My picks as 2004's top business stories:
China I. China's been coming on for a decade or so; arguably this will be seen as the year China ... ARRIVED. Hint: The World damn near has a second Superpower. China is manufacturing everything. China is exercising its trade muscle in Asia. China is moving rapidly up the value-added chain, investing like crazy in research, buying into branding. Etc. Etc. And: More to come. Much more!
China II. As I traveled the world, everyone (the Irish, Thais, Singaporeans, Danes, Swedes, Italians, etc.) have figured they can't meet or beat China on cost—all are looking for ways to move up the value-added spectrum. My "American message" played as well in Dublin and Singapore as in Chicago and Houston.
Infosys. I call this story "Infosys," rather than India, because for me the rise of this stellar firm signifies the growing aspirations of the likes of India in the world economy. Infosys gleefully takes on all comers at the top of the VA chain.
Outsourcing. The heat around outsourcing cooled a bit post-election, and in fact the #s were always overblown, Lou Dobbs' rants notwithstanding. Nonetheless, the hue and cry over outsourcing has enormous symbolic impact. Message: No American job is safe. The Brand You-Free Agent attitude is no longer an option. Let's hope, in the public sector, that the "ownership society" idea is not stillborn—because some version thereof is necessary to support a far more independent workforce.
Google! The recent story of Google's overture-deal with Oxford et al. defines a new era in information ubiquity-availability. Corporate transparency may still be more wish than reality, but Planetary Transparency is well on its way; if you don't believe me, just ask Dan Rather!
Eliot Spitzer & Martha Stewart & Fannie Mae. Alas, corporate malfeasance is still not a thing of the past. While many complain of the heavy hand of Sarbanes-Oxley and the political aspirations of AG Spitzer, executive housecleaning still appears far from complete.
Richard Florida vs John Ashcroft. We need a solid Homeland defense. And we need to continue to welcome brains-by-the-bushel to our shores ... and be a Welcoming Society in general. The tension will not be easy to resolve—the stakes on both sides of our table are very high.
George Bush. The Economy hasn't been Mr Bush's top priority. By some measures (the mess in Iraq, the continuing terror threat), that's still necessarily the case. Moreover, the dollar's slide (tumble!), the twin (trade & budget) deficits, and creeping lame-duck status effectively tie the President's hands. All that aside, our ultimate defense against global instability of any & all flavors is unequivocally a matchless economy. Let's pray for strong & responsible presidential leadership.
Big Pharma Implosion. First Merck, now Pfizer. A ton of consolidations among Big Pharma have made them more vulnerable, not less. The Era of Life Sciences is dawning, and the Big Guys are looking more dinosaur-ish with every passing day. By the by, while safe drugs are imperative, the dawn of the life sciences age is precisely the wrong time for the Congress & FDA to wrench drug approval to a halt.
Creative Destruction. Capitalism's primary calling card (esp the American Flavor) was/is/will be "built to flip" (churn!), not "built to last." Big Pharma imploding! Kmart buys Sears ... and nobody cares! IPOs healthy again! BioTech rising! Cheer on the mess! Churn rules!
Design recognized. Think Samsung. Think DHL. And, of course, think iPod. Design has long been the secret weapon of the likes of Nike & Sony & Apple & Starbucks—but finally the world-at-large is catching on. High time!