Stuck in the middle with you

My first blog of 2013.  A new year that brings renewed energy, enthusiasm and indeed some new responsibilities as the Head of EMEA Research.  But a year that also presents some similar analytical challenges and opportunities to present this analysis. Plus ca Change as our French team might say.

And so it is that I am sitting on a 747 for the next 10 hours bound for San Francisco and a Global Market Review hosted by the active CoreNet NorCal Chapter.  I confess that despite this wonderful opportunity, which I thoroughly enjoyed 12 months ago, I am presently perturbed.  My careful pre-trip planning and seat allocation has been thrown a curve ball when British Airways decided to change the plane at the 11th hour.  My cherished aisle seat, which at 6’ 2” I regard as a necessity in economy (cost control continues to be a theme for as all in 2013 ladies and gentlemen) has been taken away.  I am now the meat in a sandwich and the bread is of bloomer style, if you get my drift.  So the next 10 hours is about trying to put my current discomfort to the back of my mind and focus on the messages I am seeking to deliver and the beauty of my destination.

Possibly the only delight, despite the middle seat, of such a long flight is the opportunity to catch-up on some reading.  I have come well stocked.  The Economist, the complimentary Financial Times, an electronic version of Forbes Magazine, Michael Lewis’ read of the crisis in Europe ‘Boomerang’ (last year it was the Lewis inspired movie Moneyball that preoccupied me, this time it’s a little more serious but no less entertaining) and to broaden focus a little, the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review.  A lot to cover.  A lot of interpretation to synthesise and consider.  A lot to worry about.

This array of material, each dealing with the issues with consummate skill (none more so than Lewis) have one commonality.  They all highlight the structural changes required politically, economically and corporately before we can talk with greater certainty about growth (of any magnitude).  I will deal with some of these issues more fully over the coming days in both my formal presentations and this blog.  But in summary the issues would seem to be:

  • The on-going fragility of Europe and particularly how effective recent policy interventions can be in stimulating demand and freeing up capital for investment.  This leads to a related debate about what might constitute a plan B.
  •  The questioning of the health of the American dream, the role of the US in global affairs and economics, the fiscal cliff and the political polarisation that is generating gridlock and brinkmanship.  The cliff may have been avoided just as the footing was giving way, but this is likely to be a temporary respite, with agreement on spending plans and the debt ceiling still required.
  • The changes that corporations are waking up to in terms of new organisational structures; a renewed focus around core activities; and the challenges of responding to new patterns of demand (most notable in a week where the UK has seen yet more high profile victims within the retail sector).

Each are themes that form not just the background reading of my flight but the backdrop to the next 7 days.  As I once again enter into the heart of the global tech-sector I want to understand how focused the sector and corporate America more broadly is on the issues facing Europe.  I want to explore the way these same business view their prospects in driving both the American and global economy.  Finally, I want to identify the ways in which some of the most significant names in Corporate America are facing up to the structural challenge, how they are adjusting business models and what this ultimately means for real estate.  It should be a fascinating few days, once I crow-bar myself out of this middle seat.