McKinsey Quarterly

Navigating the new normal: A conversation with four chief strategy officers

| Interview

Are we experiencing a conventional economic cycle? Or did the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent global economic downturn mark the beginning of a “new normal” characterized by fundamental changes in the use of leverage, trajectory of globalization, nature of consumption patterns, and appetite for risk taking? Few, if any, members of the C-suite are better positioned to answer these questions than chief strategy officers, who typically find themselves on the hook for identifying tectonic shifts in the competitive landscape—and for predicting the future.

In early October 2009, we sat down with the CSOs of Boeing, Estée Lauder, Smith International, and Visa to discuss what has and hasn’t changed over the past year. While they didn’t agree on everything, the four executives painted a collective picture of an environment in which setting strategy has become more complex: planning cycles are shrinking, future growth trajectories are harder to predict, and business assumptions that once seemed indisputable are now coming into question. What’s more, the rapid pace of economic events is challenging CSOs in their efforts to focus on the long term, and to keep the organization and its processes well aligned with shifting strategic priorities.

McKinsey’s Allen Webb conducted the interview in New York with Rik Geiersbach of Boeing, Peter Jueptner of Estée Lauder, Peter Pintar of Smith International, and Niki Manby of Visa.