It is rare that delegates to a two-day conference demand, indeed volunteer, to make themselves available at 7am to hear an unscheduled speaker. But this is what occurred at the AICD’s recent annual conference in Hobart when the first speaker, Juan Enriquez captured the audience with his talk on the biotechnology revolution.

    A researcher at Harvard University, Enriquez told directors the biotechnology revolution now occurring will set off an unprecedented industrial convergence and he warned that Australia was in danger of being left behind (see cover story). During his talk, he made reference to his Harvard colleague, Prof Jonathan West who was scheduled to speak at one of the forums on the second day of the conference. West was born in Hobart and is a graduate of Sydney University. Such was the interest created by the biotechnology topic that Enriquez and West made a special presentation to directors early the next morning. It was riveting, provocative and confrontational. West called on directors at the conference and throughout Australia to become proactive in the biotechnology industry.

    He left no one in doubt that unless business and government co-operate to provide funding to build and own Australian biotechnology companies rather than selling ideas to overseas companies, Australia will be left behind. The AICD national conference as a whole was an outstanding success. While the future prospects of biotechnology captured the imagination, it was the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Guy Green who, in his address to open the conference, put technology issues into perspective by telling directors that machines should never be put before people. Sir Guy reminded delegates that information is not knowledge until the brain converts it. He said we must learn from the past and ensure that the technological tail does not wag the dog. As could be expected, futurist David Pearce Snyder painted a different landscape, a world wired to digital appliances where the information revolution will, for better or worse, change all our lives. Snyder believes the IT revolution is having and will continue to have profound changes on society and on the world economy. The advent of frictionless commerce (internet etc) will see world GDP grow from $US30 trillion in 2000 to $US290 trillion by 2100.

    Because the world's economic output will rise more than eight times faster than the population, average per capita income worldwide will increase by around 450 percent, while the ratio between the per capita incomes in the wealthiest nations and poorest nations can be expected to drop from 30-to-one today to five-to-one by the end of the century. And, if the future is already daunting and bringing with it unprecedented changes, then fasten your seatbelt, because Snyder predicts that the innovations and socio-political changes of the past decade have been merely a prelude to the grand opera of change that lies ahead. The chairman of Asia Inc magazine, Timothy Ong delivered an entirely different message. He said the Asian economic slowdown should not be seen as a sign that the Asian economic miracle was over. Ong told delegates that both the talk of an Asian economic way or miracle or the current slowdown is illusory and not reflective of what is happening on an individual country basis. He said the economic slowdown was not so much an economic crisis as an institutional crisis and that the reform of Asian institutions will help to deliver effective governments, strong institutions and maybe even democracy.

    It may be strange to talk about governments and democracy at a time when corporations dominate the world, but Ong points out that economic policies originate from governments and are implemented through institutions. His view is that Asia will return to the global world scene bigger and stronger as a result. The often controversial former chairman of UNSCOM, Richard Butler told directors that the main problem facing Australia is not its relationship with countries in the region but the tyranny of scale. The big will indeed become bigger and Australia is in danger of losing out unless it recognises that to play on the world stage is not a question of distance but of scale. And that was just on the first day. On the second day of the conference, the previously mentioned special session with Jonathan West and Juan Enriquez began proceedings. Linda Graham McCann, founder and former managing director of Microsoft Australia provided an interesting alignment between zen and the art of business while Hostworks director, Gary Thomas proved that you can be a world class Australian dotcom company.

    Howard Puttnam, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines and Braniff Airlines and current chairman of Aircraft Interior Resources provided an inspirational account of his past successes and failures in the airline business and what this taught him about management and people. His philosophy about business is simple. If you don't take care of your employees first and your customers second, the chances of being successful are slim. While Puttnam's story was in fact a tale from the corporate battlefield the real action came from John McGuigan, executive chairman Spike Networks, Alan Cameron, former chairman of ASIC and Huy Thuong from Wishlist. As with last year's conference when tales from the corporate battlefield was introduced, the three corporate warriors had uniquely different stories to tell. McGuigan provided insights in how to marshal the troops following a defeat and launch new corporate offences. Alan Cameron, on the other hand, provided directors with a view of the corporate regulation minefield as it was, as it is and what the likely to happen. Huy Truong's experience on the battlefield was perhaps the most striking.

    With little more than an idea, family money and an ambition to succeed, he and his family have built internet business Wishlist from scratch. The company is at a stage today where it is moving from a largely family-owned concern to taking equity partners on board and dealing with the implications that has for corporate control. All the forums on the afternoon of the second day were well attended and the dinner in the evening with guest speaker, Prime Minister John Howard capped off what was once again a successful conference. Details of the conference events can be seen on


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