Interview with Dr Eileen Doyle FAICD on global megatrends

Friday, 08 May 2015


    Dr Eileen Doyle FAICD has sat on the boards of listed, public-sector, privately-owned and NFP organisations. She is currently Chairman of the Hunter Research Foundation; Deputy Chairman of CSIRO; and Director of Boral Ltd, GPT Group and Bradken Ltd.

    Our future world: Global megatrends that will change the way we live
    CSIRO, 2012

    We speak to Dr Doyle about the impact of changes in the global context on Australian organisations and boards. The CSIRO report referred to by Dr Doyle in the interview is “Our future world: Global megatrends that will change the way we live”, 2012 revision. The report describes six megatrends (social, economic and environmental) that will have a major impact on Australia over the next 20 years.

    What are the global megatrends that you believe are causing or will cause the most impact to Australian business?

    I think the Global Megatrends identified by CSIRO are a good place to start. They are:

    More from Less: Increasing demand for limited resources of all types
    Going, Going… Gone: Our habitats, biodiversity and climate will continue to change and we must adapt
    The Silk Highway: Economic growth in Asia and the developing world will outstrip the rest
    Forever Young: An ageing population, rising healthcare expenditure and changed retirement models
    Virtually here: Increased connectivity is impacting shops, offices, cities, governance models and lifestyles
    Great expectations: Consumer and societal expectations for services, experiences and social interaction continues to grow
    On top of these, there is a greater opportunity for the introduction of disruptive technology which changes the way we think and act.

    Do Australian boards see these trends as risks, opportunities, or both?

    I think they see them as both.

    The impact of these megatrends is often long-term and uncertain (e.g. climate change). How can companies manage this in an investor/market context which often emphasises near-term economic performance?

    It’s not easy. Boards are there for long term shareholder value – for the notional long term shareholder. We don’t always have that in our register. I think we just have to keep improving our communication with all shareholders about our companies’ strengths and long term objectives. Of course we still do everything we can in our control to lift short term results.

    In your experience, where have businesses not been responsive enough to changes in the global context?

    They have not understood their competitive structure e.g. merger of customers to change buying power. They have not realised the impacts of new technology e.g. laser measurement on online clothes purchases; or 3D printers on distributed manufacturing. They do not understand their supply chain e.g. a new raw material can totally change the production process.

    How are boards (as opposed to executive management) placed to "look over the horizon" at the changes in the global context, and respond to those changes?

    One great value of a board is the vast number of industries and technologies that they as a group are exposed to. This information used in targeted strategic discussions can lead to a broader “way of thinking” than that of an executive team in one industry.

    What specific things can organisations and their boards do to better respond to changes in the global context? (e.g. organisational structure, specific initiatives, dedicated board committees, impact tracking etc.).

    What is important is to:-

    • Track trends and technology with the best indicators you can develop

    • Use this tracking and input to your Strategic Planning Process

    • Pick business options that build on your core competencies

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