serve us well.

Most of you likely have heard me talk about the five global business forces, first described by the consultants at McKinsey, that are changing the world of commerce, whether we like it or not. Technology, demographics, consolidation, globalization, and government are each, relentlessly throwing new and often unpredictable challenges at us. Traditional business planning that flies under these gale force winds, that lulls us into thinking we can ignore these powerful economic levers, cannot serve us well.

Can we confidently say what service centers, our customers and markets are going to look like in 2020? Do we even try? Consider just the new types of steel and aluminum in development at this moment. In five years with these and so many other new materials coming to market, will we be prepared for the product and process and market shifts charging at us? How quickly and in what directions is 3-D printing developing? Where will robotics take us? Service centers are already in businesses and performing services that were not being considered even ten years ago.

We all must be developing the strategies and solutions now that will allow us to move confidently in a startling new world of emerging markets, international trade, workforce challenges, government regulations and disruptive technologies.

Steve Jobs, an undeniable visionary, a man who understood what it’s like to look beyond the horizon for new products and services, explained: “I want to put a ding in the universe.” And did he ever.   

With all humility, we too must begin looking for the same kind of unexpected, not yet considered, strategic vision that can respond to the risks and opportunities ahead. This is as true for MSCI as it is for each of your businesses. At MSCI, we are about to embark on a strategic planning mission to do our best to figure this out. Our pledge to you is that we will also do our best to help you develop the same for your businesses. Working together we can and will make this happen.

Josh Tetrick, CEO and founder of the innovative San Francisco-based food company Hampton Creek, concluded that “…what folks say they want in business… is limited by what they believe is possible.” The challenge for us now is to identify those limits in ourselves so that we can prosper in a world still on the edges of our imagination.