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10 CEOs make predictions about how business will change in 2019

More transparency, a possible recession, brick-and-mortar fights back, and more.

10 CEOs make predictions about how business will change in 2019
[Photos: Robert Nelson; Oladimeji Odunsi; Rishi Deep]

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball? It might also be scary. The biggest news stories from 2018, according to Google searches, involved hurricanes, elections, and the Parkland, Fla. shooting. But there were good things on people’s minds, like the World Cup, royal wedding, and a record-breaking lottery jackpot. We wondered what 2019 will bring to the business world. Here are predictions from 10 CEOs:

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We’ll start to see more of an impact from #MeToo

We are entering into uncharted territory right now, says Melissa Smith, CEO of payments tech company WEX Inc.

“With the tailwind of the #MeToo movement followed by the largest number of women elected into politics in any U.S. cycle, we are on the verge of significant change in the way women experience their professional lives,” she says. “To think that the next generation of women, our daughter’s, could really show up to work and be treated from day one as equal is moving from a dream to a place of reality.”

Leadership skills will be tested

Leaders will be tested over the next few years, and they’ll need to know how to adapt when the times are not in their favor, says F. Scott Moody, CEO of K4Connect, a technology solutions provider for older adults and individuals living with disabilities.

“Fact is, we have been in a strong economic upturn for the last 10 years and I believe we are in for more challenging economic conditions in the not-too-distant future,” he says. “Many leaders today have not really been tested in a downturn, whether the 2007 downturn, 9/11, the dotcom implosion, or many of the others that preceded those times. It’s never easy to be a leader, but it is darn harder when the tide is not in your favor.”

The new trade environment will affect business

With newly implemented tariffs and continuing uncertainty around future trade developments, companies will need to reassess their supply chains to evaluate the cost and pricing of their products, says Beth Gerstein, CEO of Brilliant Earth, provider of ethically sourced jewelry.

“This shift is trending to benefit companies that have a larger domestic presence in their production and manufacturing capabilities,” she says. “For businesses that rely on overseas products and suppliers to support their business, it will be vital in the next year to proactively initiate conversations with vendors to negotiate and lock in long-term favorable deals with out-of-country contractors.”

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We’ll deal with culture differences in business practices

Remote work is at an all-time high in the U.S. and around the world, and the projections of its growth are astronomical, says Taso Du Val, CEO of Toptal, a global talent network.

“This may sound wonderful and can be considered so most of the time. However, connecting the ‘eight weeks of vacation’ mentality when working with individuals in Croatia with the ‘all we do is work to win’ mentality of Americans can be an extreme clash at times,” he says. “The finesse on how to deal with merging these two cultures together is a process that will most likely take several years to truly resolve. In 2019, we’ll see business leaders begin to focus more on the benefits of both cultural changes and their plans on how they will successfully merge the two.”

Trust and transparency are paramount

The marketplace will realign as a result of the importance and value of customer trust, says Andrew Rubin, founding CEO of Illumio, a cybersecurity provider.

“We’ve seen what happens to a company or brand when they fail to protect customer trust,” he says. “Protecting data is important, but the bigger picture is about trust. It takes 20 years to build reputation and five minutes to destroy it. Trust is becoming a theme and trend top of every board and CEO mind going forward. Not a moment in time or a flash. Corporate consciousness and transparency will be a foundational element between companies and consumer.”

Weed will get branding

“2019 will be the year that marijuana dispensaries will provide not just weed, but atmosphere and experience,” says Pat McBride, founder and CEO of The McBride Company, a design firm for the hospitality and leisure industries.

A culture is being created around marijuana where patrons will seek dispensaries that are destinations. Consumers will look for “fascinating products, insightful information, and interesting environments,” he says. “It’s true that some marijuana customers will simply want to score their weed–think packaged liquor store. Others will enjoy the discovery retailing process of searching for unique products and learning about the various strains of marijuana in an interesting environment–think Napa Valley wine store.”

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Experiences change the face of retail

Consumers will continue to put a premium on connection and experiences, and smart retailers will reimagine ways to turn transactions into immersive and enriching experiences that celebrate discovery, exploration, and learning, says Christine Barone, CEO of True Food Kitchen, an organic restaurant chain.

“As tech impacts nearly every aspect of people’s lives and continues to replace more personal interaction, retailers must find ways to transform transactions into unexpected experiences and stores into hubs of enrichment and places where people want to engage and connect,” she says. “These rich experiences will be the primary motivators and factors driving which retailers become hotspots.”

Diversity will become enforced

In 2018, California became the first state to require public companies headquartered here to have at least one woman on their boards, and this is a sign of things to come, says Fred Stevens-Smith, cofounder and CEO of Rainforest QA, a quality assurance software company.

“As the long-overdue focus on gender and racial equality continues, government will increasingly step in to legislate for change,” he says. “As is often the case with government regulation, this will likely have unintended consequences as well, making it hard to predict whether this will be a net good.”

Brick-and-mortar retailers fight back

While the past decade has seen a big push around ecommerce and online investment, people still love to shop in physical stores, and 2019 will see more brands shifting their focus to physical locations, says Tom Buiocchi, CEO of ServiceChannel, a facilities management platform.

“We saw signs of this in 2018 with brands like Nike opening experimental stores and Dunkin’ Donuts investing $100 million to better support mobile orders and pickup,” he says, adding that digital natives like Allbirds, Casper, Warby Parker, and Everlane are accelerating the change by opening permanent stores to attract new customers. “Main Street is getting interesting again, and 2019 will see accelerating investment in the retail renaissance.

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“Data ethicist” becomes a thing

2019 will be the year that companies hire a “data ethicist,” says Gil Elbaz, CEO of Factual, a location data provider.

“As more and more decisions are made using AI, the teams amassed to build, test, and teach that software are growing as well,” he says. “The smarter these systems become, the more important it is that they’re designed with the needs of, and respect for, humanity in mind. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to program a machine to understand a human ethic.”

Companies will solve this by hiring a data ethicist. “The technology is ultimately responsible for making a decision, but the steps it took to get there will be informed by data scientists programming with human ethics in mind,” Elbaz says.

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