The focus was on specific industries — ranging from real estate to sports to entertainment — as well as on issues that affect businesses across the board, including executive compensation, ethics, corporate responsibility, leadership and financial innovation. But the overall subject of the recent 2007 Wharton Economic Summit was “Next Moves in a Global Economy,” a theme echoed in the diverse backgrounds of the speakers and panelists, who urged their audience to recognize both the opportunities and responsibilities that come with operating in a global environment. In this special section, Knowledge at Wharton covers a number of Summit sessions and offers a videocast of panelist Jon Huntsman, chairman of Huntsman Corporation, speaking about the ethics of leadership.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez is threatening to take control of several major projects from American and European firms. In Russia, the government recently strong-armed Royal Dutch Shell into relinquishing control of a large oil field. Across the oil-producing world, governments are responding to higher petroleum prices by imposing new taxes on oil companies and forcing the renegotiation of contracts. According to speakers at the 2007 Wharton Economic Summit, such developments augur a new age for oil producers, where both the style and substance of doing business have changed.
The world of pro sports may look a lot more exciting than life in the office, but in reality — when you strip away the glamour and media attention — the bottom line for success is not too different on the playing field than it is in the business world. Character is what counts the most, whether you are scouting for a new quarterback in the NFL draft or hiring a young commodities trader. That was the message from top sports executives who participated in a 2007 Wharton Economic Summit panel called, “Leadership Lessons Learned from Sports,” sponsored by the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.
Blockbuster deals — like YouTube’s recent sale to Google for $1.65 billion and Skype’s sale last year to eBay for $2.6 billion — are giving venture investors new confidence in their ability to cash out, said a group of venture capitalists who spoke on a panel at the 2007 Wharton Economic Summit. In addition, new sectors like “clean tech,” an umbrella term for environmentally friendly technologies, and trends like the aging of populations in the developed world are creating promising investment opportunities. Even so, times remain challenging for many venture capitalists, the panelists warned. According to one participant, “15% of the firms have provided [about] 90% of the returns.”
Trying to predict the next hit — whether it’s an independent horror film, a new recording group or a popular video game — entails a high amount of risk in an industry that has been turned upside down by the Internet and the reconfiguration of longstanding distribution channels, according to panelists at the recent 2007 Wharton Economic Summit. For that reason, they noted, many of the most successful equity players in Hollywood tend to look for broad-based venues — a comprehensive film library vs. one director’s avant-garde film, for example — as the best investment vehicles for an industry in transition.
The U.S. population is getting older as the “age wave” of baby boomers nears retirement. Will their 60s, 70s and 80s be happy years, marked by prosperity, good health and fulfilling activities? There’s every chance of that, according to two keynote speakers at Wharton’s 2007 Economic Summit: Wharton finance professor Jeremy Siegel and Michael Milken, head of The Milken Institute, a non-partisan think tank. But both men cautioned that their optimism relies on taking steps to ensure, among other things, open markets and an educated, healthy workforce.
While many Americans are worried that real estate prices have flattened and may even turn downward, some of the country’s top commercial developers say there always is opportunity for those who manage their projects efficiently in a global market, focus on areas with growing demand and have the staying power to wait out the downturns. This was the consensus of a 2007 Wharton Economic Summit real estate panel which included executives from Apollo Real Estate Advisors, Sherwood Equities and Morgan Stanley’s Direct Investing Group.
Although mammoth executive compensation packages at hedge funds — hundreds of millions of dollars a year for some managers, with a select few topping $1 billion — have recently been disclosed in the business press, public outrage over soaring CEO pay has been growing for years. Do executive compensation figures reflect an efficient market or a failed one? Are pay levels adequately disclosed? Should shareholders have more say? And if top executives are overpaid, what’s to be done about it? Executive compensation was the subject of a panel at the 2007 Wharton Economic Summit.
Globalization is pulling tens of millions of people out of poverty annually and creating worldwide wealth unimaginable a generation ago. But its benefits are being shared unequally, resulting in widespread public dissatisfaction that business leaders ignore at their peril, two top executives told participants at the 2007 Wharton Economic Summit. Stan O’Neal, chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch, and Rajat Gupta, a senior worldwide partner with McKinsey, both called on their colleagues to pay attention to their social responsibilities as assiduously as they watch their bottom lines.
Ethics and moral codes of conduct differ in various parts of the world. Does that imply that executives who seek to do business globally should also have flexible ethical norms and traits that change from country to country? Absolutely not, if you ask Jon M. Huntsman, founder and chairman of Huntsman Corporation, a $13 billion maker of chemicals and plastics. “Of course, situations will be different in Asia, Eastern Europe or Latin America, but individuals who are responsible for business must maintain the same standards of ethics and the same criteria of honesty and integrity,” he says. “That is very difficult because sometimes you are forced to choose whether you will invest in a country or not.” Huntsman discussed these issues and more with Knowledge at Wharton during the 2007 Wharton Economic Summit in Philadelphia last month.