Business Leadership Forum – 1

Roman orator
The shuttle buses dropped us off and we walked a few hundred feet through a large courtyard to the Auditorium Parco della Musica. It is quite an impressive place and of the thousands of "auditoriums" in the world, only this one has the url of http://www.auditorium.com. The "city of music" lies outside of Rome’s densely-packed historic center where such a facility could never have been built. Four hundred trees surround the beautiful buildings where 3,000 spectators can enjoy concerts of all kinds — from classical to jazz and rock.
IBM hosted it’s fourth Business Leadership Forum at "the auditorium" earlier this month, and it was attended by several hundred of "the world’s leading thinkers from across business, industry, government and academia", representing more than 50 countries. The forum facilitated two days of discussion about innovation and the challenges facing businesses in the 21st century.
IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano kicked off the meeting by saying that innovation is not optional for the leading institutions of the world — businesses, schools, hospitals, and governments. “The bottom line of all this is that innovation is really a ‘must do’ unless we want to live in an environment that’s commoditized and not unique, not differentiated”. Sam’s point was that if organizations focus only on taking out costs, they will be doomed with very low profits if not extinction. Everyone agrees that Innovation starts at the top and Sam practices what he preaches — not just by innovating in technologies (IBM turning out more patents year after year than any company in the world), but by innovating in strategies and business models. For example, it was Sam who led the charge to transform IBM from a hardware company to a hardware, software and services company. Especially the latter, when he acquired Price Waterhouse Consulting and smoothly integrated it into the IBM portfolio of services. He also led the sale of the PC business. Some people viewed it as simply a "sale" but in reality it was a highly innovative change to the IBM business model — selling off a low margin business but retaining the services aspect of it and at the same time gaining a stronger foothold in the Chinese market opportunity.
Note: See BusinessWeek’s story about The World’s Most Innovative Companies.
Sam then introduced Lord Brown, group chief executive at BP. The company had more than $20billion in profits for 2005 and is moving to even bigger numbers in 2006. Lord Brown described many innovative aspects of the company but I was most impressed with how they are using computer simulation to continuously increase the amount of oil they are able to extract from their drillings. He also described ambitious goals to put the hydrocarbon pollutants that come out with the oil back into where the oil was extracted, thereby reducing global pollution.
At the end of day we all got back in the shuttles to head to the Vatican.