Podcast: Investing in the ”never normal”

Peter Hinssen is an entrepreneur and author who believes in the "never normal”, within which there are phoenixes and unicorns battling for supremacy. The winner will depend on which one adapts better.

waymo self drive car


David Brett
Multi-media Editor

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You can read a full transcription below:

[00:00:09.370] - David Brett

Peter, a very warm welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us.

[00:00:12.420] - Peter Hinssen

An absolute pleasure to be here.

[00:00:13.730] - David Brett

And have you come all the way from Belgium today?

[00:00:15.510] - Peter Hinssen

I did, yes. And I'm going back this evening.

[00:00:17.720] - David Brett

Okay, well, have a very safe journey, but thankfully we've got you just before you go now, for those listeners who may not know who you are, can you give us a brief bio?

[00:00:26.110] - Peter Hinssen

Sure. So, I'm a technologist by training. I had the pleasure to do a number of technology startups when I was younger. I did three. One company was acquired by Alcatelucent, one by Vodafone, and the third was a company that we IPOed. And after 15 rather intense startup years, I decided to do something completely different. So, 10 years ago, I started teaching at London Business School. I still teach there. I became a fellow at MIT Sloan and I write books and I try and observe what is happening in the world of innovation and disruption and technology. And that is something that I'm going to try and do for as long as I can.

[00:01:06.890] - David Brett

Well, your latest book is Phoenix and the Unicorn, which I'm sure we will definitely get to slightly later in the show. Well, I've heard you described as a serial entrepreneur. Do you know how many businesses you've been involved in over your time?

[00:01:19.370] - Peter Hinssen

Well, today I primarily help invest. I invest in startups and I help them grow and I help them scale. And it's a wonderful way to keep me young and fresh because there is so much happening in that world of technology and the pace seems to be accelerating and I don't have the stamina anymore to probably pull a couple of all nighters every week. And I'm really glad that I can invest in 20 year olds who can actually do that.

[00:01:44.880] - David Brett

It's probably the best, right?

[00:01:46.450] - Peter Hinssen

I hope so.

[00:01:47.410] - David Brett

The other thing, just before we get on to the main topic of the "Never Normal", which we'll discuss in a minute, I understand you're quite an Apple enthusiast.

[00:01:55.530] - Peter Hinssen


[00:01:56.130] - David Brett

Can you take us through that?

[00:01:57.420] - Peter Hinssen

So, when I was younger, I grew up in the US and I went to a high school in the US in the 1980s that was one of the first Apple schools. And what Apple did is they seeded a couple of schools with, in those case, Apple 2s, and I learned how to programme. Probably the enthusiasm to become a computer scientist came from that, but also the love for the machine and the brand never disappeared. And I became a frantic collector of Apple computers in the world. I'm certainly top ten in Europe, I'm probably number three. And that resulted in me buying a church in Belgium to house my collection, which I call the Apple Chapel, which is a shrine, but it's also a wonderful combination. Tech is the new religion anyway, so I thought it was an interesting combination of religion and technology to put it there.

[00:02:46.790] - David Brett

Do you know how many Apple computers you've got there?

[00:02:49.260] - Peter Hinssen

I probably have an almost full collection. But even more interesting now is to actually start collecting not just the computers, but how they would advertise them. I have, for example, all the annual reports now complete. And I even have the first prospectus that JPMorgan used to actually sell the first 4.6 million shares of Apple. If you read that document, it's just amazing. I mean, it says the company has a management team that is inexperienced, the company has had severe cash flow difficulties, and you think, why would anyone invest in a company like that? But to see that history through that lens is fascinating.

[00:03:28.670] - David Brett

And I'm sure there are plenty of companies that have been through that in the past.

[00:03:31.890] - Peter Hinssen

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And being born every single day.

[00:03:34.790] - David Brett

Absolutely. Do you stretch into iPhones as well, or is it just the computers

[00:03:39.030] - Peter Hinssen

No, no. It's basically everything that Apple has ever produced. I try and keep it. So my chapel is now filled to the brim, and I'm looking for new religious real estate opportunities.

