CEO to CEO: Our Roles Are Changing

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It was an eventful and exciting week at the World Economic Forum’sAnnual Meeting at Davos last month, which was started with the backdrop of the ongoing Eurozone crisis that the region was battling with.

It was eventful because the annual meeting, as every year, provided business leaders with the ideal platform to get together to discuss and debate on key issues that the world was facing with today. It was exciting because despite the vast diversity of events and business leaders that participated in them, what emerged was a common focus - the need for businesses and business leaders to adapt to the emerging future that we are faced with.

The world as we know it is changing.

The emerging future and businesses that operate in it are being shaped by changing trends in technology, society and demographic profiles. New marketsare emerging. Existing business models are becoming obsolete while new ones are coming to the fore. Sustainability is gaining center stage. Consumer mindsets as well as consumption patterns are changing in a world where over half the urban population is under the age of 25. While this emerging reality and the need to adapt to it were widely debated at the annual meeting, what stood out was the larger role that corporations play in the world today and with it the changing role of the business leaders who are at its forefront.

I had the wonderful opportunity to discuss this very changing role of the CEO at the Infosys Lunch Panel discussion with a distinguished panel comprising of Cisco's John Chambers , Jim Turley of Ernst & Young and Tim Brown of IDEO. While the panel and the audience concurred that the pre-requisites to the role of the CEO was to drive growth and innovation, the CEO had a larger role to play. In view of the emerging reality that I mentioned and the events that led to the crisis of trust which was at the heart of the recent economic crisis, the role of the CEO had evolved. Today, CEOs from across businesses and industries have to put in time and effort to strengthen governance and improve transparency to rebuild that trust. Their short-term focus would remain on overcoming the prevalent macro-economic uncertainty and lack of growth. However, their long-term responsibility is to envision and shape a future where opportunities are abundant and growth is inclusive.

These thoughts resonated strongly not only in the Infosys Lunch Panel Discussion but also in my conversation with business leaders in various forums, including one-to-one meetings and the IT Governors Meet amongst others. What business leaders also realized was the fact that talent would continue to remain at the center of any initiative towards driving growth and it was clearly in short supply. Therefore, the need of the hour was to retrain and reskill existing talent pools to make them more employable while looking at new avenues for sourcing talent. Businesses also realized that they need to work with governments, policy makers and the academia alike in order to create an eco-system that fostered all-round, inclusive and sustainable growth. The first step towards this future was the need to create jobs to boost growth.

To conclude, the event began with skepticism in the media around the effectiveness of an event of this scale. However, over the course of the week, I could only sense positivity and hope all around - Positivity of mindset and hope of a better tomorrow. There was general consensus that businesses and business leaders played a critical role in enabling us to fulfill our moral responsibility to create a world that was better than, if not as good as the one we inherited.

S. D. Shibulal is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Infosys. Prior to becoming the CEO and Managing Director, Shibu served as the Chief Operating Officer between June 22, 2007 and August 20, 2011. Earlier, Shibu held a number of senior leadership roles including: Head of Worldwide Sales and Customer Delivery, Worldwide Head of Customer Delivery, and Head of Infosys Manufacturing and Distribution and Internet Consulting practice.