In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.
– Warren Buffett
Like many of you, those of us at West Monroe are spending these final weeks of 2011 reflecting on the previous year’s achievements and challenges, taking lessons we’ve learned and applying them toward an even more successful 2012. This annual practice, carried out in some form or another in most business organizations around the world, involves not only an introspective review of what we’ve done well or could do better, but also examines industry trends and external economic developments that may offer some insight, or even foresight, into what we can expect in the coming months. This understanding of the marketplace, both in our own backyard and around the globe, helps us to align our objectives in light of current conditions.
This past year has provided no shortage of opportunities reminding us of just how interconnected we are as a global society. Even though most modern U.S. business executives have acknowledged for years that this is a global economy we live in, 2011 has provided some of the most painful evidence of this reality. The European Debt Crisis, for example, created tangible risk for countries outside the Eurozone since many foreign banks, including those in the United States, have direct exposure to these institutions. The threat of another financial collapse, even abroad, could cause panic among investors who either choose not to invest or dump their current assets, further weakening the market. At a micro level, this emphasizes the need to understand more than just where our own organization’s investments and partnerships lie, but to more fully appreciate, understand and respect the depth of how others around the globe can immensely impact our local world, positively or negatively.
And it’s not just debt defaults and unsteady markets that can throw economies off balance. In March, the world watched as an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the northeast coast of Japan. The repercussions of this disaster stretched far outside the island nation and effected supply chain operations worldwide. The intricate network of manufacturing and distribution suppliers crosses borders, oceans and hemispheres – creating a seamless and almost imperceptible flow of parts and supplies that keep our factories running and shelves stocked with all those “things” we just can’t live without. The after-effects of the tsunami, including temporary shut-downs of plants around the world, forced us to contemplate how we would handle a future disruption to this process. What lessons have we learned that will help keep the supply chain up and running with as little an impact on production as possible should another catastrophe of this caliber occur?
As devastating as these events have been, they've taught us not to be encapsulated in our own, sometimes myopic, view of the world and our place in it. Instead of building up walls to protect ourselves and our own interests, we should strive for the type of transparency that allows us to understand the far-reaching global effects and day-to-day impact that our decisions and actions can have. More than ever, it’s a synergistic relationship that exists among countries around the world that rely so much on foreign trade and export, financial support and off-shore resources to cultivate a productive society.
I don’t have a crystal ball to look into and know what the future holds. And as much as there are times I wish I did, I know that part of the reason I love this business so much is that it affords me the opportunity to expand my horizons during challenging times and under trying circumstances. What I do have is insight I’ve gained from all my experiences leading up to this point, and the superior quality of people I’ve surrounded myself with, both as colleagues and clients, that help to guide our path for the future. Our collective success, though fraught with moments of doubt and unsure footing, is made more certain as we steadily move forward with a clear view of what is both in front of and behind us.