[00:03:49.310] - David Brett

And is the chapel open for worshippers?

[00:03:51.230] - Peter Hinssen

Well, I mean, I used to be there constantly during COVID because that was my place where I would record and do webinars. Now I'm travelling most of the time, but if I'm there, you're more than welcome.

[00:04:02.430] - David Brett

Brilliant. Absolutely. I will definitely pop in, I promise. Okay, so we just mentioned it a few minutes ago, the Never Normal. The world's changing at a pace. So can you just discuss or give us a brief overview of what you mean by the never normal?

[00:04:15.640] - Peter Hinssen

Well, I wrote this book, The New Normal, more than ten years ago, and I apologise, it's been overused during the Pandemic. But what I wanted to describe in that book ten years ago is what would happen if something like digital technologies would stop being special and become normal. And then, of course, the Pandemic was an acceleration of that. But the idea that we would then post Pandemic, go back to peace and quiet, is probably an incredibly naive idea. And we've seen that it's not just technological changes, but environmental changes and societal changes and geopolitical changes. And it's that combination which I tried to describe in what I call the never normal. And that's a world of constant change, an extreme volatile environment. And I think that's the background, it's almost the landscape that companies need to understand if they want to navigate. And I really focus on companies that can not just survive that never normal, but really take that as their baseline and can really use that as a power to thrive in that never normal. And I think there's going to be a great opportunity in the next couple of years and probably decades for companies to really use the power of the never normal and become stronger.

[00:05:29.170] - David Brett

Okay, before we get on to what is changing have you been surprised at what has changed and what stayed the same?

[00:05:35.850] - Peter Hinssen

I mean, there are a couple of things that keep surprising me and I always use the power of S curves. And an S curve is something that's strange in the beginning. It starts to grow very slowly and then all of a sudden, boom. It becomes absolutely normal. And even although I'm a technologist, I am still surprised by how these S curves can just suddenly creep up on you. And maybe the best example that we've seen recently is what happened in the world of AI with Generative AI. When Chat GPT burst onto the scene on the 30 November in 2022, most people had never even heard of Generative AI. And then within weeks, it became the absolute buzz. And I think a big part of the adoption was that so many children started to use it to do their homework. And I think probably a lot of parents thought, "what are you using to write an essay or to write a paper?" But to see that massive adoption is a great example of this incredible speed. At the same time, we have seen some things that aren't actually following these S curve patterns. Look at, for example, the hype we had the last couple of years around self driving cars.

[00:06:43.950] - Peter Hinssen

I really would have hoped that we would have self driving cars by now, but it turns out that's a little bit more difficult to actually get into mainstream. So there is an irony that some things can happen really quickly and just surprise you. Some things take more time. I mean, self driving cars is a great example. I mean, it's not that they're not going to happen, but I was thinking they will happen sooner. I mean, I recently had to take away the cars from my father in law because he has Parkinson's. And taking away his car keys and basically robbing him from freedom was one of the most difficult things. And I really wish I had a self driving car to give my father in law at that moment. I hope that I have one by the time it's my turn. But look at San Francisco, I mean, self driving cars in San Francisco have been around for a couple of years. We have Waymo, Google and we have Cruise, which is General Motors and Microsoft. And just before the summer they got the full licence to use self driving cars in San Francisco and it became overnight the number one tourist attraction in San Francisco.

[00:07:45.900] - Peter Hinssen

So people used to go to San Francisco and they wanted to ride the cable cars. Now they want to drive a self driving car. And there you see that. I think once you get past that threshold again, boof, then it can happen really quickly. But some things are just slower than I expected.

[00:08:00.750] - David Brett

Okay, in your never normal, what defines the never normal?

