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Business Must Listen – and Lead

WASHINGTON, DC – Once again business, political, and academic leaders from around the world descended upon Davos for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, where they had much to discuss with respect to the current state of the world and how to improve it. This year’s theme was “Responsive Leadership,” which, according to WEF founder Klaus Schwab, “requires a deeper commitment to inclusive development and equitable growth, both nationally and globally.”

In the United States, an acrimonious and divisive presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s election, and a wave of post-election protests all speak to the importance of paying attention to both political messages and cultural divisions. Many observers expected the 2016 election to be a referendum on cultural values, but voters instead sent a clear message about an economy that has excluded them.

The American working class wants someone to pay attention to the fact that their jobs have been displaced by technology and globalization. They want the dignity that comes from work, but the jobs they once performed have disappeared. So now they want someone to fix that problem, and they voted accordingly.

Business itself wasn’t on the ballot. But as someone representing a multinational organization, I found myself looking in the mirror when I discussed the election outcome. Multinational organizations and businesses have prospered from global markets and dramatic advances in technology. These changes have made significant contributions to productivity, but they have also created the perception that jobs were outsourced, as manufacturing moved to economies with lower labor costs. The lesson is that we should think about the economic long term when making decisions that have broad social consequences