CACI Chairman Dr. J.P. (Jack) London's 2014 TechAmerica Corporate Leadership Award Acceptance Speech
On June 12, 2014, CACI Chairman Dr. J.P London gave the keynote address, "Empowering America's Competitiveness," at the TechAmerica Foundation's 12th Annual Technology & Government Dinner. He was also the recipient of the 2014 Corporate Leadership Award. London's remarks are below:
"Thank you, Mike and Elizabeth. Good evening, everyone. And congratulations to all the awardees! It's a pleasure to be here tonight. It's also a special honor to be the recipient of the Corporate Leadership Award. But what means so much to me is that's it's from TechAmerica. I have been part of the American "tech" community all my adult life. So, thank you for this recognition!
Tonight I want to talk about American leadership and our prominence in business and technology. I want to address questions about American competitiveness in the world. And I will propose that by adopting new perspectives on technology, opportunity, and innovation, we can get answers to those questions fast. Because our focus has to be on progress now!
Over the past five decades, I've had a front row seat to our Nation's progress. As a young naval officer in 1962, I watched John Glenn return from his Freedom 7 space mission and come aboard my ship, the USS Randolph. Then, in 2012, I watched the Space Shuttle Discovery circle above Washington DC as part of its farewell tour. When I first joined CACI in 1972, our contracts were primarily for "automated data systems" for the Navy. Today, CACI provides a wide array of information solutions and services for intelligence, defense, and federal civilian customers. When my older children were young, having access to a world of knowledge meant a trip to the Library of Congress. Today, my three little boys only need a smartphone or tablet to access the Library of Congress...or anything else for that matter.
But all of this remarkable progress has also been leveling the global playing field. As a result, our Nation's leadership and our competitiveness have been impacted significantly. According to the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Index for 2013-2014, the United States ranks...fifth.1 That's right, fifth! And what's more, out of 148 countries, the United States ranks: #50 for Public trust in politicians, #32 for Ethical behavior of firms, #25 for Quality of the education system, #19 for Quality of overall infrastructure, and #17 for Competitive advantage of companies globally.
So, where does the U.S. rank first? We lead in domestic market size, labor redundancy costs, fewest cases of malaria per capita, and availability of airline seats. Which is only slightly encouraging for anyone trying to book a seat these days. But, of course, none of this is very impressive.
Sure, it's logical that other countries would become more competitive. But the reality is that the U.S. is still the one to beat! Think of any industry. Technology. Medicine. Energy. Finance. There's an American organization or organizations leading the way. The combination of the American dream and the opportunities here is powerful. Being "the one to beat" means creating momentum that drives progress. How do we do this? By focusing on what competitiveness means.
The basis of all competition is ability and performance. And there are three key factors today that shape a country's ability and performance in global competition. They are: Technology. Opportunity. And Innovation. Technology is the exploitation of knowledge, tools and systems. Opportunity is the cross-roads of favorable circumstances. And innovation is the introduction of better ways of doing things and getting better results. Why these three? Their combination defines a nation's competitive ability, puts it in a position to perform, and provides better results for its citizens. Excelling here creates the momentum that has always made America the one to beat.
So, let's start with technology. When we think of technology, it's usually the Internet, software, and devices. Smartphones combine telephones, cameras, music players, maps, calendars, newspapers, shopping and more into a hand-held device. The number of Internet users worldwide in 1995 was 16 million. Now it's 3 billion. And last year, the number of mobile-connected devices exceeded the world's population. The old viewpoint would treat technology as a product. But our ability to exploit knowledge, tools, and systems isn't about developing the next big gadget. In refocusing on competitiveness, we need to see technology in the big picture. Think of new technology as our infrastructure. In fact, it's our critical infrastructure.
The phrase 'information highway' comes to mind, doesn't it? Like roads and highways, technology connects people, businesses, and governments. Like energy, technology powers those relationships. Like sea ports or water supplies, we have to protect and secure it. We see the transformation taking place. Take cloud computing. Data storage is no longer about the device...it's about access. In national security, cyber is now a military domain viewed on par with land, sea, air and space. Today, access to technology equates to "access" to our nation's infrastructure. Whether it's by authorized access...or criminal access.
But there's still a long way to go for how we view technology going from products to infrastructure. Both American industries and government have a role in developing our nation's newest infrastructure...and thereby creating a multiplier for competitiveness.
The next subject that we need to think about is opportunity. But isn't America the land of opportunity? I think so, but some of the facts make me wonder if things are as favorable as we thought. How easy is it to navigate the business landscape in the U.S.? We rank #80 for burden of government regulation, and #48 for transparency of government policy making. Want to start a new business? We rank #47 in the number of procedures to start a business and #16 in the time required to get started.
In many ways, I'm not surprised. Policies intended to ensure access to resources and prevent discriminatory practices have become overly complicated and restrictive. And in too many cases, 'who you know' has made 'what you know' less important. Daily headlines report a variety of unethical and illegal practices in business and politics. Regulations enacted to punish the bad apples punish the good people and companies, as well. That's why the old view of opportunity is side-tracked. From bureaucracy to transactions, creating and taking advantage of opportunities seems impeded at every turn. And, by the way, they are things I talk about in my book, "Character."
In the new view, opportunity should be untethered. I'm not suggesting some kind of free-for-all. We still need structure, accountability, and assurances. What I mean is the removal of unneeded barriers, such as regulations that keep us from exploiting new markets, or that generate excessively high compliance costs. We can't call America the land of opportunity if we keep creating hurdles for individuals and companies to jump over.
