The ACTE Column: Adapt and survive

We need to embrace innovation and share information to stay ahead of the game.

After 14 out of the last 15 yeArs in pole position, Bill Gates is no longer the richest man in the world. According to Forbes' annual 'rich list', the Microsoft founder this year drops into second place with a mere $53 billion, having been pipped to the post by Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecoms magnate, with a net worth of $53.5bn. Warren Buffett sits in third place with $47bn.

College dropout Mark Zuckerberg is the world's youngest billionaire, having made his first billion at the age of 23 in 2008. As a Harvard sophomore, Zuckerberg initially created Facebook for his campus, but it soon spread to other schools. He is now ranked at 212 on the rich list with a net worth of $4bn.

Interestingly, if somewhat further down the list at 721, Japan's Yoshikazu Tanaka is the world's second-youngest self-made billionaire at the age of 32. Tanaka also made his fortune from a social networking site, Gree, the company name inspired by the concept of 'six degrees of separation' based on the studies of American social psychologist Stanley Milgram. Gree has since transitioned into a mobile gaming company and now attracts around a million new subscribers a month who pay for virtual accessories for online avatars that participate in social games on their mobile phones.

Has the world gone crazy? Could anyone really have imagined it would ever be possible to make billions from selling what seems to be nothing? Well it is, so maybe we need to sit up and take notice. We have entered a new age where virtually anything is possible and even nothing has a value.

It's no surprise that technology and communications companies feature heavily in the Forbes list. Zuckerberg and Tanaka remind us once again that even when the world is in the throes of economic turmoil, young, innovative entrepreneurs can strike it rich. They are from a long line of tech-tycoons, from Michael Dell to Bill Gates, who made their initial fortunes in their 20s and 30s.

Today, eight billionaires under the age of 40 have earned their money in technology. But technology moves fast - for example, CDs have become everyday commodities in just two decades yet, with the advent of online and on-demand music and entertainment, that medium appears to be on the downward curve.

Business leaders need to keep their fingers on the pulse to be able to predict the next big thing, to identify how to adapt and incorporate new trends into their businesses. Any business that fails to understand how the next generation wants to communicate and do business will become extinct. No successful business can sustainably compete on a price-only basis, so it must look for differentiating factors.

So how do you stay ahead of the curve? We could all spend our entire working day scanning through print and online trade journals and news sources, but few people have the time. We live in a growing culture of isolation where home working is prevalent, so we miss the chat from around the water cooler - yet it is there that we pick up tit-bits of information that help us develop our company identity and brand philosophy, and where those who deliver company product share simple facts that lead to those light-bulb moments. The fact is, people learn most effectively through interaction.

Over 20 years ACTE has held hundreds of educational events throughout Europe and around the world, facilitating learning through local, regional and global education and networking forums.

Education forums enable corporate travel professionals to learn from each other, to share business innovations and best practices with peers, and enable leaders to come together to maximise opportunities for personal and business growth. ACTE is staging a full schedule of events across Europe including the 2010 ACTE Global Education Conference, being held October 3-5 in Berlin. Travel industry leaders are encouraged to register by June 18 for early bird rates. ACTE members automatically receive a 35 per cent discount on all ACTE events.

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