World Business Forum 2016

Delegates attending the World Business Forum in Sydney last week were given plenty of advice on how to improve their skills and prepare for the future in a rapidly changing business world that’s being disrupted from all sides. 


Become the next Richard Branson. 

Stealing the show was the ultimate disrupter, Sir Richard Branson. After cutting off the conference facilitator’s tie, he shared some snippets on how his philosophy of “screw it, just get on and do it!” helped him grow Virgin from a small record company to a multi-billion dollar empire. He also imparted some advice to other leaders.

“To be a good real leader you have to love people… You’ve got listen, listen, listen and get feedback,” he said. 

He believed partying with staff was important. “The important thing is to have a notebook in your pocket because the next morning you are definitely not going to remember what they told you the night before. But they most likely would have told you a lot of very useful things. And then as a leader of a company you have got to act on them.”

Learning the art of delegation was also vital. If you didn’t, you’d just end up being a manager, not a true entrepreneur, he said, adding that it was crucial to find people who loved people, were good at praising and motivating people and who worked hard to create a happy company.

The power of a good leader is to always look for the best in people. There is generally a reason when someone messes up and you need to understand that rather than jumping down their throats and criticising them.

The power of a good leader is to always look for the best in people.


An eye to the future.

Looking ahead, Tammy Erickson, an executive fellow of organisational behaviour at the London Business School, outlined what the future of work would look like over the next five to 10 years.

She believed the way jobs were organised would change. “They will become tasks, not organisational roles as they are today. Organisations will become shaped around activities and projects… the pieces of work that need to be done. People will still have titles, but they will be time-bound and very specific. Compensation will be tied to the projects you do.” 

As organisations became more task-based, far less of our work would be governed by time, added Erickson.

With the decline in the global birth-rates, she said businesses that depended on having a labour force would have to be “darn good at attracting a disproportionate share of that shrinking pool of kids” if they wanted to continue to grow. “If you want young talent, you are going to have to able to challenge them and create organisations they love,” she added. 

John Mattone - Leadership
John Mattone – Leadership

A shifting philosophy.

Organisations would also employ a lot less full-time employees. There would be some full-time employees in positions where they were needed all the time, but many more that you would tap on an “as needed basis”. 

Erickson said this would require organisational redesign and managing a variety of work arrangements and a community of individuals. “The HR role will become much more similar to marketing. Marketing has to maintain a great relationship with customers who use your products sporadically. They buy them from time to time, but you have to maintain a relationship with them all the time. You will have to do the same thing with people who work for you.”

She said organisations would also need to manage people who did different things to what they do today, many of them heavily augmented by smart machines. Intelligent machines would take over many job categories, except those that involved decision-making and innovation.

When you talk about doing something you’re truly passionate about, there is no Plan B.


Define your brand. Define your audience. 

And, it would be the creativity and innovation that came from individuals that would differentiate businesses. Because of this, some organisation might feel be a bit weird or idiosyncratic. Organisations would have to get comfortable with what made them special and improve their skills in mobilising intelligence, said Erickson. 

Meanwhile, Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo’s first ever chief design officer, discussed how he was helping to turn a soft drink into an experience. “People don’t buy products anymore. They buy relevant experiences,” he said.

“They search for holistic solutions, experiences that are meaningful to them and stories that are authentic.”

This thinking was behind innovations such as Pepsimoji, which combined the brand with emoji characters; Pepsi Spire, a range of fountain beverage dispensers that allowed consumers to customise their own drinks; and Gatorade’s use of technology to push the sports fuel ecosystem further in support tomorrow’s athlete.

Nothing was simple. “If you are not facing roadblocks, you are not driving innovation,” said Porcini.

The pursuit of a better you. 

Also inspiring was the talk by Chris Gardner, author of the 2006 autobiography The Pursuit of Happyness and the inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Will Smith. 

In addition to discussing the struggles of being homeless for almost a year, he talked about his “spiritual genetics” – that’s what makes you you – and how he got his job at Bear Stearns without an MBA. “I had a PSD – I was poor, smart with a deep desire to become wealthy.” 

He added: “The most important components of a plan are something I call ‘c5’ complex. Your plan has got to be clear, concise, compelling, consistent and committed. Everybody has a dream. What’s your plan? When you talk about doing something you’re truly passionate about, there is no Plan B… Plan B sucks. If Plan B was any good it would be Plan A.”

Gardner also explained why he spelt “happyness” with a “y”. “The ‘y’ is there because it is you and your responsibility to create the life you want.”