The Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society (AFES) 2023 witnessed a remarkable moment as Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the renowned business leader and sustainability advocate, took the stage to deliver a thought-provoking and inspiring speech. The former Chairman and CEO of Nestlé is known for his multi-faceted knowledge of different aspects of global commerce including his extensive expertise in marketing, management, and branding.

As a recipient of the coveted Schumpeter Prize for innovation, he began by underlining the importance of innovation and reinvention as fundamental elements for continuous success as he had disrupted markets and industries several times. Notable among his innovations were the introduction of water soluble and freeze-dried instant coffee and his pioneering venture into e-commerce.

He cautioned to exercise prudence, however, since such power could end up being concentrated within a few corporations, resulting in adverse effects on the overall progress of society. Brabeck-Letmathe encouraged proponents of disruptive technologies to carefully consider the profound impact their creations can have on the global ecosystem, given the rapid pace of technological progress and its potential to shape the future of humanity.

Brabeck-Letmathe also emphasized that capitalism should not solely revolve around profit maximization but should focus on enhancing the well-being of the population. He suggested a shift from placing earnings at the center of capitalism to prioritizing humans and placing their needs at the heart of economic activity. This shift, he argued, would promote inclusive capitalism, ultimately prioritizing the well-being and prosperity of all.

In closing, he reflected on the current state of how businesses are being run worldwide, highlighting the need for adaptability and leadership in the face of rapid change and disruption. “If I look around, if I listen around, I think there’s a…sentiment among the business community.  And this one is of confusion. There are too many changes, there’s too much disruption. Everything is going too fast; everything is too complex.” He observed that many businesses today are primarily focused on optimizing within their current context. They are insufficiently set on anticipating and reevaluating the fundamental nature of their existing business models. To achieve this shift in focus, he stressed the critical importance of strong leadership and a robust corporate culture. He concluded by emphasizing, “The more volatile our world, the more you need to have a strong corporate culture, and you have to have strong leadership.”

Brabeck-Letmathe’s insightful address left a lasting impression on the audience, highlighting the importance of global responsibility, disruptive innovation, the role of capitalism, and the management of technological advancement. His observations underscored the necessity for businesses to be agile and forward-thinking in the face of a rapidly evolving global landscape, conveying a clear message that in this era of disruption and complexity, strong leadership and a solid corporate culture are not just desirable, but crucial for sustainable success and responsible business practices.