Mark Weinberger, the global chair and chief executive officer of professional services firm Ernst & Young, spoke Thursday in Statler Auditorium about the qualities that are necessary to a becoming a global business leader in today’s economy.
Weinberger opened the talk by calling the current economy “remarkable,” saying the business landscape is rapidly evolving.
“We have geopolitical uncertainties, we have technological revolutions, we have business model disruption and we have increased global connectivity like we have never seen,” he said. “All of this is going to have a profound effect on economy, society and on business models, and employment landscapes over the coming years.”
President Elizabeth Garrett, who moderated the talk, asked Weinberger how Cornellians should prepare to face the unique conditions of today’s economy.
“As you know, we also want to help form the leaders of tomorrow, and we want to help our students deal with such an ever-changing and unexpected world,” Garrett said. “What should we do as an institution of higher education to help train and prepare our students for the world you just described?”
Weinberger specified four qualities he believes a global business leader should have today.
The first trait Weinberger described was a leader who prioritizes “leading for tomorrow [and] not just for today.” He said that a leader has to be able to anticipate “mega-trends” and be prepared for them.
“If you looked at the paper today … and you look at the emerging markets, [you see] that they are volatile, they are risky, there’s political upheaval, there are very low returns and terrible investments,” he said. “If you made that decision for the short-term, you won’t be around for the long-term.”
Weinberger said that even when long-term issues are clear, business leaders “find it hard to think in the long term.” He added that they are often under extreme pressure to execute solutions in a timely manner.
“Information is instant and people judge us instantly,” he said. “There are analysts who look at us every quarter and determine whether we’re doing good or bad. They are forcing us to think more short-term and influencing business judgement.”
Weinberger also emphasized leading with a “power of purpose.”
“It cannot be about what you do — it has to be about the value that you add to the world,” Weinberger said. “If you have a purpose beyond profit, you will be more successful.”
He used EY to illustrate a group that is not merely self-interested, but is composed of talented people working together to create a better world.
“This is especially important to the millennials out there …They absolutely want to do good as well as doing well,” he said. “And so we focus a lot at EY on our purpose — building a better working world. And if our people don’t think of it like that, they’re not going to work the long hours.”
He then spoke on the importance of communicating with all stakeholders.
“My company is so successful because I am focused on my stakeholders, not my shareholders,” Weinberger said, quoting Mark Benioff, chief executive officer of salesforce.com.
“What he’s recognizing is that the shareholder return is not necessarily as important as how happy your employees are,” he said. “It is about the commitment and the sustainability you have in your communities [and] the role that you play in the world.”
Finally, he emphasized the importance of “building a diverse team for a diverse world.”
“If you don’t have the right people around the table asking the right questions, you will get the wrong answers,” he said.
Weinberger also emphasized that to understand, serve and trade with different countries, one should have people from those countries on his or her team.
“Diversity is no longer nice and just moral; it is a business imperative,” he said. “You have to develop a culture of diversity, not an initiative. And it takes time and energy and effort because there is a lot of unconscious bias out there.”
He ended his talk by stressing the importance of universities like Cornell in developing the talent and character of its students.
“What you get from a university like this is the ability to learn how you learn, how to have integrity, how to [work in] teams,” he said. “[You take away] things that are life skills and are beyond what you learn in the classroom.”