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.