The sessions opened with a presentation from Alan Beaulieu, senior analyst, economist and principal with the Institute for Trend Research. He discussed the economic outlook for the coming years, and predicts that business will be good until at least the middle of 2013. “The employment trend is rising at a normal pace – it’s a good trend, a healthy trend,” he said, adding some statistical data to what the election year may bring. “There is an 82.5 percent chance the stock market will rise 6.5 percent in 2012,” he said. Growth areas, Beaulieu said, are energy, environmental sustainability, water, Canadian exports, higher education, healthcare, food, pets, funerals, alcohol, security and legal services.
While business will be steady for the next year and a half, Beaulieu cautions that there will be something of a mini-recession in 2014. But, he added, one need not worry about the US dollar for the near future. “There is no currency that can replace the US dollar in anything less than a decade,” he said.
Following Beaulieu was former Southwest Airlines CEO Howard Putnam, who detailed the strategies he used turn Southwest Airlines into the successful business it has become. Putnam believes business cultures that have people as the number one priority have the greatest long-term impact on success. He said, “Turbulence is inevitable but misery is optional. In times of transformation and turbulence, simplify, simplify, simplify.”
Putnam gave accounts and anecdotes of how Southwest put people first, using humor and free drinks as tools to keep customers happy and at ease. He stressed the significance of role models, ethics, perception and balance. He also emphasized the power of a handwritten note.
Tuesday’s morning session opened with Bob Prosen, president and CEO of The Prosen Center for Business Advancement. Prosen discussed his philosophies on ways to improve performance and profits. “Free cash flow is the most important number in business,” he said, stressing the need for accountability. “When you lower your expectations enough, you’ll achieve them. Create an accountabilty-based culture. Focus on results, not activities.”
Prosen emphasized that your objectives should be measurable. “If it can’t be, than it’s something else,” he said. To figure out the right objectives, he said you should understand your customer base, products and services and your target market. “Run your organization lean, leaner than you’d like. Lean enough until people complain.”