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Elephant, back view

The Elephant in the Boardroom

Climate change, weapons of mass destruction, water scarcity, migration, and energy are the greatest threats we face, according to the World Economic Forum's "Global Risk Report 2016." But none of these risks caused the recent spike in debt crises or the wave of corporate scandals that broke just in the last year.

LONDON – Business and government leaders worry about a multitude of issues these days. Climate change, weapons of mass destruction, water scarcity, migration, and energy are the greatest threats we face, according to the 750 experts surveyed for the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2016. And at the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos this year, the sheer number of unsettled issues – the Middle East meltdown, the European Union’s future (particularly given the possibility of a British exit), America’s presidential election, the refugee crisis, China’s economic slowdown, oil prices, and more – was itself unsettling.

But consider this: None of the risks highlighted in the WEF report caused the recent spike in debt crises or the wave of scandals that engulfed – just in the last year – Volkswagen, Toshiba, Valeant, and FIFA. These developments (and many more) are rooted in a more pedestrian – and perennial – problem: the inability or refusal to recognize the need for course correction (including new management).

As anti-establishment parties and candidates gain ground with voters throughout Europe and in the United States, political leaders who continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach could find themselves looking for new jobs. And the same is true of business leaders: Activist investors are fed up and determined to force change, either with a hands-on approach or by voting with their feet and divesting from companies that don’t meet their criteria.

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