[00:08:04.430] - Peter Hinssen

So when I talk about the never normal, there's a couple of characteristics, and there is actually four. One is what I call fluidity. It's a world that is more and more fluid. We have to adapt faster. We have to become agile. And how do we deal with that? The Pandemic was a great way. I mean, the whole remote work was a great example of that fluidity. Two is I think we need to look left and right. We have to look nonlinear. We're so programmed to look straight ahead, but there are things happening left and right in our swimming lanes adjacent to what we do that might be really interesting for us to get into. Number three is a world that I don't think it's about digital. I made a mistake there in my first book. I think it's more about networks. By the way, my second book was called The Network Always Wins and that's what we're seeing. It's about connectivity and finding patterns and speeds of networks, ecosystems, to try and figure that out. And the result is a world that seems to be accelerating. So that's a world where that idea of fluidity and nonlinear thinking and networking and ultra speed comes together.

[00:09:10.060] - Peter Hinssen

But it's also a world where you see all these facets. It's technological, it's biological, as we saw with the Pandemic, it's societal. I mean, the potential for social seismic shocks to appear, the geopolitical scene, and you can look at that and think, oh, my God, what a mess. And I think the word of the year in the UK was polycrysis. One misery after another. But instead of seeing that as just a continuous set of challenges, can we see that as opportunities? Can we leverage the power of that never normal? And I love the analogy of whitewater kayaking. I don't know if you've ever done it, but I was mortified. I thought, I'm going to die. The water, the rocks, it could all kill you. But then I had an amazing instructor who showed me how to use the power of the water to become more agile in my kayak. And this idea of actually can you leverage that brute force of the never normal? And as a company, can you become more agile? And I think that's what companies need to learn. And for that, I think they really need to understand that never normal first.

[00:10:15.610] - David Brett

And do you think humans are equipped to handle the never normal?

[00:10:19.740] - Peter Hinssen

That's a brilliant question. And then the next part of that question would be, to what extent or is there a limit to this? And I think one of the most brilliant things about us humans is our capability to constantly react to changing environments. I mean, the life that we have now is different from what it was 20 years ago, quite different from 100 years ago. And there's this idea, it's called Heliocentrism, where every generation thinks, oh, my God, this is now happening faster than ever before. Maybe that's not true, but it does show that we're really equipped as human beings to adapt and change. So I'm a fundamental optimist there you have some people who are quite the opposite. I just finished Elon Musk's biography, and he's a pessimist. He believes that the world is basically heading for a fall, that we're going to have a population that gets dumber and dumber and dumber, and we're going to destroy ourselves. And that's why he wants to go to Mars and escape to plan B. I don't think so. I think we are extremely resilient beings, but I do think that we need to nurture that capability.

[00:11:27.930] - Peter Hinssen

Know, I always ask the question when I do a lecture know, when you look at the next generation, when you look at our kids, are we equipping them with the capability to be open minded for that never normal. Are we nurturing their creative potential to say, okay, things are changing. How do we leapfrog on top of that? Are we really creating that ability? And that's probably where we need to take it up a notch. I think the educational system in most environments, in most countries, is the slowest moving part of society. So I think that's where we really need to maybe double down and make sure that we prepare a next generation to take advantage of that resilience.

[00:12:05.810] - David Brett

And how do we do that, bearing in mind this is all coming about at a time when we've got cash strapped governments at the moment.

[00:12:11.260] - Peter Hinssen

That's true. And you already see that today, I think, where the world is changing so quickly, how could you even get that system, which is quite a rigid system, the educational system, because it's all sorts of established patterns and even boundaries that are difficult to overcome. You get to the point now where you see some commercial companies jumping in. I take Udacity as an example. That was a company that was founded by Sebastian Thrun, who was the founder of the self driving car experiment at Google, and who said, you know what? You cannot even study to be a self driving car engineer. Let's build a platform where you can learn how to become that. We saw the rise of these micro degrees where you focus on very specific tasks. When I teach at MIT, one of my colleagues who teaches computer science recently said the worst job in the world now is to teach artificial intelligence. Because even if you have the smartest kids in your class at MIT, and you teach them on AI, what you teach them in October is outdated before you can give them an exam in January.

