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#DF19: President Obama on smart business leadership

President Barack Obama took to the keynote stage during Dreamforce 2019 to talk about using shared values in business to attract a new generation of leaders.

During a conversation with Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, Obama highlighted the need for businesses to look for talent "not just in all the usual places”. He said diversity in the boardroom is critical for the future success of business.

“There are blind spots that are missed when you only have one type of person around the table,” he said. “And you have to have people that are smarter than you.”

Obama also warned that the tendency for many big businesses to be “cut-throat” and “all about the short-term quarterly earnings” is putting off the next-generation of business talent. He said these youngsters are keen to join companies who care about their workforce and wider environmental issues, and in order to attract this talent, businesses need to show that they share their values. He said companies need to send out a “bat signal” about what they believe in and then people who share those values will gravitate towards them – which is what he said happened during his presidential campaign.

Speaking to retail experts at Salesforce, Jamie Merrick, following Obama’s talk, said the retail industry needs to start sending out these signals to encourage the best corporate and technology talent to enter the workplace. While the retail industry is in the midst of trading difficulties, he argued that some retailers should take advantage of the change in mindset of the younger generation.

“Philanthropic and sustainable angles seem to be a common thread around retailers and brands who are doing a good job at the moment,” said Merrick, explaining how consumers will always look for products but those who share their values are standing out from the crowd. These companies will be the ones to attract the best talent in the coming years as matters of sustainability become even more prevalent

Technology division

And, like many, the former president revealed that sustainability is the number one concern on his mind right now. Obama took a moment to reflect on a number of issues that worry him, including climate change and extreme inequality between nations, which he believes has been turbo-charged by globalisation and technology.

He said technology and social media has fed the global appetite to have better and bigger things, which is leading to both increased greenhouse emissions as well as divisions in society.

“We’re chasing after the wrong things,” he said, noting how this inequality is leading to anger and frustration. He said the current political turmoil is leaving citizens feeling insecure thanks to the rise of the new information age.

“Right now the biggest challenge is: how do we get a common conversation?” asked Obama.

He pointed out that when he was growing up there were only a handful of channels showing TV programmes, now the overwhelming amount of content is causing divisions in society because people no longer have a common interest and point of reference.

“If you watch Fox News you live in a different reality than if you read the New York Times,” he said, explaining how one YouTube video can lead a person down a completely different “rabbit hole” than the next.

“This is not just affecting politics, but we’re siloing ourselves off from each other in ways that are dangerous,” he added. “I still believe the internet is a powerful tool to unify us, but right now it’s splintering us.”