Fast Forward: Taking the Reins in a Global World

A critical dose of leadership knowledge and expertise


"Leadership is not a position – it’s an approach, it’s a way of thinking," best-selling author Robin Sharma told participants in IESE Business School’s Fast Forward Program this week. Sharma and IESE Prof. Pankaj Ghemawat took the stage as keynote speakers during first two days of the week-long program.

One of IESE’s newest programs for senior executives, Fast Forward is designed to give leaders a critical dose of leadership knowledge and expertise. It features a mix of tracks and sessions, which participants can personalize to fit their own needs, along with insights from key leadership experts.

In his presentation, Prof. Ghemawat told participants that global connectedness has not reached pre-crisis levels. "We have witnessed a lull in the increasing integration of the world economy," he said.

The EU’s share of the world GDP dropped from 28 percent in 1980 to 20 percent today. While the world’s economic center of gravity continues to shift toward emerging markets, this shift varies radically among industries.

However, no industry can afford to ignore the growth of emerging markets, said Prof. Ghemawat, who is the Anselmo Rubiralta Professor of Global Strategy at IESE and author of the book World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It.

He advised company leaders to go beyond thinking about market size, recognize differences in markets and expand their competitive advantage.

Leading without a title

Bestselling author Robin Sharma showered participants with diverse ideas about what it means to be a great leader, as well as a great human being during his keynote presentation on Tuesday.

Too many people spend their lives "busy being busy," said Sharma, author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and Leading without a Title. On average, people now spend 2.1 hours per day distracted by new technologies. These distractions pose a danger for executives and their organizations, he said.

"Addiction by distraction is the death of creative production," said Sharma.

He also stressed that being a leader does not require holding an official position. Instead, leadership should be viewed as an act of service with a sharp focus on excellence that can be performed in any job, at any level of society.

"How often are you exposed to mastery? Mastery is so rare," he said. "Be so good at what you do that the marketplace cannot ignore you. The marketplace always rewards mastery."

He admonished business leaders for pursuing complexity and urged them to stick to simplicity instead. Seek to excel at just a few things, he said, a single-minded process he compared to that of Michelangelo when he created his masterpiece "David" from a block of marble.

"My suggestion to you is get to know your vision for this year and for your life in intimate, flawless detail," he said. "Clarity precedes mastery. Clarity is power."

Growing a family luxury firm

On Wednesday, participants heard from Ermenegildo Zegna, CEO of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, who gave a talk titled "Challenges and Opportunities of a Global Family Business." Moderating the session was IESE Prof. Marc Sachon.

Although the group’s growth has slowed during the global downturn, he said, a strong governance structure and initiatives such as the Agnona women’s luxury textile and ready-to-wear brand, are keeping the company’s long-term strategy on track.

"I run the company as if I were the CEO of a public company," said Zegna, who heads the fourth generation family-owned firm based in Milan, Italy.

Four of the company’s board members are independent, while four are family members, he said. Independent board members reflect diverse sectors and nationalities. "So we have a good comprehensive board that helps us in making the right decisions," he said.

The company is keeping its eye firmly on Asia, he said. "We were the first luxury brand to move into China and China today is our number one market."

Zegna traced his company’s switch from a wholesale to a retail-driven brand through the creation of a centralized creativity center in Milan and the establishment of fully-owned stores all over the world. In May of this year, Zegna became the first luxury brand to open its own store in Nigeria.

The group has eight factories located in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Mexico and Turkey and 70 percent of manufacturing is carried out directly by the company, he said. By running most of its own production, Zegna is able to reduce many of the risks that currently come with textile outsourcing, he said, citing the recent collapse of a factory in Bangladesh.

"Italy still has most of the production, but we are proud to call ourselves `made in Zegna’," he said.

The female-driven economy

On Thursday, Halla Tómasdóttir of the Iceland-based Sisters Capital investment group, discussed trends poised to have a dramatic impact on companies in the future, in a session moderated by IESE Prof. Nuria Chinchilla.

"The world is increasingly driven by the female economy," said Tómasdóttir, who pointed out that in the UK and the US, women control 50 percent of savings. Around the world, roughly 80 percent of all consumer decisions are made by women.

Research shows that companies with women in senior positions deliver as much as 50 percent more equity to shareholders, signaling that no company that wants to succeed can afford to ignore the female economy.

Another trend poised to make an impact is agequake: a seismic shift in consumer markets, as older people begin to comprise a larger part of the general population, she said.

For the rest of this century, the fastest growing consumer market will be people older than 60, but few businesses are marketing to this group, she said. In addition, seniors will work longer because aren’t enough young people to replace aging baby boomers.

The new way to seek prosperity is to invest in companies that have a mission, are making a difference and who are proud of their product and their people, Tómasdóttir concluded. Companies who want to succeed in the future should build inclusive cultures, so they can tap into all human resources available, she said.