Western governors, scouting for ways to boost the West's fortunes, ventured off the beaten path of conference fare to meet with two gurus of corporate and government change.
The governors had some traditional topics on their agenda, including foreign trade, education and job training. But their visitors Monday warned the governors they must adapt and keep pace with a volatile and enormously competitive marketplace.The conference, with the theme "Sharpening the West's Competitive Edge," continued here Tuesday.
The guest speakers Monday were Tom Peters, author of "In Search of Excellence" and "Thriving on Chaos," and David Birch, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on job creation.
The two were united in their plea for greater efficiency and inventiveness, less government intrusion in the marketplace and a willingness to try "wild and crazy experiments" at the state level.
With Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca's remarks earlier this year that he had contemplated a hostile takeover of General Motors, "literally nothing is unthinkable, and `as goes General Motors, so goes the nation,"' Peters said. "Literally all bets are off. . . . The rules are gone."
Both Peters and Birch said America's largest companies are laying off people, while most new hires are coming at new, "niche-seeking" ventures - small businesses such as specialty manufacturers. The smaller firms, with fewer layers of management and less tradition, are able to develop new products and grab increasing shares of the market, they said.
The Fortune 500 firms have eliminated 3.1 million jobs in the 1980s, while more than 12 million jobs were created by businesses with fewer than 100 employees, said Birch.
Peters urged state and federal governments to resist the urge to curb corporate competition, even when it gets scary.
"Let the raiders go," he said.
Competition and even raid attempts may be just the ticket to bring life to aging, lethargic companies, he said.
"We need to shape up our big companies and encourage our small companies," Peters said.
States can "train, train, train (a work force that can support and entice new business), and as soon as you're finished, retrain, retrain, retrain," he said.
Incentive pay for teachers and public workers is a good idea and government should demand huge increases in productivity from its workers, Peters said.