Podcast Innovation, Agilité et Excellence 2022

Épisode 65: Faire affaires aux USA au 21e siècle avec Stephen Blank

Sommaire de l’épisode

Vu la conjoncture actuelle et vu les perturbations politiques ayant cours aux États-Unis, est-ce toujours aussi intéressant d’y faire des affaires ? Nous rencontrons le Professeur Stephen Blank pour discuter du climat des affaires aux USA et afin de trouver des réponses avec lui.

Dans cette discussion, nous abordons les sujets suivants:

  • L’évolution du marché américain (US);
  • Le marché US dans face au contexte actuel de tensions géopolitiques et face à l’inflation;
  • Les particularités du marché US et comment l’approcher;
  • L’enjeu des compétences;
  • La force de l’innovation.

Après une période compliquée relative à la pandémie de SARS-CoV-2, nous voici aux prises avec des perturbations économiques et géopolitiques importantes. L’inflation atteint dans la plupart des pays du G-20 des niveaux jamais vus depuis le début des années 1980 et le continent européen subit un conflit militaire de haute intensité pas vu depuis les années 1990.

La rencontre avec Stephen Blank ouvre des perspectives intéressantes sur ces enjeux.

Episode 65: Faire affaires aux USA au 21e siècle avec Stephen Blank

Stephen Blank

Stephen Blank vit et travaille à New York. Il détient un baccalauréat de l’université Dartmouth, des maîtrises des universités de Cambridge et de Harvard ainsi qu’un PhD de Harvard. Sa longue carrière couvre les milieux universitaires, d’affaires et des organismes sans but lucratif. 

Pendant de nombreuses années, son travail a porté sur les relations entre le secteur public et le secteur privé et ce tant au niveau national qu’international. Il est connu pour ses travaux sur l’intégration nord-américaine concernant le régionalisme, les corridors commerciaux, les systèmes de production et de distribution transfrontaliers et les infrastructures. 

Il est auteur/coauteur de nombreux livres et articles. Il a aussi été décoré de l’Ordre national du Québec.

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Détails de l’épisode

(0:00) Bienvenue à l’épisode 65 “Faire affaires aux USA au 21e siècle”

  • Entrevue avec Stephen Blank.
  • Professeur, Consultant et Conférencier expert en matière de Management, de commerce international et de relations Canada-États-Unis.

(0:43) Introduction

  • Enjeux et contexte actuels

(2:26) Évolution du marché américain (USA)

Last time we spoke we talked more about strategy and technology, this time I would like to hear you on the US economy and on how the US market has evolved in the past 20 years and looking forward.

  • Looking forward: I used to work with clients on forecasting with scenario building. If the likely scenario and the next likely scenario pointed in similar directions, decisions could be made. But if the two most likely scenarios pointed in different directions, then you were in for problems. Looking ahead in the USA, forecasting is difficult exactly because scenarios point in all sorts of directions.
  • Looking back: In the last 20 years, we have seen an increase in the speed of technological change in all aspects which is forcing change on people at high rates. At the same time, we are seeing an increase in inequality. Most of this money is new money, mostly from technology and the ability to seize opportunities very rapidly. There is a lot of capital for investment, most of it in private hands. This situation is likely to continue.
  • The middle class has shrunk:  more people are very well off, and more people are poor, leaving a weakened middle class.
  • There is a lack of mobility because housing is expensive in areas where jobs are plentiful and in places where properties are cheap, people cannot get out. This is new because people have always moved to jobs.  That problem is likely to continue as well.
  • The social, economic and political consequences are difficult to foresee but I am not optimistic, especially because of the inability of the Federal government to do much. In the USA today, we have more assault weapons than at the end of WW II. There is a risk of chaos.
  • The main competence required today is to be able to learn, to adapt.

(16:00) Évolution de l’accord de libre-échange nord-américain

NAFTA has been replaced by USMCA: much ado about nothing or have some real or perceived trade imbalances been righted?

  • Much ado about nothing!
  • There is nothing really new in the agreement. What is really interesting is how well the system of cross-border exchanges has worked during the last 20 years. Canada, the USA and Mexico north of Mexico City are effectively working as a single economic unit.
  • The big danger is: Is Canada keeping up with the pace of change? For example, automotive, which is a bi-national industry, is changing fast, cars are now computers on wheels. Canadians are mobile but what about Canadian companies. Have they caught the eyes of investors?  Are we building together the new technologies?

(20:58) Une perspective régionale du marché américain (USA)

You mention that the US is not “one big market” but that there are 5 or 6 regional markets.  Has this changed or how has this evolved?

