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ACS CEO Reflects on the 2009 SCI Global Summit

Madeleine Jacobs

The SCI Global Summit was a rare chance to step outside the workaday world and share ideas to cut through the economic gloom, said one its most prominent attendees, Dr Madeleine Jacobs, Executive Director and CEO of the American Chemical Society.

Dr Jacobs closed the Summit, held in Sicily in May 2009, with a keynote speech. She said, ‘I personally found that our meeting did exactly what Andrew Ladds outlined for us at the beginning:

  • To share our vision to cut through the economic gloom
  • To stimulate ideas
  • To develop some tools to aid us in forward thinking

The Summit’s main aim was to bring industry leaders together to consider the challenges and opportunities the next ten years will bring. ‘Perhaps the greatest value of this meeting was to step out of our workaday world for a day or so and have the opportunity to really think about what we’ve heard, even if many of the ideas were already familiar to us’.

Dr Jacobs summarised some of the messages she considered most important:

‘Paul Laudicina, our keynote speaker, noted that we are likely at another ‘inflection point’ similar to the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of the digital age. There will be continuous, inexorable disruptive change, and those executives and organisations who have the ‘insight, foresight, and temerity’ to be bold, to leverage science and technology for innovation, and to take risks, will succeed. Paul told us to:

  • Focus on the future
  • Collaborate
  • Act quickly

‘Steve Welch reminded us that the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters, the character for danger and the character for opportunity. To thrive in a crisis, organisations must have a clear strategy that is understood throughout the organisation.’

‘Indeed, several speakers, notably Shaun Thaxter and others, reminded us that it is not sufficient for a company to just have a strategy — it must be embraced and understood by everyone in the organisation. When that happens, the company can change.’

‘John Quelch gave us much food for thought about marketing in an economic downturn. He also gave us some of those tools Andrew mentioned:

  • Reassess our assumptions on pricing
  • Consider new distribution systems
  • Align with partners for the future
  • Unbundle products
  • Communicate extensively with your customers
  • Continue to launch new value-based products
  • Do not skimp on market research (a tempting area to cut, but don’t do it)
  • Never forget the customer
  • Develop leading indicators to evaluate health of the customer and company

‘We also spent a great deal of time being reminded that we live in a resource-constrained world. We heard sobering presentations on what we must do to increase energy supplies. We will need both innovation and political will.’

‘Finally, nearly all of our speakers spoke to the themes of Thomas D’Aquino, Craig Speed, and Dominque Fournier—leadership that can make a difference to thrive in a world of continuous change. As Dominique said, we need leaders who recognise that people are not an asset, they are the competitive advantage. We need to nurture the people who work for us, especially when times are tough.’

Waving or drowning?

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