[00:13:20.760] - Peter Hinssen

So it is a world which is constantly changing. In my university in Ghent, in Belgium, where I studied, they're building on a self driving race car because there's now a new set of races happening with self driving race cars. And it's really wonderful. You put a race car on a track, it drives five laps, captures all the data and then races and can use g forces and take risks that no human driver would ever take. Brilliant. Absolute pinnacle of AI. And when I see the 90 students working on that AI powered car, I see the assistants looking over their shoulders, thinking, what are they doing? And from a far distance, you see the professors who have no idea what they're doing. So I think you're right. We have to probably accelerate that. I also think that it's about a mentality more than just the facts. I think it's about stimulating creativity. And this is where probably not just teachers, but parents play a really important role as well.

[00:14:21.570] - David Brett

Yeah, it sounds like you're less man versus machine than man works with machine.

[00:14:27.520] - Peter Hinssen

I'm very much pro man plus machine. I really believe in that combination. I saw a recent study at MIT where they looked at all the jobs in the world and looked at, in the next 20 years, what are the jobs that are most likely to be replaced by an algorithm? And one of the jobs that I found really interesting was accountants. And they said, I don't know what the statistic actually means, but they said 94% of the accountants have a chance of being replaced by an algorithm in the next 20 years. And when I talk about this, many people say, oh, my God, then it's really stupid to study to be an accountant. And I don't think so. I think what that number means is that we probably don't need the accountants that we have today. We're going to need a next generation accountants who might understand how to use the power of code and algorithms and data. And I think we can probably leapfrog in that profession of accountancy to build the next generation of accountants that we're going to need. We're always going to need people who understand, are we doing well financially?

[00:15:30.330] - Peter Hinssen

Are our books in order? But the way that we're going to use tools for that is dramatically going to change almost in every profession.

[00:15:37.810] - David Brett

And so it also sounds like you're not too worried about the algorithms getting out of control, a bit like the terminator two.

[00:15:43.620] - Peter Hinssen

Yeah, I mean, there's a significant group of people who believe that we're doing something that is really scary. I mean, people like Nick Bostrom, for example, at Oxford, they have a theorem that once machines become smarter than us, we have a snowball's chance in hell to survive. I'm not that pessimistic. I think that if we can, as humans, reinvent ourselves, I think it can be a magical combination. But we might have to build in the ethics or the guardrails or the guidelines to make sure that these technologies evolve and that we can build some human elements into that. So I think we have all the capabilities to control that and to make sure that it doesn't happen. Now, by the way, in San Francisco, the number one thing that people use socially is they ask what is your P doom number? So it's the probability that doom is going to happen, that this AI is going to take over the world. And you actually have people in Salons in San Francisco saying oh, what's your P doom? Oh my P doom is 5% or 7%. I don't believe in that. I think we still have the capability now to build it in, to control it and to actually build a better combination of man and machine.

[00:16:56.840] - David Brett

Yeah, you hinted on regulation and control there and we're also talking about children at school getting the right education. Do we have the right people in charge at the moment to be able to handle that control of all this new technology?

[00:17:07.180] - Peter Hinssen

Well a fundamental problem that we have there is that when you look at regulation a lot of that is localised because whether it's, I don't know, take the example of medication, the FDA in the US or the European Medicine Agency in Europe, but we have local regulation. But more and more when we talk about some of these big themes that are emerging, they're global phenomena and I think I called a lot of these players Godzillas because they seem incredibly powerful and what we tend to do is we try to shoot them down but has no effect on these Godzillas. And I think that's why because we're using local regulation on global phenomenon and that's probably something that we have to rethink. Unfortunately at this moment we don't have a lot of global mechanisms to regulate that, we don't have global mechanisms to try and control that and I think that's going to be a real big challenge in the 21st century. Can we build the mechanisms to do that? I mean we have things like the United Nations which were basically created after wars and atrocities that we, I don't remember, I think it was the second secretary of the United Nations who said we didn't build the United Nations to take us to heaven but to save us from hell.

[00:18:17.680] - Peter Hinssen

But I think we're going to need more of those global mechanisms where I don't think we should build regulation that slows us down. You cannot do that in this world but we're going to need to tackle with different weapons than we have today because local regulation clearly doesn't cut it.

