• Bruce LevittYPO: Adding Value to Industries Around The World (Part 1)

    The Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) logoEach year, business leaders from around the world gather for YPO EDGE, YPO’s landmark event. For 2 days, members and invited guests convene with world-renowned thought leaders to address key issues in business, politics, philanthropy and humanities.

    I’ve been a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), a global organisation of leaders, for over 20 years.  I just returned from their annual #YPOEDGE leadership training attended by over 2,500 delegates in Vancouver.  The focus this year was on disruption, and I’d like to share some of the insights I gained there with you.

    Margaret Trudeau openly shared her own experiences and helped us gain insight into the challenges posed by mental health and the importance of having a strong support network.

    Dan Price, CEO and Founder of Gravity Payments, led a breakout session where he discussed his implementation of a $70,000 minimum salary at his company while increasing profits.  His thesis is that your team will be much more productive if they are not being distracted by worries about meeting their basic financial needs.  This was perhaps my most frustrating session to attend – the idea is noble, but so many questions were left unanswered.  In the United States, the gap in income between a large corporate CEO and their lowest paid worker is over 300 times.  I am proud that at Levitt-Safety it is less than 10 times.

    John Chambers, executive Chairman of CISCO, talked about the importance of having a digital vision for your business that is led by its CEO.  Design it for speed and aligning processes.  How will you interface with your customers in new ways?  Uber got it, Amazon gets it.  France as a country is leading in terms of having a digitization strategy.  Keys to digitization: Lead from the top, apply the best resources, be uncomfortable, set bold goals, and tell your team where you are going.

    Dean Kamen of DEKA is perhaps best known to lay people as the inventor of the Segway.  What an amazing creative mind! From water cleaning systems to unbelievably sensitive artificial arms to 3D printed hearts – he’s working on mind boggling stuff.

    William Shatner went off-script and challenged YPO and its members to find a solution to the global problem of cyber-bulling and negativity on the Internet.

    A Terrorism and Cyber Security panel reminded us that for every “good guy” trying to protect our systems, there are thousands of professional and amateur hackers trying to get in and disrupt.  While some panelists thought that future wars may be fought over the Internet without guns, a potential worry should be a coordinated cyber and physical attack.

    Chip Conley from Airbnb gave us insight into what it is like going from running your own business to becoming the “elder” for a group of young entrepreneurs, as well as insight into how disruption takes place.  According to him, there are clues out there that your industry is being disrupted (or vulnerable to it) – and as leaders we need to be aware and be ready.

    Taps Mugazda offered a touching end to the day with his story of growing up as an orphan in Zimbabwe before being given the opportunity to go to America, where he was able to parlay his musical skills into a successful career.  Every year he returns to Zimbabwe to offer help to orphans there.

    Four young entrepreneurs (children of YPO members) presented us their startup business ideas that were in their early stages of commercialization.  I was blown away by the quality of their presentations and the fantastic business ideas.  Given my background, it was particularly pleasing to see that one of the presentations was from a company that was developing solutions to emergency situations when people are alone (whether at work or at home).

    Ziv Aviram, co-founder and CEO of Mobileyegave us insight into the future of the automobile where within the next few years, we will begin to see autonomous vehicles become commonplace.  He used virtual reality to give us a guided tour of that future.  The sophistication of their solutions are amazing.  The biggest technical challenge that developers of autonomous vehicles face is getting vehicles to act like humans – think what happens when two cars get to a four way stop at the same time.  Beyond the technical challenges, the toughest part will be getting politicians and people to accept the technology.  Even though 35,000 Americans die in motor vehicle accidents each year, even a small number of autonomous accidents could be disastrous for the industry.

    A retail disruption panel including Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, gave us a glimpse into the dramatic changes to retail over the past few years and how that is just a precursor to greater changes ahead.  The future will likely belong to those companies that can create fantastic experiences for their customers – both on-line and retail.  Retailers are and will be closing smaller marginal locations to focus on fewer larger locations which will offer more than just products for sale.  Levitt-Safety went through such a transformation many years ago, and some of our competitors are doing so now.  In recognition of this future, Peter Lowy of Westfield shared how they are transitioning their company from owning 105 malls in America and Europe by selling smaller locations and investing $50 billion, to soon end up with 22 destination locations where there will be much less focus on fashion and more on entertainment and quality restaurants.

    I think that’s enough for now, but tune back in next week when I’ll be talking about how we rounded out the remainder of the conference, including a special appearance by our Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau! Do you have any experiences with YPO? Share them in the comments below!

    Bruce Levitt | President
    Levitt-Safety Limited Oakville


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