Stanton Chase calls for business to oppose protectionism

A protectionist outlook runs contrary to the very heart of international business – global culture cannot be easily reversed

Feature image
Stanton Chase International CEO Mickey Matthews believes that the globally connected business world can withstand the current wave of populist opposition

Donald Trump’s US election victory was the latest in a series of victories worldwide for protectionist, isolationist political platforms. No matter what the social and economic merits of such policies, it cannot be disputed that multinational business sees the world differently.

The global, internationally connected business world relies on diversity and cross-border cooperation to grow, and political imperatives will not change this – the culture is too deeply ingrained, particularly for Millennials. No sector demonstrates this better than the executive recruitment industry, as companies will not lightly sacrifice the freedom to look the world over for the right leadership candidates. Similarly, executives depend on bringing in diverse, inclusive teams to broaden their global understanding. With these issues in mind, European CEO spoke to Mickey Matthews, International Chairman of executive search firm Stanton Chase, about what recent political trends mean for business, both now and in the future.

What global trends have you observed in the executive search industry in recent years?
First and foremost, business has categorically become more global across all industries. In the international talent space, we have more global assignments, and companies want and need internationally experienced, culturally sensitive executive leaders. I don’t see that demand diminishing – if anything it will only accelerate in the foreseeable future.

Business leaders around the world are working against the protectionist trend

Technology and diversity are also critical in today’s executive search business. The phenomenon of industry 4.0 touches every aspect of everyone’s lives, both personally and professionally. The demand for talent associated with this revolution is enormous, and business leaders are constantly scrambling to keep up. It will be interesting to see how the latest AI developments, such as driverless cars, affect the global marketplace in the next few years. Undoubtedly, businesses are now more connected around the globe. New competitors are entering the marketplace daily, and there is no going back, despite suggestions by various political leaders.

The importance of diversity at all levels is another key transformation we have seen in the talent market. Boards and CEOs want individuals who have different ideas, perspectives and experiences. The very core of a business must be diverse. The best leaders are purposefully seeking out colleagues who hold differing viewpoints, so they can balance their own perspectives and consider new alternatives. Diversity means challenging one’s own assumptions and biases, and remaining open and flexible to new ideas.

How will recent political shifts affect the business world?
Historically, we have always seen a very direct link between politics and business. As global geopolitical direction has recently undergone a drastic transformation towards protectionism, many business leaders, boards and CEOs have taken the opposing stance and dropped borders, become more multicultural and utilising the business tools at their disposal to successfully follow Milton Friedman’s thesis that “the world is flat”.

Business leaders around the world are working against the protectionist trend; quite frankly, political leaders who dream of exclusionary policies simply won’t see their dreams realised. It can’t happen, because the world is too interconnected. Business leaders and their customers want, need, and demand a united global economy. Isolationism will not benefit anyone. Let’s use Donald Trump as an example: he is a global businessman himself. Consequently, he understands the value of global collaboration, interconnectedness, and unification, and will wisely continue these efforts to strengthen businesses and the economy.

In what ways can business leaders work to oppose the protectionist trend?
CEOs and business leaders worldwide need to lead by example against the geopolitical swings towards protectionism. We, and others, can continue to be culturally sensitive and inclusive, and drop borders rather than raising walls. We can achieve this by using diversity, technology and progressive talent development, integrating mentoring and continuous learning to elevate ourselves and our companies together globally, rather than being divisive. Collaboration, sharing and building from diversity rather than cutting it down is the path forward for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

What parallels can be drawn between Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory? Is diversity now just a buzzword?
I am hopeful some of Trump’s campaign promises were simply that – campaign promises. Brexit was absolutely mind-boggling for the international community, and I hope the Trump administration has paid attention so they don’t repeat costly mistakes.

Successful companies embrace inclusion, as this brings innovation, a closer touch with customers, and most importantly business reality

Diversity is not just talk; it is a business imperative. Successful companies embrace inclusion, as this brings innovation, a closer touch with customers, and most importantly business reality. Global leadership today requires a partnership between companies that are clear about their commitment to diversity and strong executive search firms that are equipped to address diversity issues. Our specialists in diversity recruitment work closely with our clients to enhance diversity at all levels of our client organisations.

How will industry 4.0 affect the business world?
There is no question industry 4.0 has already transformed the business world and will continue to do so. Even Barack Obama recently noted the biggest challenge of the next presidency would be artificial intelligence. I think one of the immediate ramifications can also be linked back to politics and government policies; no country can ignore the pervasive nature of this new world, and no business can step back in time once they have begun the process of integrating industry 4.0 principles.

What does the future hold for the younger generation, and what is your message for a European audience?
Businesses and leaders need to recognise the importance of the ageing workforce and changing global demographics. Millennials and the newer generations are coming into leadership positions. We have an obligation to embrace, include, learn from, and help mentor the younger generation as leaders.

The message to Europe is simple: maintain and build the EU. Do not be divisive or protectionist; rather, be open and inclusive, and learn from each other. We are all on this planet together, and local decisions impact nationally, regionally and globally, so follow the shining examples of the many businesses and CEOs that encourage and welcome new thought, new generations, and change.