Eric Noël is Senior Vice-President, North America for Oxford Analytica. He is an author, speaker and media contributor on global trends, industries and markets. He is also a visiting expert on global trends at IESE Business School in Barcelona and New York and has a background in business strategy, economics and M&A for international media and finance companies. He has served eight Fortune 50 companies and 12 of Canada’s 25 largest ones, worked on projects in some 40 countries and has advised on transactions totaling more than $30B.
At the CVCA annual conference last week in Montréal he presented on "Investing toward 2030: Anticipating the future business environment through four megatrends." We had the chance to interview him.
“We can’t extrapolate the past to anticipate the future," he explains. "We suffer from information bias not simply because of bad sources, but also because of where we are in time and space. And we miserably fail to distinguish between reversible and irreversible trends.” The four megatrends are:
- Population’s effects.
- Governance and politics.
- Science and technology.
In this article, I discuss the last two megatrends. See my coverage of the population's effects and governance and politics here.
Not a new phenomenon. Eric offered the example of Sun Life, established in Montreal around 1866 and active in 50 countries by 1920. “Opening a life insurance company overseas took time then because Sun Life’s executives had to travel by ships to Latin America and Asia, but once there, everything was faster than today."
According to Mr. Noël, there will be some 500 to 600 million “real” new middle-class in 2030, not three billion more. Focus should be on households with $10,000 in disposable income, “not the $5 a day new consumer." Those people will not only consume more, “but they will also start paying taxes and care about their cities and environment like never before.”
“But one mirage for businesses is to see BRIC countries and the likes as their saviours," he said. BRIC's growth will slow down, by choice or accident. And many investors under-estimate political risks in emerging countries. “China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Argentina, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam, etc., are not modern societies like Canada or Germany where people can vent their grievances and trust established governance. Their political systems will evolve but remain risky for some time. Some could collapse.”
As for competition from emerging markets—“we’ll call them emerged markets soon with China becoming the largest importer country”—it will be fierce, fast and maybe unruled.
“The next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is alive and well in China or India, it’s just that you and I don’t know him yet," Eric said.
The other mirage he then alluded too is the death of distance. “Selling from here to Detroit is different than to Delhi, Shanghai or Lagos. Distances matter, in strategies, costs and cultures. For Canadian entrepreneurs, a resilient US client, an open European buyer or richer Mexican and Brazilian one will be important with or without Asia-centric growth.”
Tech companies will manage increased country mix, partnerships, IP protection and branding issues as they globalize. “Agility in a pluricultural, intense competition and weirdly regulated markets will be key.”
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Technological revolutions have high impact but have slower expansion than we think. “A lot of recent ICT success failed 10 years ago,” Eric noted as he showed a picture of a 1994 newspaper tablet that looked like an iPad.
Many new disruptive technologies will grow in the near future such as artificial intelligence, artificial organs, brain boosters, robotics, smarter cars, smarter buildings, synthetic bio, to name a few. “The world needs better tech. Our challenges in 2030 require techno-answers. But an iPad won’t clean water, grow corn or save you from cancer. We need bigger and faster discoveries than Facebook."
One mirage associated with science and technologies is to believe in their abundance and access. “Don’t take it for granted," he suggested. "Production, distribution and affordability are not guaranteed in the future. Think scarcity of drugs or vaccinations, shortage of electronic components, a collapse of the Internet or the electric grid, or techno-monopolies."
CONCLUSION FOR CANADA
Canadian politicians will focus more on domestic issues or shocks (consumer credit, housing bubbles, homegrown terrorism, natural disasters, etc.) and managing divergences (East/West, rich/poor, young/old). An age of deleveraging and some deconsumerism will affect Canadian business.
“We should all adopt more long-term perspectives and plans," Eric offers. "Failing to plan is planning to fail and we must take the time to see past these tumultuous post-recession exiting times, avoid complacency if we did not suffer, and search the true meaning of the irreversible trends, the timing of the reversible ones, and avoid the mirages that our wishful perceptions create.”