2018 will perhaps be remembered as a year of change, as political and social events around the world combined with major tech developments to create a climate of uncertainty. But what lessons will business leaders take away from the year? Here, five business experts give us their highlights (or lowlights) from 2018, and what we can all learn from them:

Ireland’s latest big step towards inclusion

“2018 will be remembered as the year the Irish people voted to overturn the ban on abortions. This is significant in that it is yet another milestone in Ireland’s changing attitudes towards diversity and inclusion. It follows on the gay marriage referendum, the first ethnic minority Taoiseach and absolutely puts Ireland in pole position to capitalise on changing social, political and economic trends.

2018 was also the year EDKA supermarket in Germany removed all goods produced outside Germany to use empty shelves to highlight the cost of not including diversity. Vogue and other leading magazines featured ethnic minority models as never before, and even Japan recruited its first female fighter pilot.

With Brexit on the horizon, and the UK looking inwards, Ireland is positioning itself to be the open, welcoming, progressive society young talent and international companies want to move to.”

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included. His new book, Building an Inclusive Organisation, is due to be published by Kogan Page in February 2019.


Superstar managers fall from grace
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“In 2018 we witnessed the spectacular downfall of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes – a dynamic businessperson who had frequently drawn comparisons to the late Apple visionary, Steve Jobs. During 2018, Holmes settled civil charges with US authorities and was facing criminal prosecution. She raised millions from prominent investors to fuel the growth of her unicorn, Theranos, a company that appeared to have revolutionized health technology through its portable blood analyser device.

According to the SEC’s civil complaint, the company ‘deceived investors by, among other things, making false and misleading statements to the media, hosting misleading technology demonstrations, and overstating the extent of Theranos’ relationships with commercial partners and government entities, to whom they had also made misrepresentations.’

In my book Broken Business, I explore the phenomenon of the ‘Superstar Manager,’ the leader whose intelligence, charisma, and ambition causes others (including Board members charged with duties of oversight) to turn a blind eye to poor judgment or even ethical misconduct. The sad case of the superstar – Holmes – and her broken business – Theranos – should provide a wake-up call to other rising tech companies of the real legal, financial, and reputational perils of Silicon Valley’s ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ culture.”

José R. Hernandez is the CEO of Ortus Strategies and author of Broken Business, published by Wiley.


Jeff Bezos’ microwave oven:

“When Amazon announced the launch of a microwave oven with Alexa integrated this year, it’s fair to say the company received some harsh criticism. The truth is, however, many of these critics simply missed the point. Amazon weren’t just launching a microwave, they were demonstrating how powerful it could be to incorporate Alexa into every home appliance. They want voice-activated devices everywhere, and they want to make sure it is their software that runs them.

Amazon know that voice is going to be the primary interface in the coming years. According to Business Insider, 54% of American households already have an Amazon Echo device, and it is changing the way people search for information and products. This means that, for more than half of all American customers, when voice becomes their primary method of search, Amazon will act as a huge brand filter determining what gets offered to them.

In the same way that Facebook became the biggest information filter in the world, Amazon is doing this for products, and it is giving marketers and many other businesses something serious to think about.”

Prof. Steven van Belleghem is an expert in customer experience in the digital world. His latest book, Customers The Day After Tomorrow, is out now.


The UK looks further afield

“In September of this year, the UK government unveiled an ambitious plan to transform the UK into a “21st century global exporting superpower.” International trade secretary Dr Liam Fox announced his intention that exports as a proportion of UK GDP are to rise from 30% to 35%.

It was a significant moment – marking a definite shift in the government’s attitude towards exporting as it prepares for Brexit. If the pound weakens and the UK economy is performing poorly, exporting will become a key way for businesses to stimulate growth. A weaker pound would also mean UK exports become much more competitive.

It’s estimated that over 400,000 UK brands and small business have the potential to export British products – this may prove the ideal moment for them to start.”

Siddharth Shankar is the CEO of Tails Trading, an organisation that helps SMEs to export products to international markets


The winds of change continue to blow

“In 2018, we’ve seen sweeping, positive change in the tech world through areas such as artificial intelligence, offset by threats to business like sophisticated hacking of financial data. The winds of politics and our climate continue to forecast troubling challenges across the globe. How can we prepare?

In my company, I practice an effective way for businesses to anticipate change, called the “tsunami meeting.” I convene my staff and ask one or two serious what-if questions: What if a huge client doubled our business next year? What if a recession hit? Or, what if I, the CEO, died tomorrow?

Posing both positive and threatening “what-ifs” gives employees the space to think and dream about possibilities. Often, we find great solutions to implement or ways to prepare, should one of these scenarios come true. Most do not. Still, taking time to think creatively and discuss opportunities and escape routes—before the stress of a big event—is valuable.”

Chris Dyer is a business performance expert and the author of The Power of Company Culture, published by Kogan Page.

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