SAMUEL J. PALMISANO is Chairman and Founder of The Center for Global Enterprise. He was formerly the Chairman and CEO of IBM Corporation.
“The alternative to global integration is not appealing,” I wrote ten years ago, while serving as CEO of IBM. “Left unaddressed, discontent with globalization will only grow. People might ultimately choose to elect governments that impose strict regulations on trade or labor, perhaps of a highly protectionist sort. Worse, they might gravitate toward more extreme forms of nationalism, xenophobia, and antimodernism.”
In short, I concluded, “the shift from [multinational corporations] to globally integrated enterprises provides an opportunity to advance both business growth and societal progress. But it raises issues that are too big and too interconnected for business alone or government alone to solve.” At the time, a new business model—the Globally Integrated Enterprise—was just emerging. It was truly global (as opposed to multinational) in how it approached management and operations.
Today, the world stands at the crossroads described in that article.
Britain, a country long known for its global engagement, has voted to leave the European Union. A rising chorus of nationalism echoes across developed countries; it calls for tighter borders and restrictions on immigration. Global trade negotiations have essentially ceased, and regional trade deals face strong headwinds of opposition.
My original argument built on forces unfolding throughout the world, such as evolutions in technology, operations, and work patterns. Shared business and technology standards that let businesses plug into truly global systems of production were unlocking efficiencies throughout companies. Increasingly collaborative approaches to work were fostering innovation. And new skills and new governance systems were changing how people worked and how they were managed. These dynamic forces were transforming the corporation, and since then, they have given rise to new global business players, such as platform companies.
Since the article was published, a number of trends have further changed the world’s business, political, and technology climates, ushering in dual worlds for business split between the physical and digital. Meanwhile, governments are retreating from economic and political openness, while the digital world is increasingly pulling people toward greater