[00:18:32.500] - David Brett

So does that mean there may not be as much room for traditional politicians in the never normal? Could it be data scientists maybe?

[00:18:40.840] - Peter Hinssen

Well there's a couple of people who said why don't we take some of these AIs and let them solve the political challenges? Would they be better than real politicians or not? I do think we have a challenge that I think we probably have not hired our best and brightest into political office in a lot of geographies around the world over the last decades, that's beginning to show. And I think at the same time we have, of course, our political cycles, which are very, very short, and our capability to think long term with these types of impacts, we've basically hollowed that out. And I think that's something that we're going to have to really reinvent if we want to use the power of this to the fullest.

[00:19:19.960] - David Brett

And how are you finding companies are dealing with this never normal?

[00:19:23.530] - Peter Hinssen

Well, I think when you look at that never normal, you can often think, oh, it's a pretty scary environment. I think the naive idea is to think that, oh, this is just going to die down. Eventually it'll calm down. That's not going to happen. I think it intensifies. And what it means is that some of the fundamental things that we use as rules or governance or mechanisms that we have taken from the 20th century are maybe not applicable anymore. I mean, I always joke when I give a lecture to the MBA students that I applaud them for taking a class which tells them everything about 20th century tactics. I mean, that's typically what we still teach managers. But in the 21st century, that idea of volatility and uncertainty becomes mechanisms that we have to understand better. So I think some of the rules and governance has to change. Some of the way that we think about budgets or boards might have to change. But I do believe that there is potential for companies to reinvent themselves. And that's what I call phoenixes. And in the book The Phoenix and the Unicorn, I wrote the book because I was getting slightly uncomfortable about the unicorn applause because you had all these magical companies that started from scratch and grew exponentially and became really strong players.

[00:20:39.140] - Peter Hinssen

Now the unicorns are in trouble and zero interest rates have gone away and that whole phenomenon of unicorns is being challenged. The venture capital scene has changed profoundly in the last 18 months. But I think after a decade of applause for the unicorns, we now see a lot of phoenix opportunities. And those are traditional companies who can reinvent themselves, companies who have history, who have legacy, who have battle scars, but actually can use that wisdom to become stronger. And so for the last couple of years, I've been researching these phoenixes and I became fascinated. I'm almost a phoenix hunter now. And it started out with the world of retail, because it's wonderful to see an Amazon change retail. But I had the chance to watch the transformation of Walmart up close in the last couple of years. And Walmart is the traditional US retailer. 5000 stores in US alone, they are 18% of the entire grocery business in the US. By far the biggest player. They are the ones who set the tone, set the price, and everybody thought they're dead meat. They're going to be eaten alive by the Amazons of this world. And that was my first idea as well.

[00:21:53.110] - Peter Hinssen

And then I saw how this company could reinvent itself, use innovation and technology to become stronger. Now 30% of their infrastructure is being redefined in the world of ecommerce. They're building dark stores or taking some of their traditional stores and turning them into ecommerce infrastructure. They are incredibly strong now in delivering their goods via digital mechanisms. The whole last mile has been redefined. To see that company of 1.5 million people reinvent itself gave me a lot of inspiration that phoenixes are a reality, and I believe that we're going to see more of them in the next couple of years.

[00:22:34.610] - David Brett

So, Walmart's leveraging all that technology, do you know what impact that's had on the workforce? Has there been a reduction at all? Because it's always been man versus machine and man will lose out and people will lose jobs. What have you seen from Walmart?

