“Today, I’m going to wander around in the trees and hopefully end up with a picture of a forest,” said Willis Potts, retired vice president and general manager of paper-maker Temple-Inland, as he embarked on an engaging, wide-ranging view of the challenges faced by today’s increasingly global industrial marketplace.
Speaking from the measured perspective of retirement, he admitted to his current gauge of how business is going as being measured more by “the Weather Channel, Home Shopping Network, and Metamucil,” his words of wisdom nevertheless rang true for some 2,000 process automation professionals gathered at the Emerson Global Users Exchange.
Challenge number one for industry, he said, is the need to do more and more with less and less. “We’re challenge to get to the future first, and get there with less.” Further, he cautioned against downsizing that results in corporate anorexia. “Often, we’re thinner but not healthier—are workers our most important assets or just our most expendable?”
Number two on Potts list of industry’s challenges is how to utilize rapidly changing technology and survive the change it brings. Changing technology is always “part gee-whiz, and part uh-oh. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to tell people their jobs went away because of changing technology,” he said. Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things, he further cautioned.
“Playing in a global game against intense competition,” is challenge number four. “Get efficient or get out,” he said, relating his own personal experience of tough times for the U.S. paper industry especially as China’s new, and more efficient paper-making industry grew, displacing a once thriving export business for U.S. companies.
“Another challenge is to survive in an era when environmental concerns are dominant,” Potts said. “Environmental responsibility has to be a part of everything we do. We need to strike a balance between what people need, what technology can deliver and what shareholders will accept.”
Potts’ final challenge to us all is to resist the momentum of the status quo, to be bold enough to exploit change, to not simply “view the world as we would like to see it.” He related a perspective-changing personal story of his own. In the early 1990s a paper-machine was down due to an explosion, and his company had to rely on a Russian cargo airline to deliver key capital equipment from England for a timely recovery. As a former Army officer during Vietnam, he confessed not being prepared for the change in his own perspective of this Russian company viewing him as a customer needing to be served. “There is no longer any room for a domestic view,” he said. “Competition blinds people to the real challenge of exploiting change.”