The most remarkable difference between 20th-Century and 21st-Century business is the profound transparency, and instant communication shared between businesses, their customers, their suppliers, their employees, and their shareholders. Today companies enjoy instant ecosystem dialogues and a deep understanding of stakeholder needs and preferences.
The Russian onslaught in Ukraine is delivered unfiltered to our multiple screens in real-time. Immediately sensing their ecosystems' collective will, hundreds of companies have swiftly and voluntarily severed their business ties with Russia. As a result, exponential responsibility is sprouting from exponential capability.
The Yale School of Management maintains a running count of companies that have fully or partly suspended business with Russia, including such giants as Amazon, Apple, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. As of March 14, 380 companies were on the list. Those companies are forgoing short-term profit to strengthen long-term relationships with their key stakeholders.
Massive cessation of business activity in Russia includes McKinsey, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Daimler pullouts. These and many other companies have been proactive, decisive, and often swifter than governments issuing sanctions. They know that their brands are online 24 hours a day and that their stakeholders can organize and spotlight their Russian connections in minutes, not months.
What a profound contrast with the late 20th Century! Back then, activists had to organize brigades of volunteers to make landline phone calls and stage headquarter lobby sit-ins to extract relationship details now open to anyone with a smartphone.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also a cyberwar, and companies with related skillsets have taken up the cause.
- Microsoft found and fought a FoxBlade malware attack hours before Russian armor blitzed onto Ukrainian soil.
- Elon Musk sent Starlink terminals to provide internet access in Ukraine. Now Starlink is that country’s most downloaded app.
Ultra-capable, highly responsible businesses are a 21st-Century challenge for the Russian aggressor. Peter Diamandis frequently notes that exponential technologies enable individuals to do what twenty years ago only companies could do, and companies to do what only governments could do.
Imagine a fictional conversation between Russia’s Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, and U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken:
Antonov: “We demand that you stop sending Starlink terminals to Ukraine.”
Blinken: “That’s not our government, that’s Elon: you’ll have to call him. By the way, his companies can probably launch satellites faster and at lower cost than you can launch missiles to knock them down. Good luck with that call.”
A 20th-Century act of imperial aggression meets a connected, enabled, and vocal 21st-Century global community. Even if Russia prevails militarily the economic loss will be profound. Its economy may shrink 7% this year, and likely more. That is devastating for an extractive commodity-based financial strategy already doomed to long-term decline. Russia’s pre-invasion $1.7 trillion GDP is smaller than the market capitalization of exponential business leaders Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet. Tragically, the Russian people will be among the greatest losers in a pyrrhic, backward-facing victory.
The intimate and instant two-way communication that today’s businesses and their leaders enjoy with stakeholders will reinforce their shared beliefs. Good businesses don’t mix with bad actors.
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