[00:22:46.790] - Peter Hinssen

It's a really good question. So when you look at an Amazon, Amazon is now getting above 1 million employees as well. But Amazon has an extremely volatile workforce, so they go through that 1 million very quickly. They need to rehire a lot of people. It's an incredible intensity and I think, honestly, Amazon fundamentally, if they could replace all the humans with robots, they would probably do it in a heartbeat. Walmart is completely different. Walmart really believes in that power of humans. And one of the things that they're doing is they're actually reskilling a lot of their employees that are not going to be customer facing in a normal store, but might work in Last Mile delivery or in e commerce. Walmart is now reskilling almost a million of their people to still be relevant in that new version of themselves. And that's why I think this is a company that really believes in people and that believes in that man and machine. And that's why I really like them as a phoenix. They're not just out to destroy and disrupt, they're there to reinvent and actually become stronger, and not just for their shareholders, but also for their associates as well.

[00:24:05.450] - David Brett

So have we passed a time now where people need to look a little bit further beyond just those startups and reassess those, as you say, those phoenixes?

[00:24:14.850] - Peter Hinssen

Well, I think we're in an era now where I think investing is an interesting area because where are you going to place your bets? And a lot of people did very well by putting their bets in the unicorns in the last decade. I mean, some of these companies just went from zero to a billion dollar valuation in just record time. By the way, a lot of those unicorns are in trouble now. I mean, a lot of them are zombie corns. They had that magical valuation, but cannot sustain that anymore. There's a lot of painful down rounds that are happening. The venture capital industry is redefining itself. I think we're now in a situation where we have to look for phoenix opportunities. And not everyone is going to become a phoenix. I mean, not every traditional company with a long history in battle scars is going to reinvent itself. But I think, what are those opportunities? And it might be an opportunity for some players to actually use the power of disruptive innovation, become stronger versions and even grab more market share or become more relevant. And that's why I became, as I said, a Phoenix hunter.

[00:25:18.410] - Peter Hinssen

You see them everywhere. I mean, a company like Hermes, for example, the French luxury goods company, is a brilliant example. And I only learned their history because you dive in. But this is a company that has a history of more than 100 years. And the original founding of Hermes is as a saddle maker. Founder of Hermes says, I want to be the best luxury saddle maker in Paris. That's what he did. Son takes over, second generation. And what typically the second generation does in a family business is scale. So the second generation says, my dad built the best luxury saddle maker in Paris. I want to take it to become the best luxury saddle maker in Europe. Then the third generation typically screws up and the grandson of the founder actually first says, I want to have an open mind, look at what is happening. He went to the US in the early 1900s and he saw two things. First, he saw the automobile. First, automobile, and he realises that making saddles for horses might not be the best long term chance. Second thing is, he sees the zipper, which was a revolution by then.

[00:26:26.730] - Peter Hinssen

By the time he gets back to know he has the exclusive rights to use the zipper in continental Europe. Imagine the grandson coming from the US, opening up the doors of the atelier in Paris, saying, stop with the saddles because horses are dead. And by the way, zip, look at the zipper. I mean, that's a pivotal moment. But they've been able to reinvent themselves. Now, the biggest challenge Hermes has is that their core ingredient, which is leather, is not really geared up to the environmental ESG. So they are now one of the largest investors in Mycelium, which is basically mushrooms that can grow fabric. You can now buy a Jane Birkin bag made out of mushrooms, Mycelium, that is more expensive than the leather variant to see.

[00:27:13.950] - David Brett

I won't be telling my other half that. I won't be telling my other half that sounds like an expensive day trip.

[00:27:19.760] - David Brett

But to see Phoenixes in almost every industry, whether that is going to be in finance or in retail or in luxury, I think that's what we need to look. And of course, it's not just technology, but it's also the mentality and the leadership of companies that really want to double down and reinvent themselves.

[00:27:38.980] - David Brett

I was going to ask you, actually, I was going to be my next question. How has all this technological change, everything that's moving so quickly, how has that affected the way that management are actually managing their people and managing their companies?

