As you mention, the biggest risk to current domestic jobs is the threat of automation. Growing isolationist trade policies, further spurred by President Trump, may be successful in bringing back some domestic jobs like those in GM’s Texas manufacturing facility. Yet are these the right jobs to bring back? If automation continues and these jobs are replaced, the US may be at a disadvantage without an international footprint in such industries. Perhaps these jobs would have been lost overseas, with new ones emerging domestically given the improvements in automation. Overall, it seems like a short-term solution that might cost GM significant competitive advantage in the future.
Applying the rules of finance to ArcelorMittal, diversification will be key for their business. Given the highly politicized debate over protectionism, and the possibility of such rules being overturned under the next president, the company should strike a balance between its domestic and foreign businesses. Focusing too heavily on the US would be a mistake given the volatility likely in such a strongly divided political climate.
Also, as you alluded to, ArcelorMittal should also advocate for more a more flexible definition of “Made in America” given their reliance on Canadian intermediate products. Lobbying the FTC with the argument that final processing in the US is the most critical step of production might be effective for helping their business through the current era of isolationism.
It sounds like an upfront investment in more resilient coffee beans would be a worthwhile short-term sacrifice of profit for significant long-term benefit. Starbucks should work with Indigo Agriculture to engineer the best seeds – perhaps they could test them in various international locations and determine where they can grow them in the future. By investing in the seeds themselves, you are simultaneously investing in the farmers and their livelihoods, given that they will be more likely to retain their jobs with more resilient hybrid seeds as their source of coffee beans.
However, if it proves impossible to design effective new seeds, the other long-term, last-ditch possibility might be to change their coffee altogether. Have farmers switch to different seeds (natural or engineered), then eliminate arabica from the Western drink menu. I guarantee people would start noticing climate change. Clearly this would affect Starbucks’ profits, but its likely their brand could withstand it – and perhaps it could have the greatest social impact of all.
As we’ve seen in a number of our cases, companies must be on the forefront of innovation and disruption regardless of their current standing. Aqualisa revolutionized the shower industry even though they were comfortable, and Dole must do the same for farming. Without knowledge of the technical aspects of this approach, my primary caveat is whether we are overlooking issues with the process of vertical farming. Are there changes in the airflow, sunlight, or carbon dioxide in an artificial indoor environment that we need to worry about? How pricey are the electricity bills at these farms? Are all crops amenable to this process? It certainly sounds promising, though I imagine everyone would be jumping on the train if this were an infallible plan. Disrupt, but first run a pilot to see how it goes.
The digitalization of consulting is unlikely to replace its core business, since its greatest value proposition is the creativity engendered by teams of smart individuals working together to solve problems. Frameworks provide a logical overview of the issue at hand – and there is nothing wrong with disseminating these principles – since the competitive advantage is still retained in the form of collective intelligence and teamwork. The same is true for universities, as one might argue that massive open online courses (MOOCs) threaten their own value proposition. Yet the true value of the education is from peers in the academic environment, not the material itself. For the same reason universities will endure digitalization, so too will consultancies – IDEO should continue to spread its initiatives, and traditional consulting businesses should offer the world the same.
Walmart is clearly locked in intense competition with Amazon. Given the extent of their brick-and-mortar presence, it appears that they have the potential to leverage this network and compete effectively in the e-commerce space with reduced delivery times. This might be particularly effective in the future age of drone deliveries – while Amazon has the distribution network, Walmart’s extensive store presence could lend them a competitive advantage. The other option, as you mention, is to make the in-store experience simply superior, such that customers want to shop at physical stores rather than online (e.g. using technology to personalize the shopping experience). Their biggest advantages are convenient brick-and-mortar stores and more recession-proof products and pricing – they should use these to their fullest to compete with Amazon.