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The future looks opaque, even for News

Thursday, 14 March 2013 | By Jason Rose

I attended a business lunch yesterday where Kim Williams, the head of News Limited in Australia, was the keynote speaker.


The speech was definitely entertaining. Unlike most of the bland corporate communicators I have heard over the years, Williams certainly didn’t hold back as he attacked the federal government’s latest changes to media laws.


He said what he felt. And felt what he said. That was refreshing.


While the scorn he heaped on the relevant Minister, Stephen Conroy, certainly captured the media headlines, I thought there was something far more interesting about the speech.


Williams opened with his views on the enormous changes facing not only the media industry but all businesses as a result of the exponentially accelerating pace of technological change.


In his view, developments such as the explosion in social media flip the traditional business world on its head as power is transferred for the first time in the history of modern commerce from producers to consumers.


You could argue that Williams’ analysis is not particularly new or innovative. These issues have been discussed at length for a while now and, indeed, he conceded that very point himself.


The thing that struck me was something quite different.


Kim Williams is clearly a highly intelligent person. He has a long and distinguished career in the media.


He heads one of the world’s most powerful companies with tens of thousands of bright and motivated employees based all around the world.


Undoubtedly, he would be surrounded by advisors from the world’s most powerful and respected consultancies and investment banks with their collective finger on the media and technological pulse.


He would regularly hang out with politicians and policymakers. He would fly around the world to attend conferences and gatherings with fellow leaders from the media, advertising, technology, investment and consumer electronic industries.


And despite all of that, with all due respect to him, he clearly had absolutely no idea what the future has in store.


He was happy to talk about how News is responding to the changes already underway – how the company is breaking down its internal silos, streamlining its processes and placing the customer and the advertiser at the core of its thinking.


But he has no idea what changes are coming, how soon they will arrive or whether any of the company transformation activities he’s busily implementing will be remotely relevant in six, 12 or 18 months.


Bottom line? When it comes to the future, we are all in the same boat irrespective of the market capitalisation of our businesses.