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July 13, 2016 | by Steve Lawrence

Where Strategic Planning and Action Planning Meet

How to intelligently handle a tidal wave of business and confusing economic data in uncertain times

Dr. John Horn of the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis may be the most important and useful speaker you will hear at this year’s Economic Summit: Forecast 2017 Conference in September. Whether your business is strong and growing, or struggling in this grindingly familiar sluggish economy, many of you may feel that effective strategic planning is futile, or at best hardly a top priority. 

“There can be a tendency for executives in lots of industries these days including metals, to look at the uncertainties in front of them and either try to get so deep into precision that they lose track of the bigger picture,” Horn said in a pre-conference interview, “or to just throw up their hands and say ‘why bother’.

“But of course there is an in-between mode, a solid methodology to use that does not lead to paralysis,” he said. “I want to show them a process that is extremely useful.” Horn explained that the trick is not to get overwhelmed, but rather to understand which metrics, market trends and customer data you really need to pay attention to and which you can ignore.

“Obviously if you are a metals person selling into the auto sector,” he said, “you pay attention to oil prices, for instance, in a different way than you do if your customers are in pipelines and drilling rigs.”

Horn said he would walk the Economic Summit conference audience through a proven process for identifying key business uncertainties, developing scenarios for handling them, and creating the specific action plans that are most useful.

“It’s a process of closely evaluating your existing supply chain, who you are selling to, and then having a conversation about what is driving marketing and sales strategies and how you could be better positioning the business,” he said.

“These days there are just a lot more variables and they are coming at us far faster than before,” Horn said. “It used to be that commodity markets, for instance, depended on fewer factors than they do today. Today a lot of countries and a lot of companies can influence demand.”

The solution, he explained, is establishing a structure for analyzing and managing what is really important and distinguishing the critical from what is less so.

This year’s Economic Summit offers experts in 18 end user markets describing the outlook for the year ahead. Horn’s talk, which is scheduled before those sessions begin, should be an extremely valuable introduction into how to handle those data and integrate them into planning for the coming year.

The MSCI Economic Summit is September 12 and 13 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel. Click here to learn more or to register.

Dr. Horn is a professor in MSCI's Strategic Metals Management executive education program. To learn more about the curriculum and upcoming opportunities, click here.