How shall we compete in 2018? Some thoughts for Basque companies

This year, 2018, will mark the fifth consecutive year of growth in our economy. Barring a few exceptions, for example, the persistently delicate situation of Basque companies, or the real difficulties Basque SMEs are currently experiencing, by all accounts, the economic recovery is a reality, and we can declare the recession to be a thing of the past.

Nonetheless, a new scenario is emerging and it is now time to ask ourselves the right questions in order to better understand the challenges to competitiveness which companies, governments and societies are facing. The following are some questions which could be considered:

  • Not only did the arrival of Trumpism upset the global geopolitical landscape, but so have the recent elections in countries such as France and Germany, along with the upsurge in populism. To date, the overall balance might seem better than expected, but there remain political uncertainties on many levels: the Basque Region, Spain, Europe, and internationally. Will companies be able to insulate themselves from this 'background noise' in the process of internationalisation?
  • With this changing playing field, some relevant markets for Basque industry have improved, especially for the automobile industry and energy; meanwhile, other emerging sectors/markets are slowing down. So, where shall we place our focus in future? How can we design the appropriate strategy of international (re)positioning of markets, value chains, and other critical elements?
  • The slow, but sure disintegration of borders, whether it be between countries, markets, or sectors, along with globalization, are all contributing to an increase in competition. Companies are facing competition both from European companies with a high level of technological development and companies in developing countries. How can we understand a progressively diffuse and complex environment? How can we adapt our strategy quickly and coherently?
  • The dependence of mature sectors, which is showing signs of exhaustion, is forcing us to come up with diversification strategies speed up transformation in these sectors, and innovation strategies which include new business models. How can we transition with ease from one business to another, but which are actually at different points the business cycle? What new business models can we introduce?
  • Size is a critical variable to competing successfully in certain sectors, and which is pushing companies to forge partnerships for commercial or technological reasons which are difficult to manage. Then, there's the matter of Basque companies being slowly being bought up by foreign interests who turn around and go about delocalising decision-making centres and production. How do we go about collaborating in order to compete, and with whom? What’s the best approach considering size limitations in mature sectors, etc.?
  • It's proving to be difficult finding specialised professionals in certain sectors. Bearing in mind the necessary acquisition of new skills and digital competencies, we must understand increasing professional mobility or the need to conceive and define attractive projects which help recruit and retain qualified and committed professionals. How is our education system adapting to these changes? How can we get companies and universities on the same page? How can we build projects which are attractive to people?
  • The strength of Basque companies is squarely based on technological development as the foundation to adding value to products and services, from the industrial application of new technologies 4.0 to the incorporation of digital technologies, IoT and big data. How can we adapt business models? How can we generate a new business activity based on the opportunities created by technology?

We invite you to ponder the above questions which we deem relevant as they are the result of our observations and experience whilst maintaining close contact with Basque companies. There is no one size-fits-all answer to these and other questions, rather, there are unique solutions as the future has yet to be written. And that is something each individual company must do; namely, write their own future.

Read the original article in Estrategia Empresarial (Spanish).

Oscar Valdivielso

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