What does internationalisation mean for 21st century global corporations?

In the second Bristol Distinguished Address Speaker Series event of 2020 at the University of the West of England (UWE), Senior Vice President of Airbus and Chair of Western Gateway Katherine Bennett CBE delivered a lecture on how Airbus approaches internationalism, the impact of Coronavirus around the world on business and the rise of climate change within the aviation sector.

To open her lecture, Bennett talked about the ongoing coronavirus crisis, but commended the Chinese government for being publicly open to international co-operation to find a solution. And institutions such as UWE, are critical to this global goal of obtaining a cure, through collaborative work with business, government, and the world’s leading corporations.

However, in relation to the business community, the stock markets and values of companies continue to plummet, as the crisis continues – and last month was the lowest stock market opening since the 2008 financial crisis.

With the impact and sheer size of China’s contribution to the financial and manufacturing side of businesses across the world – including its impact on the UK economy – what does the future hold for global business?

Corporations, China and Coronavirus

Bennett noted that the Chinese word for crisis is the same as the Chinese word for opportunity – and this is how they can be viewed, to not just solve the ongoing pandemic, but increase internationalisation and collaboration within the global business community.

Internationalisation is the process of making products and services easily available in different markets, languages and regions across the world.

It was this topical subject, that highlighted what Bennett was hoping to give her lecture on. She said: “Global corporations need to understand and play a role in major geo-political topics that affect business, in order for everyone to thrive. Business should not look at geographical boundaries.”

And Coronavirus is not the only major geo-political issues that has impacted British business in recent years – Brexit has been a constant debate for all concerned, as the future (much like it is with Coronavirus) is uncertain, but could yet have serious implications.

A lot of the debate around Brexit has been about sovereignty, which in Bennett’s opinion has led to the worst cases of nationalism we have seen in this country. The internal debacle that has shown that Britain is potentially shutting itself off from the rest of the world. However, internationalisation and collaborative global work, will need to be crucial, if Britain is to grow in the future.

“Whilst boundaries are important for national leaders, in so many ways, the businesses of today they have no boundaries. Colleagues and customers can come from around the world – and can themselves be based almost anywhere on the planet. In the opinion of many global businesses, one of the UK’s main USPs is the diversity of our talent, and the international workforce it has. Boundaries can stifle this diversity.”

With the implementation of an Australian-style immigration system likely to be introduced, Bennett hopes that it will not impact the diversity of international businesses that call the UK home – like her company, Airbus.

What does the future hold for companies like Airbus in the UK?

For any successful global corporation, internationalisation means adapting and evolving, while continuing to grow and progress as a business – even when situations outside the business change, and wider societal and political dominate the conversation.

In Bennett’s view, in recent years, the rules for the modern CEO have completely changed and the rulebook for growth has been ‘ripped up’.

Much of their power used to be as the final decision maker involving the capital of the business. However, nowadays 61% of investment in the UK’s top 500 firms is in ‘intangible assets’.  $32bn was spent on cloud services alone. And with the evolution of 5G, quantum technologies and artificial intelligence – the future decisions of a business leader are now more focused on embracing change and implementing it correctly.

The rate of change has been incredible in comparison to any time in history – and it is the role of international corporations and their leadership to constantly work on adapting to global changes.

Bennett reiterated Airbus’ commitment to the UK, Europe and the wider world to continue its work – despite ongoing challenges relating to Brexit, coronavirus, and whatever the future holds.

She highlighted the need to increase the skills and diversity of its employees – an issue currently facing many industries – in order to remain a global player in the business community.

Airbus has achieved its success by having an international presence, and having a wide range of skills, backgrounds, investors and employees – making it possible to adapt to the variety of challenges that could happen at any one of its operations around the world.

What does internationalisation mean for the future?

Bennett discussed how she recently watched a documentary about one of the world’s largest moving objects – a shipping container, where if all its cargo was stacked on top of its each, it would reach space.

However, sheer size doesn’t guarantee success.

With scale comes responsibility, and corporations like Airbus need to be acutely aware of its role in helping to shape the world we live in from a business, environmental and societal point of view.

She said: “Internationalisation and greater connectivity creates greater opportunities for companies like ours. The actions we take must be taken with an appreciation of the local and global situations. Businesses the world over are actively looking to contribute social causes, scientific discovery and playing an active role in driving positive change – all while reducing the negative societal and environmental impacts.”

Former ‘box-ticking’ exercises – like environmental issues – are now crucial to the future of 21st century business.

Bennett concluded: “Creating shareholder value should no longer be seen as businesses primary aim.”

To listen to Katherine Bennett’s full lecture the podcast is available here.

UWE’s Bristol Distinguished Address Speaker Series has four remaining lectures for the 2019-20 season, and details on them can be found here. Business Leader will be publishing articles on each lecture.