So what can we do? The U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School urges Congress and the Administration to simplify the corporate tax code, streamline regulation, and improve infrastructure as part of a national strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness.2 Steps, like these, are necessary to ensure favorable circumstances and restore the confidence to do business in the U.S. If things don't change, it will...no doubt... continue to cost us opportunities.
But change is a loaded word. We fear it, embrace it, force it...even avoid it. But we can handle change. The definition of the American spirit is "if there's a will, there's a way." We value doing better and getting better. This brings us to innovation. The U.S. comes in fifth for the 'capacity for innovation'. And according to Fast Company magazine, 15 of the 19 most innovative companies in the world in 2014 are American.3
That's great news. After all, isn't innovation one of the drivers of economic growth? In the old sense, yes. Even so, the Competitiveness and Innovation Capacity of the United States report published by the Dept. of Commerce finds our capacity for innovation has been countered by several factors4. These include a deterioration in our ability to create jobs, stagnant wages, and a struggling manufacturing sector.
While manufacturing could improve, what made America dominant was more than the mass production of goods. It was our inventions and innovations. Of course, it was also an American named Henry Ford who invented the modern assembly line. That's why the new view of innovation drives growth, for sure, but also drives us towards economic freedom. That kind of independence is the better result our country needs.
How do we do this? First, we focus on cultivating entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs see opportunity where others haven't, and take risks to create something new or better. They build businesses and industries. They change the world, like Edison's light bulb, Bell's telephone, Philo Farnsworth's television, or Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn's Internet, or Martin Cooper's mobile phone. The list of American entrepreneurs is a long one that includes Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates and Jobs. The results are products and solutions that transform user-experiences, improve functionality, or simplify transactions across government, business and society.
You have all heard of Amazon.com. In 1994, Jeff Bezos read about a projected boom in internet commerce and decided to find the most promising products that could be marketed online. He picked books because of the demand, inventory of things to read, and the low price points. Twenty years later, Amazon is a leading retailer that sells just about anything you can think of, even to the government. Amazon didn't grow because selling books was so profitable. Just ask Borders about that. Amazon grew because its mission evolved from selling books to innovating and recreating the customer experience.
I'm a big proponent of entrepreneurship within organizations. And we have done a lot of it at CACI. But did you know Nokia, the networking and communications giant, was founded in 1865...as a wood pulp mill? Nokia learned how to continually reinvent itself over time to add value as markets, products, and opportunities changed.
It sounds like we already do a relatively good job cultivating entrepreneurship in the U.S. But what takes us from economic growth to economic freedom is investment. Just look at the energy sector. The U.S. is the third largest producer of oil. Four of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies are oil/gas. But what about renewable energy? According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, China is the world leader with $54 billion in investments in 2013, about $17 billion more than the U.S.5 If energy independence is a pillar of economic freedom, we have to focus on making it happen. This is where, for example, setting new priorities, changing tax codes and changing regulations would make sense.
Speaking of China, we can't forget that they still own $1.3 trillion of U.S. government debt. Our persistent economic problems also erode our credibility around the world and threaten our national security. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mike Mullen, has repeatedly said that our national debt is the biggest security threat to our country. It seems our reckless spending can prevent us from investing in what we need - including national security - and will keep us from being the country we're capable of being. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but the better results that our country needs is innovation... to forcefully drive our economic growth and our freedom and security.
Ladies and gentlemen, if there's one thing to take away from my talk tonight, it's this: American competitiveness will continue to be aggressively challenged. We must take control of our future. New perspectives about technology, opportunity, and innovation are a start. But we must also remove obstacles and better position our people and our country. Taking action here must be a national priority.
After all, competitiveness is about momentum. There is a reason why so many people want to live here, study here, work here. Because there's nowhere else that creates momentum like the United States. To that point, I know that my entrepreneurial career would only have been possible in the United States.
And along this line, many of my experiences and lessons learned are in my book, Character: The Ultimate Success Factor. All proceeds from my book go to CAUSE - a wounded warrior rehabilitation charity I support. I hope you will consider making a donation tonight.
Lastly, I am proud to be an American and grateful to live in America. And I am truly honored to receive TechAmerica's Corporate Leadership Award. I hope my words tonight will inspire everyone to take up the ideas I have presented. We want to keep the momentum of American competitiveness going forward. Let's commit to Technology, opportunity, and innovation for a new competitive America! Thank you!"
1 World Economic Forum, "Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014," September 3, 2013, http://reports.weforum.org/the-global-competitiveness-report-2013-2014/#=. 1. Switzerland, 2. Singapore, 3. Finland, 4. Germany.
2 The U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/competitiveness/. Recommendations from testimony given by Prof. Michael Porter to the House Committee on Small Business, July 9, 2013, http://smallbusiness.house.gov/uploadedfiles/7-9-2013_porter_testimony-_070713_clean.pdf.
3 "The World's Most Innovative Companies 2014," Fast Company, http://www.fastcompany.com/section/most-innovative-companies-2014.
4 U.S. Dept. of Commerce, "Competitiveness and Innovation Capacity of the United States," January 2012, http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2012/january/competes_010511_0.pdf
5 Pew Charitable Trusts, "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2013," April 3, 2014, http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/reports/whos-winning-the-clean-energy-race-2013-85899542979.