Globalization and Technology


January 2016

Dan LeClair: [0:07] John, you've been at this for a long time. For nearly 30 years you've been covering business and business schools.

[0:17] To get us started, if you could tell me, what do you think has been the biggest or most interesting story line over the course of those three decades? You've written about and with folks like Jack Welch and Al Dunlap and John Mackey.

John Byrne: [0:38] I'd say the single biggest thing has been globalization, although technology is really tied into this. Years ago, most companies really looked at their own markets, produced for their own markets. Today, it is truly a global enterprise.

[0:57] Think about Apple, the most valuable company in the world. Think about the fact that they make virtually no products at all in their home country.

[1:07] That is not a drawback. In fact, that's a massive competitive advantage, because they're able to, yes, arbitrage labor rates, but gain the efficiencies of a country that is really totally world class in manufacturing today, China.

[1:26] Globalization is controversial and provocative because people lose jobs over it and people gain jobs over it. Losers tend to be the economies that are more mature and more subtle.

[1:43] That's a big trend. That's a trend that's moved into the business school world in a very big way. I think, like many things that happen in life, it happens in the real world first. [laughter]

Byrne: [1:55] Then it tends to migrate into the world of scholarship and academia. That's definitely true in globalization and true, to a great extent, in technology. Technology also helped to make the world more global, because it's made the world so much smaller.

[2:12] Those two trends have been extremely powerful. I think they've informed business, they've informed society, they've informed all of our individual lives. When I think about what change I've seen in my lifetime, I'm shocked by it.

[2:31] When I started writing, I wrote on a typewriter. There were no computers. There were no cell phones. There was no Internet that made all kinds of information available at your fingertips. There was no way to communicate with people instantaneously no matter where they were all over the world.

[2:52] You literally either had to pick up a phone and try to find a connection to a distant land, or you had to put your pen in hand and write a letter, lick a stamp and put it in the mail, and hope that it got their two weeks later, basically. So many people take all that for granted.

[3:15] Now, there are pluses and minuses to all this, both for education and for our lives. Our lives have become much more transparent and public. There are many violations of privacy.

LeClair: [3:29] Sure.

Byrne: [3:30] The access to technology has meant that people feel they're on a leash to their employer, and many people are.

[3:42] Even the access to air travel only a quarter of a century ago, people just didn't pick up and jump on a plane and go wherever they wanted to go at any time they ever wanted to go.

[3:53] It had to be planned, it had to be thought about. It was much more expensive. Most people couldn't afford just to jump on a plane and visit a relative halfway across the country. It's a different world.