The Future of US Business

What do Boston thought leaders believe are the keystones to future business growth? Long-term focus on education, shareholder relations, and application of disruptive sciences to their companies.

GE Director Dr. Susan Hockfield, Dr. Tom Kennedy (CEO of Raytheon), and Dick DeWolfe (Chairman of the parent of John Hancock) addressed major world and domestic trends at Tuesday morning’s breakfast meeting of the New England Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors.

DeWolfe noted that today’s boards are not nearly active enough in reaching out to institutional shareholders and explaining the long-term best interests of the company. Activist shareholders, even those with a “long” window, have short-term goals that are not necessarily in the best interests of companies.

The panel generally agreed that “education is the road to the future” and criticized education in Massachusetts, even at the elementary school level, as “broken.” One suggestion was to provide significant tax cuts in order to induce talented people to go into teaching for some part of their own lives. There was general recognition that online learning could be significant but that there was a continuing problem in how to motivate people to complete online programs absent “human contact.” The group decried the decline of vocational high school education, caused by the misconception that everyone had to go to a college.

There was general agreement that current technology was at an inflection point. The assumption that technology would grow in a straight line was fallacious, and there was agreement that artificial intelligence, genetics and nanotechnology were poised for “exponential takeoff” that will remake business within a decade.

There was overall caution about the general world stage: the world is a more dangerous place with increased pressure from Russia resulting in a return of the Western theory of deterrence, pressure from terrorists, and full-blown wars in the Middle East including the not-fully-appreciated full-blown conflict in Yemen against the Saudis. With North Korea on the horizon and China making claim to the nearby island chains, and with Japan likely moving from a passive to a more active military posture, there are significant international risks.

However, the panel then put these geopolitical risks aside, focusing rather on issues of education, science and poor corporate governance. Perhaps, because there is not much that the people assembled in the room can do in addressing the international sphere?

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