Las Vegas - The Innovation Power Panel here featured high-powered American executives discussing the current state of innovation in the U.S. and the world. Although the topics were similar to last year's panel, albeit with different players, this year's mood was much brighter.
Panel moderator Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of CEA, even remarked at the end of the session that there had been progress over the past year on issues like free trade, strategic immigration, deficit reduction and the importance of innovation in the global economy. He noted there's a bipartisan recognition that something has to be done with the deficit, and although the details weren't worked out, at least "we're on the on the cusp of it."
Participants included Ursula Burns, chairman/CEO, Xerox; Alan Mulally, president/CEO, Ford; and John Stratton, executive VP/president, Verizon Enterprise, Verizon.
All of the executives were bullish on the role of innovation in their companies and how critical it was to their continued success. Mulally noted that a key for any business was having a laser focus on giving customers what they want, and that the CEO's role was providing an overall vision so all employees would work to that end goal. Stratton and Burns agreed - as they did on most topics and questions posed by Shapiro.
Burns - who is known as a leading advocate for education reform in the U.S. - got the biggest round of applause when she lamented the fact that today's students are not embracing math and science the way they should be. Shapiro asked the trio what the country could do to embrace innovation, and she immediately said fix the "education system ... at all levels. We must fundamentally improve our education system. We have to make science, technology and math appealing." She stressed how important engineers were to society and said we were not producing enough of them. "We will not be great if we do not fix this fundamental problem."
Mulally was equally impassioned but in a different area. While agreeing with the great work Burns is doing, he added: "I'd like to go at this way. We're really fighting for the soul of America. We grew up as innovators and that's what's fostered all of our economic growth. We really have to get back to economic development and creating an environment where businesses can grow ... just fundamental things like our tax policy, our energy policy, our budget deficits, our trade deficits so manufacturing can be the base of our economy which it always has been. We need to create a United States that's competitive around the world." He noted the new Ford Explorer, made in Chicago, will be exported to 93 countries around the world. "We just announced we'd be hiring 12,000 new employees over the next few years," he said to applause.
Verizon's John Stratton stressed that government should encourage innovation rather than be involved in picking winners and losers in a "chaotic market. If government got out of the way, there's no reason the U.S. shouldn't be a leader in all the industries that are represented here" at CES.