A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited by Lundquist College of Business alumnus Jan Frydman '80, head of international affairs for the European Commission, to speak to the commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry. The directorate is the organization primarily responsible for setting "competition policy" in the European Union (EU).
My visit to Brussels, Belgium, culminated with a discussion of issues that keep global leaders awake. (Watch a video interview.) I was struck by the remarkable degree of unanimity between what I heard there and what I have learned recently in board rooms and at other universities--in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Our friends overseas provided me with some great insight. It was also a superb opportunity to connect with many European alumni, as well as share my excitement about our enhanced exchange programs.
The common theme that came out of our discourse is a growing anxiety rooted in uncertainty--about the world economy, about major societal trends, about the shifting competitive center of gravity from the West to the East, about the changing rules of global competition, and, finally, about the apparent increasing ineffectiveness of regulatory approaches toward the creation of a global-level competitive playing field.
Let's begin with the global economic outlook. The government leaders, CEOs, and regulators shared with me their worries about
- Whether the Euro will survive (many in Europe think not, and two countries--Finland and Greece--are actively preparing exit plans)
- Whether the United States will be able to get its financial house in order
- What can be expected from the Chinese economy in the next five to ten years (a much overlooked factor is that in in twenty years' time, there will be more retirees in China than citizens in the EU).
Coupled with these economic issues are major societal trends:
- Global warming is finally openly discussed around the world by governments and in board rooms
- Health care is a major concern as the world population ages and the number of cities with ten million or more citizens is growing rapidly
- Key resources such as water are becoming increasingly scarce
- Diseases we thought were totally eradicated are spreading once again in developed and developing countries.
I think it is fair to say that the impact of the shift in the center of gravity of global economic activity from the West to the East is not yet fully understood in government circles or private enterprise. The issue is not just one of numbers. The rules of competition, issues of governance and transparency, and changing business ethics and cultural values are all likely to shift to new norms.
Finally, the frustration on the part of European regulators is palpable regarding their inability to get the "Euro problem" under control, to stimulate entrepreneurial behavior in Europe, or to connect with ordinary Europeans, who in increasing numbers seemingly do not value their hard work. This sense of frustration is equally apparent in Washington, Beijing, and other world capitals.
All in all, there's plenty for global leaders to worry about. The good news is that they're working on the right issues and that a healthy, open debate involving the public and private sector finally has begun.
Back here at the Lundquist College of Business, our faculty and students are committed to exploring and understanding these business issues in a global context. It was especially encouraging to me to confirm each issue cited here is effectively represented and addressed within the college's course curriculum.
It's just one example of how supporting business education at the University of Oregon provides a remarkable return on investment. Together, our students, faculty, alumni, and donors can help us all have fewer sleepless nights.
What are your thoughts on these issues? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cornelis A. "Kees" de Kluyver
Dean and James and Shirley Rippey Distinguished Professor