  • Like Canada, the United States has a federal system. Canada has 10 provinces: you can manage that number of relationships. The US government, which has less power than its Canadian equivalent, cannot do this with 50 states.
  • The emergence of large metropolis is interesting, but the mayors of these large cities have little resources or prerogatives. Mayors in Canada and the USA complain that they have all the problems and none of the resources. This is a huge issue for the future.
  • Think of a North American map in terms of population: in 30 years you will be looking at clusters, not states or provinces.
  • We are looking at the nationalization of the economy, mostly because of technology. This dialectic between local and national or global will force big decisions on companies. There is no clear view of where this is going. But still, get a good lawyer.

(25:16) Comment approcher le marché

I am the CEO of Decathlon, a privately owned French manufacturer and retailer of sporting goods and sportswear with 1700 stores in 60 countries and 14 billion € in annual turnover, should I accelerate my US expansion or “wait and see”? And can you explain why my Canadian adventure is going according to plan and my US plan is back to the drawing board?

  • “Chacun à son goût”: know your company and build on your strengths. There is no guidebook on this one.
  • Some companies are aggressive, some hold back, it all depends. Since the deregulation of the financial markets, cash flows are important to consider in these business cases.
  • Strategists need to give more weight to the culture!  Look inward first! Only then develop your strategy.

(29:13) L’avantage de la taille vs. la vitesse+culture

Used to be that size predicated your success at taking a company worldwide once it had become dominant in its home market, with US companies at a significant advantage. Nowadays, it seems that speed and culture are key.  How do you see this?

  • Yes, but one of the problems with US companies going abroad, the business case always had to be better than any poorly covered national territory. Except in raw materials. European companies took a longer-term approach and that explains their success. “Forget Nigeria, let’s go to Wisconsin or Albuquerque!”
  • Measure your understanding of the local culture. Buying something might be easier than going in yourself.

(34:18) L’enjeu des compétences

Quebec is seeing the employee shortage affect many industries, France is finally getting its hands around the problem although over here it still seems to impact a few highly visible sectors, where do you see the great resignation, so Paul Krugman called it, going in the near and midterm? Should companies invest in workforce training, even in soft skills?

  • I think we are going to look back on this and see it never happened. Skill and mobility are key, education and mobility.
  • In some sectors, the jobs are there but there is a reluctance to move or to endure some conditions.
  • The aging of the workforce is an important factor, especially in the white population.
  • Training goes against corporate profits, especially shorter-term profits. Investing in the longer-term potential of employees is difficult. The answer should be yes, but can you convince the CFO?
  • Technical schools and community colleges were supposed to bridge the gap between high schools and universities.
  • Germany is a model.

(40:41) Évolution des salaires

With very little trade unions, where do you see wages going in the next semesters?  Will market forces be able to bring back some of the workers who left?

  • The US has a high level of unionization in white- or pink-collar jobs, especially in public jobs. Where we have lost is in industrial jobs unions.
  • Unions are not always a force for progress.
  • Industrial jobs have also evolved. So fighting for wages is not always pertinent today.

(43:28) La force de l’innovation

The US economy is still an innovation powerhouse. How do you explain this?

  • Some of us are worried that there is not enough innovation.  Given some problems we have it is surprising we have so much!
  • We have a lot of bright people, good schools, and there is a lot of money for ventures.
  • We will not be leading in electric cars or semiconductors.  It will be difficult to catch up on EV’s and electronics.  We will continue to develop ideas but for the manufacturing part, I don’t see this coming back.  
  • The US does design, marketing, and these are important elements in the value chain.  But manufacturing jobs are not there. China will still put these products together but that’s mostly it.

(48:24) Russie, Chine et Ukraine

Last time we spoke it was in the fall of 2020, before the war Russia wages in Ukraine. Has this changed anything in the rivalry between China and the US which you said was much more economic than military?

  • We don’t know yet. It does not look like China has done much to help Russia. I don’t see this Russia – China axis getting more important. Russia would like it, but it is difficult to see what China thinks.
  • China is certainly observing this with attention given its intention to develop a wide-reaching sphere of influence in the Pacific. But they have very little interest in Russia. The Russian economy is too small for that.
  • We have not seen much yet. The most likely scenario and the second most likely scenarios are way apart. Even nuclear war is now on the table. What will Putin do if pushed into a corner? Russia is a poor, aging country. Will Ukraine keep access to the Black Sea? That is an important question.

(53:38) L’enjeu de l’inflation

Many economists got a few things wrong regarding the current trends in inflation. How is this affecting the US economy so far?

  • Inflation has not affected the economy as much as the morale of people. Some people will be better off, many will be driven down even more.
  • It’s mostly political: it will affect voting. This is not the 1970s, certainly not the 1930s. If anything, if you are going to do something, now is not a bad time. It’s not “reculer pour mieux sauter”!
  • Whether companies will move ahead in socially acceptable directions remains to be seen.

(57:27) Conclusion

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