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Mansharamani looks at the big picture of an uncertain future

BY Antoinette Alexander

PHILADELPHIA — Are you concerned about the future and the uncertainties that lie ahead? As you work to unravel the mysteries of tomorrow, take a step back and focus on connecting the dots. That’s a key message that presenter Vikram Mansharamani had for attendees of the Emerson Group Retail Industry Day.

“I think by connecting dots and taking a step back you are basically being a generalist. You are going to help avoid this problem of specialization by taking a step back and looking broadly,” Mansharamani told attendees during his presentation titled, “Finding Patterns in the Pixels: Connecting the Dots to Use Uncertainty to Your Advantage.”

Mansharamani, an author, global equity investor and lecturer at Yale University, suggested using “multiple lenses” to see broadly and form connections between existing data. In aggregate, these lenses can prove useful in identifying bubbles before they burst, said Mansharamani, who shared with attendees how he takes this approach when examining financial global markets.

The five-lens approach, as described by Mansharamani, includes:

  • Reflexive dynamics: If you see higher prices resulting in more demand resulting in higher prices then you may, in fact, have a bubble dynamic on hand.
  • Over-investment: Signs of over-investment and misallocated capital. Examples include the mega mall in South China that is virtually empty and a modern “ghost town” in China built for 1.5 million residents yet is home to less than 20,000 people.
  • Over-confidence. When people are setting world records in prices for items like art, for example, that could be an indicator. When business and economic leaders take their “foot off the gas pedal in their personal life, it’s probably because they see clouds on the horizon in their professional life,” Mansharamani said, who suggested keeping an eye on Sotheby’s Stock Prices, as it can be useful as a bubble indicator.
  • Government distortions/moral hazard. When governments get involved there tends to be different dynamics. “I’ll give you a good example. … In China, GDP is the target. So, what you end up having is people doing things to generate GDP independent of economic viability,” Mansharamani said. “… So, I think there’s government distortions, and that’s my fourth lens.”
  • Herd behavior: Magazine covers can be great indicators of what is popular sentiment.

“There is a way to look broadly, illustrating this with the bubble dynamic to say that being a generalist is better in navigating uncertainty,” said Mansharamani. “Why? Because if you are, in fact, specialized and you are, in fact, over-confident then having a generalist approach will naturally mitigate your overconfidence. You will look broadly and find insight in the most random of places.”

Mansharamani also suggested that companies adopt a “structural devil’s advocate.” In some of his consulting work, Mansharamani encourages people to always have one person who is the “no man.”

“If you have one person who is structurally supposed to say ‘no’ to everything, well that’s pretty compelling,” Mansharamani said. “That task will force you to rethink what you’re doing, when and why.”

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Adventurer Aron Ralston talks about challenges at Emerson Retail Industry Day

BY Antoinette Alexander

PHILADELPHIA — The 7th Annual Emerson Group Retail Industry Day kicked off with a moving and inspirational presentation by adventurer and wilderness advocate Aron Ralston, who not only shared his story of having to amputate his arm in order to free himself from a dislodged boulder while hiking in Utah’s remote canyon country, but also revealed what he gained from that fateful journey.

“Yes, when I walked out of that canyon 11 years ago, I left something behind, but I didn’t lose anything. The way I see this is that I only gained from what I went through, when I became trapped and had to amputate my arm and the subsequent recovery,” Ralston told attendees.

It was April 2003, when Ralston went for a hike in Utah’s Blue John Canyon. Seven miles into his journey — and roughly 70 miles from civilization — he accidentally dislodged a boulder that crushed and pinned his right hand. He would spend the next six days alone.

After six days of entrapment, a failed attempt to chip away at the boulder with a dull, cheap multi-tool knife and, with a depleted water supply, now forced to drink his own urine, Ralston freed himself by amputating his arm with that same dull knife. Bleeding, dehydrated and nearly 30 pounds lighter, Ralston then hiked mile after mile to a miraculous rescue.

“It might strike you as being one of the most horrific or potentially horrific experiences of your life, and yet it was not horrific for me at all. In fact, it was actually one of the most beautiful experiences of my life,” Ralston said. “Our boulders come with choices. You all have your boulders.”

Since his amputation, Ralston has written the best-selling book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," which became the basis of the movie “127 Hours,” directed by Danny Boyle and starring James Franco. The movie was nominated for six Oscars.

With new prosthetic arms that he designed, Ralston even returned to his outdoor passions. He finished climbing Colorado’s 59 “Fourteeners,” in winter, solo; he skied from the summit of Denali, North America’s highest mountain; and, he’s led a rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon.

“The [boulders] could be the most horrific experience of your life. They could also be the most beautiful experience in your life. The boulders come with gifts,” Ralston said.

“I came to understand that I was a lot more capable than what I would have imagined, and that’s usually the case. We are all capable of a lot more than what we imagine,” said Ralston. “We never really reach out potential either without the boulders.”
 

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Emerson Group hosts record-breaking Retail Industry Day

BY Antoinette Alexander

PHILADELPHIA — Hundreds of attendees — ranging from Emerson Group clients, to retailers, to agencies, to members of the private equity community — gathered at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Philadelphia on Oct. 1 to attend the 7th Annual Emerson Group Retail Industry Day.

With a robust lineup of diverse, powerful speakers and record-breaking attendance, the day proved nothing short of impressive and delivered on the goal of providing on-trend, relative content to help brands navigate today's evolving retail landscape.

"The intent is really to be on trend with issues related to the changing dynamics in the consumer and the retail environment that help our clients continue to be competitive," said Matt Poli, VP of Emerson Marketing, a division of the Emerson Group. "… My hope is that our clients take one or two things out of the day that they could apply to help their business grow."  

With attendance growing at a rate of 15% to 20% each year, the 2014 Retail Industry Day attracted a record-breaking 275 participants. While the day is designed for and geared toward Emerson Group clients, the company's expanding roster of relationships has no doubt resulted in a broader mix of both attendees and presenters compared with prior years. This year's event featured presentations by two well-known retailers: Alex Gourlay, EVP and president of customer intimacy and daily living at Walgreens, and Matthew Martin, VP of marketing at Family Dollar.

"It was really, really terrific for our clients to get two very disparate perspectives on [retailer] strategy, who their core shopper is and where they are headed," said Poli, who kicked off the day's events with opening remarks. "I really think the evolution is in the quality of subject matter experts, retailers' involvement and the content being more and more applicable to the client base."

Additional highlights from the day included:

  • A moving presentation by guest speaker Aron Ralston, an adventurer and wilderness advocate who is known for amputating his arm after becoming trapped by a boulder while hiking in Utah's Blue John Canyon.
  • An insightful session, titled "Finding Patterns in the Pixels: Connecting the Dots to Use Uncertainty to Your Advantage," by Vikram Mansharamani, author, global equity investor and lecturer at Yale University.
  • A data-rich session by Bob Sanders, EVP healthcare practice leader for IRI, titled "The Data is Just the Beginning: How Syndicated Data Creates Fertile Ground for Fresh Insights."
  • A dynamic presentation by Gary Vaynerchuck, entrepreneur, author and CEO of VaynerMedia, titled "On the Right Track but in the Wrong Race: How to Get Customers to Really Care About Your Brand."

"Building content that is specific and unique for small- to medium- sized brands competing in HBC is what is vital. … This day is about bringing new content to help our clients compete," Poli said. "So, content is always key."

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