What makes SAF-Holland a heavyweight in its division

From the September 2016 issue.

Muhammad Ali’s legendary clash with George Foreman in Kinshasa might help international transport equipment businesses like SAF-Holland make sense of an increasingly chaotic world economy.

It would be easy to lose orientation among the flood of perturbing economic news that have kept the world community on edge since the beginning of 2016 – starting with the Chinese stock market rout in January and most recently culminating in the UK’s decision to leave the European Union – or dismiss them as acts of randomness that defy any kind of strategic preparation.

But according to Donald Sull, a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the inherent unpredictability of modern-day politics doesn’t necessarily have to lead businesses into a strategic trap. In an often-quoted Harvard Business Review article from 2009, he drew a connection between the planning dilemma modern executives face and Muhammad Ali’s 1974 bout against George Foreman – providing a blueprint for adversity leadership that could now be more relevant than ever before.

“Ali was alert to fleeting opportunities and nimble at seizing them. Foreman lacked Ali’s agility, but because of his sheer bulk, physical strength and toughness, he could absorb all the punishment his opponent could dish out, all the while waiting for a chance to unleash his own powerful blows when his adversary tired,” he wrote.

Back then, the world had just been through a period of what accounting firm PwC labelled “10 years of high-speed change” – characterised by “unsettling twists and turns” like the implosion of Enron, the popping of the dot-com bubble, 9-11, war in the Middle East, a sharp jump in commodity pricing and growing concern about global warming.

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