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  • The Institute and the FactoryBusiness Leadership and Change in the Global South
  • John Russell (bio)

This essay was first presented in March 2006 as a talk on corporate leadership at the "Navigating the Global American South" conference, organized by the Center for Global Initiatives and the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Business leaders and change has been an enduring theme since the proclaimed origin of the New South, now well over a century ago. Perhaps the global part is new, though the folks who work at Coca-Cola or Reynolds Tobacco would surely take issue with that. I am especially happy to take up this theme today because I think right now there's a disconnect between business leadership and social change precisely when a new generation of business leaders can have something useful to say.

On a personal note, in every business I've joined, I've been the "Southern Guy." I don't speak very often now in that role, since the world has thankfully changed and the Southern Guy is not a curiosity any more. But I was taken back to another time by yesterday's luncheon speaker, my friend, Shannon Ravenel, formerly Editor-in-Chief of Algonquin Books. In the 1970s we worked together in publishing at Houghton Mifflin Co. There I really was the Southern Guy in the New York office, and she was the Southern Lady in the Boston office. But make no mistake, that's the only equivalence we shared. At Houghton Mifflin Shannon Ravenel rightfully was a legend, and I got coffee.

As the Southern Guy in the New York office, I got sent on specific assignments. One of them was to entertain Pat Conroy when he came to town. That usually involved a bar or two. I was confident in my role as the Southern Guy until Pat took me aside one day.

"Russell," he said, "you aren't very much of a southerner."

"What are you talking about?" I said.

"You don't drink enough, your accent's no good, they say you went to school up here, and you wear a suit all the time. That's why you're not a very good southerner."

I slammed down my beer. "Pat, I take offense at that. I drink a lot." [End Page 103]

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Figure 1.

From southern roots to one of the most recognized global brands, the Coca-Cola Company has successfully embodied the concept of "The Institute" for a century through constant innovation. Advertisement from the 1930s, courtesy of the Coca-Cola Company.

I did try to be a better Southern Guy after Pat called me out. I don't know whether I really succeeded or not.

Today, however, the Southern Guy—or Southern Lady—hardly attracts attention, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Chinese, French, Nigerian, or Colombian colleagues. Clearly, work has changed and made more social change happen. The question I would like to address here is, specifically, how business leaders can contribute to the larger conversation about social change spurred by a global economy. Business leaders in the global economy today can bring special gifts to an environment where change and more change has occurred and will occur—change that affects the lives of people and institutions and regions, how we live, how we make our living, how we raise our children, how we can face the future confidently.

First I will talk about ideas that I call the "Institute" and the "Factory," together a model of thinking that I believe useful in explaining how successful business leaders progress in a changing global business environment. I will talk about companion concepts of "Brave New World" and "Faster Better Cheaper," shorthand for useful ways of organizing economic activity to succeed in a world of customers who are also competitors, friends who act like opponents, and rivals who become partners.

Secondly, I will talk about the university and its promise as an organizing principle and creative haven in this often bewildering landscape. This is a theme that I have heard over the last two days—and a...


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pp. 103-116
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