[00:27:50.230] - Peter Hinssen

I think vastly. And I think we're entering a world where this idea that you have a chief executive who knows everything and instructs their troops to just carry out plans, that doesn't work anymore. We're going to have to reinvent management structures and maybe think of more network based approaches and where people in the field probably feel more intensely what is really happening than in a lonely boardroom. Even in the boardroom, we're going to have to change this. When I joined the board of a bank back in Belgium a few years ago, we had a classic board structure. We had a comp(ensation) and ben(efits) committee, we had an audit committee, we had a risk committee. And then, yeah, we had an interesting debate in the board to say, well, is that enough? Because in a world that is never normal, changing so quickly. So we came up with a new committee called the Innovation Committee. It's actually the Technology Innovation Committee, but we do two things. One, we talk about non financial risk because things like cyber or business continuity really important, but we also talk about the innovations that we cannot afford to miss, things that we have to understand and double down on.

[00:28:57.530] - Peter Hinssen

And I think that completely changed the dynamic in a board where it used to be very much about, oh, risk profiles and what happened on a transformation of how can we enable things, how can we make things happen? And I think that means that in terms of strategy, but also leadership, we're going to see an enormous transformation. I really believe that those companies who can reinvent themselves as a phoenix will probably show that new generation of leadership to thrive in. That never normal.

[00:29:26.030] - David Brett

Yeah, and I've read a lot of books, actually, on, in the past it was all about structuring data and now it's trying to get all that unstructured data. So all that information that's just dotted about all over the place. And imagine for someone like a bank that's almost a gold mine, if they can get all that information in one place, fed through an AI system, whatever they decide to go, that's going to be gold dust for their services and the way the bank is managed going forward.

[00:29:49.380] - Peter Hinssen

Absolutely. But I think it's two elements to that. One is, yes, but many companies are now on gold mines of data, because everything you have in terms of your customer interaction. I mean, we used to talk about big data companies and that would mean the Facebook's and the Googles. Now every company has become a big data company. On top of that, I think we're starting to see that it's not just the data that is stored in a database, but it's the unstructured data, it's the conversations, it's the emails, it's the documents we have floating around in our companies. Many companies are now realising that the data part is only maybe 20% of the equation. But the unstructured content might be 70, 80, 90% of the stuff that we have to understand. This is going to be a magical way to put it together. But on top of that, maybe that human element is going to become incredibly powerful again. Maybe we're going to have even a human premium. I mean, look at when we talk to the big tech companies or we engage with them, if everything goes fine, brilliant. I like the fact that Amazon can suggest things to me that I didn't even know I thought would be interesting for me.

[00:31:01.170] - Peter Hinssen

That's really great. That's a perfect use of data. But at the same time, if something goes wrong, it becomes so difficult to actually weave through all these chat bots and you're so glad when you have a human on the phone. And so I think companies who can balance that, where the new normal, that's going to be where you leverage the power of information and technology and use that goldmine of data. But then the human premium might be where we really can actually make the difference.

[00:31:30.320] - David Brett

You've mentioned Walmart already. Are you seeing other companies that are doing that a lot better than some of the others?

[00:31:35.740] - Peter Hinssen

I mean, as I said, I became a Phoenix Hunter, but I love organisations who can combine the two. Companies who can really still put that value that they have inside an offering which is more and more digital. I take a company like Disney, for example. I mean, Disney has been transformed like crazy over the last couple of years because of Disney Plus, and all of a sudden it became a streaming company. But they can still keep their traditional values very, very core to their offerings. If you go to one of their theme parks, you still feel that. And it's that wonderful combination of using digital and that empathy that we as humans really value.

[00:32:19.480] - David Brett

Well, if Walt's actually frozen and they unfreeze him, he might be actually shocked about what his company's actually become these days.

[00:32:26.000] - Peter Hinssen

Absolutely, that's probably true. But I love Disney is a great example because Disney has been around for almost, what, a hundred years? Something like that. And what we don't realise is they've always been a technology pioneer. Steamboat Willie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was a technological marvel. I mean, now we think, oh, my God, Pixar was amazing. True. But in those days, it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What I really love, and this is a story that many people don't know, is we now think of Disney as the big entertainment giant. But when Disney was already really successful as a company, Walt Disney wanted to build Disneyland. And when he took that to his own board, the board said, no, we're not going to do that. That's a really stupid idea, that's way too risky. And he thought, My God, I really can see this. He eventually bankrolled the entire Disneyland on his own without the Disney Corporation. And it's only when Walt Disney passed away that the Disney Corporation approached the family and said, wow, we'd like to have the theme parks as well. And I love that. I mean, imagine that you start your own company and at a certain moment you bring a brilliant idea to the board and the board says, Nah, nah, way too risky.

