IMD’s MBA Class of 2016 recently connected to business leaders at the annual Navigating the Future Conference. The two-day event featured presentations by 12 teams of MBAs each focusing on what they deem to be the issues that will define the next generation for the business world.

The conference covered an array of technology trends, socio-economic developments and salient shifts in public policy and their impacts on business models, industries and economies.

Among the attendees were over 100 executives from numerous industries all over the world from the ranks of Director, President and CEO to entrepreneurs, consultants and board members.

The future of work

One of the MBA teams examined what the workforce will look like in the future confronted with the rise of digitization, automation, robots and artificial intelligence. “Will robots take over our jobs? Not the jobs that involve creativity, empathy and human interaction,” they observed. The team also said that people having numerous project based jobs at once will become the new norm.

Guest speaker André Kudelski, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Kudelski Group spoke about new opportunities and new risks for business in the face of digitalization. “We live in a fast changing world but it is not changing for everyone at the same time,” he said talking about the different pace at which companies are facing disruption. He also discussed how physical and digital property are changing and how regulation is not keeping up. According to Kudelski, the biggest imperatives for companies today are adapting their business models to digital technologies, facing new digital competition and figuring out the best ways to harness big data. “We face new risks and hard choices,” said Kudelski.

Focusing on “energy futures” another MBA group discussed how commodity prices are falling and how economic stagnation is setting in globally. They looked at how two very different economies managed stocks of natural resources: Brazil which discovered massive amounts of oil but managed its profits badly, and Norway which created a sovereign wealth fund that will ensure prosperity for the country when its oil stocks are depleted.

Where to do business?

Another team presented research about how businesses can find out which are the most attractive economies to operate in. They said the old way of just looking at GDP to find an ideal environment is not useful anymore because it doesn’t take into account the environment, the informal economy or clusters of other types of business that companies rely on. The most sustainable economies will invest back into the clusters that surround industries and will build strong institutions, they concluded.

The future of health

While the future calls for changes in how we work and do business it also presents an array of new opportunities to improve global health. While big data is already playing a huge role in how companies interact with consumers, it also provides insights for health care.

“Big data isn’t useful unless you are able to do something smart with it,” that’s the framework the MBAs used to put forward a number of breakthroughs in this area. For example, contact lenses are now able to analyze blood sugar levels in diabetics and communicate problematic symptoms directly to healthcare providers. And Guardant Health, through a special big data driven program called Guardant360, is revolutionizing cancer detection by sequencing blood samples with an array of DNA alterations that have already been observed and catalogued in cancer patients.

But the future of health care isn’t just about detection and big data. It’s also about changing how we live and adapting for a world where we live longer than ever before.

Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging, and Peter Nicholson, Vice President of Nestlé Skin Health, both guest speakers at the Navigating the Future conference, shared their views of what an aging population means for tomorrow.

“What was once an extravagant possibility of longevity, to live long, is now a norm,” said Hodin. “While we have the iconic age of 65 incrusted in society, this system is putting a strain or pension plans and social systems.”

The world will soon see more people over 60 than under 14 and the global population of those over 60 is expected to reach 1 billion by 2020 and 2 billion by 2050.

That’s why Hodin is advocating for global brands to be optimistic about aging and to build strategies around it. This is exactly the mission that Nicholson is helping lead at Nestlé Skin Health.

“When I think about the future, I think of an obligation to do something positive about it,” Nicholson said. “Why is there a field specifically for pediatric dermatology and none at the other end of the spectrum of life?”

While at first glance skincare may seem a relatively small issue affecting those over 60, it’s important to remember that our skin is the body’s first base of defence.

“We are using skincare to elevate awareness on larger issues and to create preventative healthcare rather than curing problems,” Nicholson said.

By this he refers to things like infection and falls, which propose high risk for aging people and may be prevented through proper skin care.

Both experts believe that active aging is a ticket to wealth creation.

No growth

Ralf Boscheck, Director of the IMD MBA program and Lundin Family Professor of Economics and Business Policy, gave the final address of the Navigating the Future conference providing his analysis of the current macroeconomic debate. “Some pessimists believe the world is coming to an end. But it is also a challenge to be optimistic without being naïve,” he said.

Boscheck slammed the narrow focus of the media, institutions like central banks, the elite such as those who attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, and leading economists as being only concerned about “the price of money”.

“The picture is much larger than only looking at what the Fed is going to do”.

“We need to take a step back. Growth has reduced poverty but has created inequality.”

Boscheck called for a broad acceptance of the global steady state without growth. He said putting a price on natural resources coupled with a drastic increase in technology would be a step in the right direction. He also said that institutions which require growth should be rethought or eliminated altogether.

“We need a system that is hyper-competitive and holistic. We should maximize efficient resource use, not output,” he said.

Creating leaders

Closing the conference Boscheck asked the business leaders in the audience how they will navigate a no-growth environment and still make money as well as what will limit their ability to change?

“MBA stands for Master in Business Administration. MBAs at other schools learn how to administer someone else’s vision but at IMD, we create leaders,” said Boscheck ending on a high note.

Learn more about IMD’s MBA program.

See what you may have missed in the 2015 Navigating the Future conference.