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Book review: 2020 Vision

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Published: 14/03/2015 - Filed under: Tried & Tested »

2020 Vision2020 Vision - Today's Business Leaders on Tomorrow's World

Tim Burt, a former Financial Times journalist and managing partner at Stockwell Communications, follows up his PR book Dark Art: The Changing Face of Public Relations with a more ambitious project — interviewing 20 leading chairmen and senior executives of major companies.

The focus of each interview is what their markets, companies and strategy will look like in 2020, and it makes for some interesting reading.

The list of participants is impressive: everyone from Sir Martin Sorrell (WPP) through to Kasper Rorsted (Henkel), although I suspect most people will concentrate their attention on the sectors they are most interested in, or deal with on a day-top-day basis.

To that end, I read closely the interview with Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail & General Trust (which indirectly used to own Business Traveller), and Mark Schwab, chief executive of Star Alliance.

Some very senior people are interviewed, but there are also big gaps. Burt points out that "business has an image problem", and as a result: "Some entire sectors remain toxic, seemingly unable to reverse public sentiment about past bad behaviour. That is why you will find no bankers in 2020 Vision. There is no one from the fast-food sector, from the defence industries, pharmaceuticals, nuclear energy or the chemicals sector."

This is very honest of him, but these sectors are very large omissions. Although Burt presumably asked various organisations in those sectors for access to their top management and met with refusal, there are writers who have succeeded in speaking to people in at least some of these industries and have included them in their own business books (reviewed in these pages). In addition, I would have liked to see someone from the hospitality business interviewed, and if it was a choice between the chief executive of one of the airline alliances or a major airline, I would have gone for the latter.

Burt helpfully summarises the themes that emerge from the interviews, such as the crucial importance of securing and retaining executive talent and the potential of big data, and if there are no great surprises there, the interviews are a good way of learning about other industries you knew little about, and also as a summary of those you do know quite a bit about. 

Star Alliance's Schwab speaks of his pride in Heathrow Terminal 2, but reveals that he was first shown conceptual drawings in 1998, 16 years before the facility opened. He adds: "What frustrates us is when airports go out and hire the big architectural firms to design them a pretty building but without thinking about the customer experience in connecting from one airline to another."

To which we can only add, if it frustrates the airlines, imagine how it makes us travellers feel.

Schwab also says that Star Alliance "has declined to invite" any of the powerful new Gulf carriers such as Emirates and Etihad to join its club "because we don't need to".

Well, that's one way of framing it, but as you'd imagine the Gulf airlines would probably describe it differently - another reason I wished Burt had managed to speak with Tim Clark of Emirates, James Hogan of Etihad or Akbar Al Baker of Qatar Airways.

Perhaps in the sequel… although I'd probably then wish he'd asked different questions if he did. Journalists rarely agree about such things.

However, I'm impressed both by the list Burt has compiled, and the quality of the writing throughout, which is clear, concise, and keeps the author's own opinions and personality firmly out of frame until the conclusion.


The full list of participants is:

  • Advertising Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP
  • Airlines Mark Schwab, Star Alliance
  • Autos Li Shufu, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group
  • Diversified Industrial Enrique Zambrano, Proeza
  • Diversified Services Ashish J. Thakkar, Mara Grp
  • Education Linda Zecher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Consumer Goods Kasper Rorsted, Henkel
  • Healthcare Roberto Quarta, Smith & Nephew
  • Investment Holdings Jacob Wallenberg, Investor AB
  • Law Eduardo Leite, Baker & McKenzie
  • Marketing Beth Comstock, GE
  • Mining Jac Nasser, BHP Billiton
  • Music Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group
  • Newspapers Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail & General Trust
  • Retailing Tadashi Yanai, Fast Retailing
  • Satellites Andrew Sukawaty, Inmarsat
  • Shipping Ingar Skaug, J. Lauritzen and DFDS
  • Internet Technology Martha Lane Fox, GO ON UK
  • Telecoms Augie Fabela, VimpelCom
  • Trade & Industry Emma Marcegaglia, ENI & BusinessEurope


Elliott & Thompson, £20 hardback/ebook

Tom Otley

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