We can’t go back to the future

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Middle east, Management

Rick Pendrous, editor Food Manufacture
Rick Pendrous, editor Food Manufacture
We live in uncertain times. I am sure I’m not alone in being concerned by recent global events that are the backdrop to other worries closer to home, such as the fragile state of our economy and the impact of swingeing public sector cuts.

Popular uprisings against tyrannical leadership across North Africa and the Middle East raise the question of whether the regimes that replace them will be any more open and democratic than the despotic ones they replace.

And the impact of Japan’s catastrophic tsunami on the Fukushima nuclear plant have completely undermined a global nuclear industry, which was slowly being rehabilitated and winning back public confidence after disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

Which brings me to the issue of managing business in an increasingly volatile world. I was reminded of an interview I had some years back with Gavin Neath, then chairman of Unilever UK and president of the Food and Drink Federation, and now Unilever’s senior vice president for sustainability.

How complex is life in food manufacturing?

When I asked Neath whether life in food and drink manufacture was more complicated now than in the past, his response was: “It’s a conceit of every generation of managers to believe the change they are managing is greater than their predecessors."

I’m sure he was right. But, given the speed at which catastrophic developments around the world can impact on what we do combined with the speed with which social networking is influencing public reaction to these events, it is a wise manager that has contingency plans in place to help cope with the unexpected.

Perhaps we should keep in mind the words of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”

Rick Pendrous is editor of Food Manufacture magazine.

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