Bridge over ocean
1 May 2013 CFA Institute Journal Review

Davos Man and His Defects (Digest Summary)

  1. Marc L. Ross, CFA

The cult of global leadership is pervasive but, in some respects, deficient. The author explores its shortcomings and offers remedies.

What’s Inside?

Global leadership is considered by many to be vital, but the author questions this assumption and finds instances of flawed perspective on the part of global leaders. International captains of industry need to rethink globalization and leadership to be more effective in their missions.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

Industrial globalization is proceeding apace. But the public’s trust in international business leaders—“Davos men,” in the author’s terminology—is lacking. This lack of trust seems appropriate given how many of the global leaders seem to have been not paying attention before and during the Great Recession. The author suggests that increased oversight and accountability, as well as thoughtful introspection by global leaders themselves regarding their role, are important in solving the problem.

World business leaders need to become more watchful and consider local practices and customs so they do not misread cultural differences and underestimate political risks. They also need to consider the merits and drawbacks of a flattened management hierarchy, itself arising in the West from the proliferation of knowledge workers (i.e., those who think for a living, such as engineers, scientists, and lawyers). Finally, the relationship between business and the wider world needs to be given serious consideration. Opportunities to do good vary depending on the market. Lofty ambitions to solve social ills and improve the quality of life need to be put into action.

The author points to signs of self-improvement, noting, for example, that Harvard Business School now requires time abroad for its students. Another example is that many companies have their most promising employees work for overseas subsidiaries. Management pundits have produced tools to identify cultural differences that global leaders should be aware of.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

People are the drivers of performance. In an increasingly interconnected world, companies with global leaders who are aware of and recognize the importance of local culture and politics will have a better chance of success. Self-awareness and humility can also alleviate the problem by acting to curb arrogance and the misuse of power. Global leaders would do well to be introspective and make haste slowly.

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