Rethinking American Business

The United States of America succeeded in the last century largely as a result of business acumen. We had the best leadership, the best “know-how,” and the most productive workers. We enjoyed a motivated workforce, a rising standard of living, a tremendous amount of ingenuity, a wealth of natural resources, and millions of foreign consumers hungry for our exports. We built a manufacturing base, a political niche, a stable society, and enjoyed entrepreneurial energy without parallel.We also benefited from world events, and had a competitive edge following World War II, when major countries in Europe and Asia had their factories and productive capacity decimated. We, on the other hand, had an intact infrastructure, a highly developed workforce, an economic engine developed rapidly during wartime, and an educated consumer-oriented population. There was practically no competition, and our goods were highly prized and sought after. Under those conditions it would be hard to fail.As a result of these circumstances, the USA prospered.TIME to WAKE UP!We’re no longer the only major industrialized country with productive capacity intact. We no longer have a monopoly on the best leadership, and most productive populous. We no longer have the strongest (although it’s still the biggest) economy. We no longer have a huge international trade surplus, instead, it’s a substantial, problematic, and growing deficit. We no longer monopolize innovation.We still have the best higher education system in the world, despite our seemingly intractable problems with the K-12 programs. We educate foreign leaders and business people in our Business Schools, and export management theories and practices to our competitors. This is healthy and appropriate. However, it diminishes our competitive edge.A world economy benefits all of us. In the U.S. Consumers are treated to a wide range of low cost products. Business people and investors find infinitely more choices and opportunity. In foreign lands there are increasing incomes and standards of living.WHAT SHOULD WE DO?We can’t roll the clock back. Too late for protectionism. Too late for many choices. Obviously, we need to accept the realities, and develop new models and strategies to preserve our economy and standard of living. And, while independent businessmen can make a difference, a more comprehensive approach may be required to achieve these broad objectives.Here are some initiatives that come to mind…–Business Incubators
Small businesses fail at an alarming rate. We need to protect and nurture fledgling enterprises.–National strategic initiatives and support
Business is at the core of the success of this nation. We need to decide which businesses, products and services are essential for future positioning and effective international competition, and help them achieve success. Labor needs to be included in this process, as well as academia, so that prepared workers can be ready for new demands.–Government grants and awards for innovation
We celebrate the Academy Awards (the film industry is very successful internationally), we celebrate much in entertainment, and other industries. We need to provide support and recognition for business excellence, in recognition of it’s indispensable role in our society.–Financial Support mechanisms
Many new and existing strategic businesses are extremely capital intensive. Instead of our current “too big to fail” philosophy, we should consider a “too important to our future to fail” mentality. Ensuring that capital is available to industries essential to our future competitive and strategic future should be a national business priority.–National Business Leadership Academy
The best business brains and talent should be tapped and asked to share, as a public service, their knowledge and skills in a government-business-academic partnership. The Academy could be jointly sponsored by government and business, and orchestrated by a consortium of universities.–National Business Advisory Board
An advisory board to the Executive and Legislative branches of government should be considered. This entity would have a broad mandate, encompassing: international competitiveness, strategic industries essential to U.S. future interests, strategies to support business enterprise, foster innovation, develop alliances, and cut “red tape.” To be effective, this body must include top business leaders; people with clout and reputation.–Rotation of leaders among business and government
Part of the current business problem seems to arise from a lack of understanding of respective roles, responsibilities, challenges, priorities, etc. Many government officials have been insulated from the harsh realities of the business world for much of their career. Likewise, business leaders may not have a sound appreciation for the compromises, public policy considerations, and legal ramifications of governmental process. The role and importance of human capital in the equation would be strengthened through labor leadership being involved in the rotation or experiential processes.–Revisit QUALITY and SERVICE
Despite our progress in improving quality of products and services, we still have a need to do more. America should develop a reputation as the highest quality provider in the world. Business, Labor, and Government will have to cooperate in this effort.–Emphasize ethics
Ethical, honest, and fair business practices are at the core of business relationships. Successful business dealings are based on trust and an expectation of fairness. Until this expectation is a universal reality our business progress will be thwarted. Business and government are equal culprits. Unfair, an/or preferential treatment is well-known. Illegal and unethical business (or Government) dealings should be harshly punished. Minimal consequences, or knowing “winks,” encourage unethical behaviors which are corrosive to our economy and society.FINALLY…
There are many other factors that need to be considered, and certainly the recommended initiatives are not the only areas that need attention. However, we seem to have been in a prolonged period of denial and neglect. We will certainly be on our way to a lesser nation, society, and economy, unless we soon address fundamental business concerns. All of the initiatives suggested in this article should be led and operated by volunteers, not extensions of the cumbersome and costly government bureaucracy. Support services could, in some areas, be provided by contract employees with minimal government financial support.We are a nation of risk-takers, a society of independent thinkers and frontier spirit, a hard-working people of accomplishment, results, and well-deserved success. We recognize the changes and trends in international business and its crucial connection to our national well-being and future prospects. We know that new approaches are necessary. We’re definitely up to the challenge. Let’s get started.