Survival is top of mind for business leaders. Which is perhaps unsurprising considering the oft-cited stat that 50 per cent of the Fortune 500 from 1999 has disappeared from the list.
For Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer the key to longevity in business is the ability to adapt and change.
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“We have lasted because we have adapted. We have constantly adapted to changing conditions in a harsh environment,” Hartzer said onstage at the AWS Summit in Sydney this week.
This year marks Westpac’s 200th birthday.
“The fact that we have lasted for 200 years means the capacity to innovate is deep in the DNA of the Westpac Group. We like to think of ourselves as the original 200-year-old start-up,” Hartzer said.
“As we enter our third century of business this need to adapt has never been more acute. But it isn’t about innovation for innovation’s sake. It’s about adapting in ways that continue to serve your core purpose. And in our case, that core purpose is about helping our customers, and by extension, the nation to thrive.”
Westpac is partnering with start-ups to develop products such as its Westpac Keyboard product and is also investing in start-ups through its venture capital arm Reinventure.
“By working with start-ups we think we get the best of both worlds because we get the speed, agility, hunger, creativity of a start-up community and we combine that with the strength, the resources, the customer base, the experience the risk management skills of a major bank,” Hartzer said.
The importance of adaptability was echoed by Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar.
“It’s easier to build a big company than a long-term company,” Farquhar said during the AWS Summit keynote.
“Companies today are optimised for the current environment they live in and when change happens — as it inevitably does — companies can’t adapt. I think about this a lot. It’s not the largest company today, it’s not the most successful, it’s not the strongest companies today that are going to survive, it’s the most adaptable companies that are going to survive.”
His advice for building a long-term company: establish strong foundations.
“At Atlassian we have a really strong investment in our culture and how we work because if you are going to build something that it is going to last 100 years it really needs strong foundations. Our culture is our strong foundation,” he said.