Microsoft President Brad Smith, speaking to the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo on Nov. 11. (Photo by Yo Inoue/Nikkei)
As the novel coronavirus continues to disrupt lives around the world, the future of public health is “really about using AI,” said Brad Smith President of Microsoft at an international business forum in Tokyo on Wednesday.
“We cannot leave COVID-19 behind,” Smith said, adding, “We could face another pandemic in our future,” in remarks delivered via video link to the Nikkei Global Management Forum. Smith said that AI can help with “managing hospital resources, to understand where resources are, where there are shortages, where things can be moved.”
The annual forum brings together influential corporate leaders from around the world to share their views on the role of business in society. This year’s theme centers on responding to an unprecedented time of change brought on by the pandemic.
As concern grows over how technology companies use people’s personal data, Smith said Microsoft is committed to transparency and works to ensure that its rules safeguard data to build consumers’ trust in the tech company.
Sustainability is another hot topic for Microsoft. Smith vowed to “create digital technology services to empower the world and to better measure, monitor, and ultimately reduce the carbon emissions.”
He acknowledged that his company “consume[s] energy to power the world’s computers,” and said, “we need to do our part to become more efficient, and use renewable energy and remove carbon from the environment.”
Financial services need to accelerate investment in digital: FactSet CEO
Despite the pandemic hitting the bottom lines of businesses around the world, more companies are increasing their investment in digital technology, Philip Snow, CEO of financial information provider FactSet, told the forum.
Snow stressed that the coronavirus pandemic “is causing a lot of companies to invest more quickly” in cutting-edge technologies.
He noted that the financial industry has lagged behind when it comes to applying cutting-edge technology to their business, saying, “There’s a lot of pressure within financial services on the cost side.” But the industry “need[s] to invest in digital transformation themselves to be more efficient, whether it’s [in] Japan or in any other country.”
Regarding FactSet’s strategy for growth in Asia, Snow said what he is “excited about is the wealth markets” in the region, adding, “There’s a huge amount of wealth that’s been built in Asia.”
With regard to nurturing talent and creating a better working culture, Snow said, “Creating that culture of innovation is creating an environment where people feel comfortable submitting their ideas.”
To foster those new ideas, FactSet holds hackathons in conjunction with clients, in which software developers compete to develop new products and services.
Philip Morris Japan President Goh: inclusive corporate culture drives transformation
Diversity and inclusion are helping Philip Morris to transform itself from a traditional tobacco company into one focused on smoke-free alternatives, said Shea Lih Goh, president of its Japanese affiliate.
The company announced its commitment in 2016 to gradually withdraw from the business of making and selling cigarettes, Goh told forum attendees.
“It’s a major transformation requiring changes across the whole company,” Goh said, “having a very diverse workforce and creating an inclusive workplace for everyone, so that we can all get different ideas, a lot of perspectives and have the innovation and drive to reach our ambitious goal.”
Goh said one of the focuses at Philip Morris Japan is to close the gender salary gap, which is a foundational step in creating a gender-balanced organization.
In 2016, the company was awarded the Equal-Salary Certification as the first company outside Switzerland to be recognized by the Swiss nonprofit organization Foundation Equal-Salary. It has achieved certification annually for the past four years.
“We proudly closed the salary gap to only 0.4% in 2018. And that’s remarkable … if you compare [that] to the average in Japan, which is around 24%,” Goh said.
She borrowed the words of US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris saying, “I’m the first female president of Philip Morris Japan and I certainly know and hope I won’t be the last.”
Nitori CEO says furniture retailer speeding up overseas expansion
In an effort to accelerate its global expansion, Akio Nitori, chairman and CEO of Japanese furniture retailer Nitori Holdings, told the forum that “from next year, [we] want to open 10 to 20 [new stores] every year” overseas.
The company currently has stores in Taiwan, the US, and China. Nitori said he has high hopes for the Chinese market, particularly, where incomes are still rising, adding that “winning in the Chinese market means successes in the world.”
In Japan, despite Nitori stores in shopping malls having to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company has seen sales jump as many people turn their homes into offices and classrooms.
He said that COVID-19 has “changed consumers’ shopping behavior,” and that many of them are spending less time in physical stores. But at the same time, the number of app users is increasing, he said.
Nitori said he “sees that the prospect of reaching [sales of] 100 billion yen ($951 million)” soon comes from app users.” At present, those customers account for around 70 billion yen of sales, adding that app users spend more than twice as much as other customers.
The coronavirus outbreak has led to lockdowns in many countries, causing logistics disruptions worldwide. Nitori said his company had difficulty obtaining materials from China to make sofas due to the disruption. He said his company is now “rebuilding the supply chain” and pledged “not to rely on one country.”
Nitori will be followed on Day 2 of the forum by a session with Sutapa Amornvivat, CEO of SCB Abacus, the fintech arm of Thai lender Siam Commercial Bank; and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna.
With 5G a hot topic around the world, Hiroshi Mikitani, founder and CEO of Japanese e-commerce leader Rakuten, will speak on the new business opportunities offered by the next-generation wireless technology.
The travel and retail industries are among those hit hardest by the pandemic. Trip.com Group CEO Jane Jie Sun will offer insights on the challenges to the travel industry in overcoming COVID-19. Yol Phokasub, CEO of Central Retail, Thailand’s leading mall operator, will also speak on Wednesday.
The annual Nikkei Global Management Forum, organized by Nikkei, IMD, and Harvard Business School, will conclude with an address by Dominique Turpin, dean of external relations at IMD, and Hirotaka Takeuchi, professor of management practice at Harvard.