Wall Street Journal Editor to Speak
At Family Business Awards Ceremony
November 8, 1999
Is the family business still viable in the New Economy, where everyone is an entrepreneur?
According to Wall Street Journal editor Thomas Petzinger Jr., a revolution is transforming the way we work and how business is practiced in the emerging post-industrial economy and, through it, the way we think of ourselves and the world at large.
Petzinger, author of the best-selling business book The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace, will deliver the keynote address at the fifth annual Connecticut Family Business of the Year Nozko Awards.
Sponsored by the University of Connecticut's Family Business Program, the event will take place on Thursday, November 18, at 5:30 p.m., at the Radisson Hotel in Cromwell.
Mainly known to readers as writer of "The Front Lines" column in the Wall Street Journal, Petzinger said in his farewell column this summer that for most of his reporting career he had covered a "zero-sum economy: labor vs. management, plaintiff vs. defendant, buyer vs. seller, regulator vs. regulated.
"But the new economy is much more than the sum of its parts," he wrote. "Making strategy, once an event, is now a continuous process." In the face of the technological innovation, corporate mega-mergers and fiscal turmoil now transforming the business world, "fixed plans are brittle, 'best practices' are obstacles to improvement and bench-marking is aiming low," he said.
According to Petzinger, the still-unmapped economic landscape being shaped by these transformations in business practice is rapidly being colonized by the imaginative entrepreneurs who see new opportunities where others see only catastrophe and disarray.
He contends that at the start of the 1990s, new economic and cultural forces combined with technological breakthroughs to unalterably transform the workplace and marketplace.
He says the Persian Gulf War of 1991 incited an economic crisis followed by a recession. Businesses didn't simply decide to furlough workers until the good times returned - they jettisoned them forever, institutionalizing the concept known as downsizing.
Yet for every job shed by a downsizing mega-corporation, he says, 1.5 jobs sprang up in its place - mostly in small firms. This "atomization" of industry triggered an explosion of innovation because many of the victims of downsizing were managers, the people who had occupied the precincts of ambition.
Just as these downsized executives were thrown into their spare bedrooms to act as pioneers in the new economy, an easy-to-use tool met them there, for 1991 also signaled the break-up of the mainframe computer into millions of desktop units. The 1990s also brought the advent of the Internet, cheap overnight delivery, pagers, cell-phones, real-time desk-top conferencing and super-saver fares.
These technological trends were amplified by demographic changes, as baby boomers - the best educated generation in history - entered their 40s and joined the ranks of senior management in great numbers.
Petzinger believes the family firm can serve as a model for all business. He says years of downsizing, outsourcing and entrepreneur ism have broken the lockstep march of big firms and that by opening niches of ever-narrowing specialty we're building a robust new economy.
"All indications suggest these changes are just beginning," he adds. "In the age of adaptation, there is no end game, no optimum, no finale. There is only what comes next, and how we adapt."