What if? The future of business
Economics and society
Strategy and innovation
Leadership and management
The Brewery, London

The world has changed at a breathtaking pace over the last five decades - transforming the way in which we live and work in surprising and unexpected ways.

Given the unpredictability of the modern era this year’s Summit will dare to imagine what lies ahead and ask “What if..?"

What if everyone lived to 100 years old? What if the world had no borders? What if business could solve the world’s biggest problems? What if robots replaced the global workforce? What if all boards were 50% female? What if you were able to stop the great ideas leaving your company?

These are just some of the questions we will speculate about on what promises to be an insightful and thought provoking day. 

Book your place and join a host of business leaders and London Business School faculty as we look to future of business and ask “What if..?”

Global Leadership Summit films

What if..?

View all

What if we incentivise long-run growth?

The 20th century firm was predominantly capital-intensive. The key assets were physical – factories, land, and machines. The key challenge for shareholders (and society) was to ensure that managers did not misuse corporate resources for their own benefit, for example by paying themselves excessive salaries, building empires through value-destructive acquisitions, or simply shirking and enjoying the quiet life. As a result, investors focused on closely monitoring management – using financial statements to measure a firm’s physical assets and current profits, and tying executives’ pay to short-term performance.

The world has changed. The key assets in the modern firm are intangible – human capital, brand strength, R&D capabilities, and corporate social responsibility (goodwill with one’s customers, suppliers, employees, and regulators). These assets cannot be reduced to simple numbers on a balance sheet, nor do they show up in short-term profits – instead, their benefits may take several years to manifest. The focus on measurement, while appropriate for the 20th-century firm, backfires with the 21st- century firm. Evaluating managers according to tangible short-term measures will cause them to ignore the intangible drivers of long-term value.

Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance

What if we run out of resources?

In a world faced with acute resource scarcity, businesses will have to adopt novel and radically innovative business models, in close collaboration with their supply chains, but also their other key stakeholders. Such models will have to be based on sustainable, recyclable and reusable inputs, and will have to design, produce, and deliver outputs from which firms will be able to recover a significant amount of material to feed back into their supply chain. Even with today’s technology for instance, it is cheaper to extract gold from one tonne of used mobile phones than it is to extract the same amount from one tonne of gold ore!

Businesses will also have to pioneer smart new ways through which to engage with their customers to ensure efficient utilisation of limited resources: for example, to lease to them products that deliver services rather than to sell products that end up in landfills. They will have to expand the scope and the reach of their partnerships, to maximise resource productivity through systems-level change and a transition towards a more circular rather than a linear economy. They will therefore contribute towards a reformed economic system that in many ways will mimic the natural ecosystem, in that materials may be produced sustainably and in relative abundance while the waste that is generated provides raw materials for other parts of the system, thus enabling sustainable future growth.

Ioannis Ioannou, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship

What if we knew what was next?

We live in the information age, which according to Wikipedia is a period in human history characterised by the shift from industrial production to one based on information and computerisation. But what comes next? Just as the industrial age gradually gave way to the information age in the post-war period, we can safely assume that something else lies beyond the information age. Of course, firms will always need to harness information in effective ways, just as most of them still need industrial techniques to make their products cheaply and efficiently. But at some point information will become necessary but not sufficient for firms to be successful.

So here is a way of addressing this challenge: ask yourself, what would a world with too much information look like? And what problems would it create? Here are a couple of initial responses to get the conversation going. One problem created by too much information is “analysis paralysis” – we become so obsessed about collecting more information that we fail to act on it. Another is that easy access to data makes us intellectually lazy, with the result that we allow rapid processing power to substitute for thinking. In both cases, an excess of information puts a premium on our capacity to make smart and timely judgments. Maybe judgment and action are the scarce resources of the post-information age?

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Speakers include

View all