[00:33:34.130] - Peter Hinssen

That I think, clearly shows the battle scars. But now, you know, they made a big bet. They're really competing with Netflix, but at the same time it shows because the investments they had to make, that's why we had Bob. Iger coming back as the CEO that now has to reinvent it yet again. And that's what I love. But companies who can combine that, where they take their values and then use the power of disruption, become a stronger version of themselves, I think that's the future.

[00:34:03.860] - David Brett

Yeah. And has the pressure to reinvent themselves got faster? Are they needed to change more quickly than they were 50, 60 years ago?

[00:34:12.210] - Peter Hinssen

I think so. When I look at one of the big seven, the big technology companies, that is actually a great example of a phoenix. It's Microsoft. And I don't know how long, but I've known Microsoft probably their entire life. Microsoft was founded in 1976, same year as Apple, and I remember when Microsoft was a small company and then it became a monopoly. And then at a certain moment, everyone hated Microsoft. I remember 15 years ago people talked about the Microsoft tax and the Windows tax and ironically, the company then fell flat, was a company that was generating mediocre products, windows XP, the Zoom Media Player. People thought, oh my God, people felt sorry for Microsoft. And then if you look at the last decade, they've been able to reinvent themselves. I mean, it's the most perfect example of a phoenix and it's not because they suddenly found new technology. I think when the CEO, Satya Nadella came on board, he said, well, we probably have eight Googles inside of our own R&D, but they're just not getting out anymore. And a lot of that reinvention has not been focused on just the technology side.

[00:35:22.940] - Peter Hinssen

He made the right choices by betting on the cloud, but about enabling that. And that phoenix is where you have to rethink not just your strategy, but your structure, your organisation, your culture, your leadership to be able to make that stronger version of yourself. And if you look at Microsoft, my God, now with OpenAI, they're running wild. But the last five years, Microsoft has been a stellar performer on the stock exchange and it clearly shows that even a company that is 50 years old can really reinvent themselves. And maybe the fact that they've gone through some of these ups and downs gave them almost capability to fight. And if you can tap into that, I think a phoenix is absolutely possible.

[00:36:04.930] - David Brett

Okay, so just to finish on an optimistic point. So you mentioned earlier, Elon Musk a bit of a doom mongerer. There's plenty out there as well. What's your future take on how this is all going to develop and play out?

[00:36:18.170] - Peter Hinssen

I'm an absolute optimist. I mean, I'm a big fan of Kevin Kelly. Kevin Kelly was the founder of Wired magazine. And when I was a young engineer, I wrote a few articles for Wired magazine and Kevin was my editor in chief. And he was a brilliant man. And I saw him recently and he's now in his seventies, and he says, "my God, there are so many people who think that the world could just evaporate or we could just blow this up." But he said, if you look at what we've been able to do with the use of innovation and technology to build better lives, to build safer lives, to build a society which is actually going places, I think we should be proud of that. And he talks about it's not a utopia, it's not a dystopia, he calls it a protopia. And it's a world where it might take some time, but we're gearing up to build better versions of society. And that's what I believe in. So I think I'm an absolute optimist. I don't think we're going to die as a society or as a species very soon.

[00:37:18.720] - David Brett

Well, hopefully not, no. Hopefully we record a few more of these as well. Peter, it's been fascinating speaking to you. Thank you so much for turning up for us.

[00:37:26.010] - Peter Hinssen

Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure.

[00:37:27.600] - David Brett

Yeah. And your book's available now, so it's The Phoenix and Unicorn.

[00:37:30.620] - Peter Hinssen

Thank you very much. Get it.

[00:37:31.730] - David Brett

Thanks a lot. Cheers.


David Brett
Multi-media Editor


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