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Political Risk, according to Condoleezza Rice

[Condoleezza Rice, Amy B. Zegart, Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations can Anticipate Global Insecurity. Hachette Book Group. New York, May 2019]

 

REVIEW / Rossina Funes Santimoni

Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations can Anticipate Global Insecurity

Every year Stanford Graduate School of Business offers their students a seminar in Political Risk. The classes are taught by former U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the renowned academic Amy B. Zegart. Motivated by their students, they decided to turn their classes into a book in order to allow more people and organizations to navigate the waters of political risk.

The work titled Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations can Anticipate Global Insecurity is divided into ten chapters. The authors start by explaining the contemporary concept of political risk. Consequently, theoretical framework is added as they advance in the explanation, in this way making it useful for the reader in order to understand, analyze, mitigate and answer efficiently to political risks. Their ultimate objective is to provide functional framework that can be utilized in any organization or by any person to improve political risk management. 

Rice and Zegart define the twenty-first-century political risk as the probability that a political action could significantly affect a company’s business. Nowadays, the public and the private sphere are constantly changing and evolving. Everything is more complex and intertwined. Governments are no longer the only ones playing an important role in business decisions. The authors emphasize how companies need to efficiently deal with the political risks spawn by an increasing diversity of actors, among which is anyone with access to social media. In order to illustrate the latter, the authors make use of real-life examples, for instance the Blackfish Effect. It is named after a low-budget investigative documentary with the same title that depicted how SeaWorld Entertainment's treatment of orcas harmed both the animals and their human trainers. The film that started with one woman reading a story about orcas triggered political action at the grassroots, state and federal levels, ending up with devastating consequences from which the company has still have not recovered up to now. These cascading repercussions of the film have been denominated the Blackfish Effect. 

The work is well equipped with more examples about distinguished companies’ experience. Among the organizations cited are Lego Company Group, FedEx, Royal Caribbean and Nike. Some have excelled in dealing with political risk and some have failed. However, both sides of the coin are useful to learn and to understand how the convoluted world of political risks management work.

Nowadays, risk generators perform at five intersecting levels including individuals, local organizations and governments, national governments, transnational organizations, and supranational and international institutions. Therefore, today’s risks are different from the old ones, even if those still persist. With this in mind, Rice and Zegart shed a light on these days’ top ten political risks: geopolitics, internal conflict, policy change, braches of contract, corruption, extraterritorial reach, natural resource manipulation, social activism, terrorism and cyber threats.

Nevertheless, even if the theory is laid out, the question still haunts us: Why is good political risk management so hard? The authors dedicate a whole chapter investigating it and conclude that there are “Five Hards”. Political risk is hard to reward, hard to understand, hard to measure, hard to update, and hard to communicate. Therefore, in order to succeed at its management, one must get right the four basics: understanding, analyzing, mitigating and responding to risks. Rice and Zegart dedicate the remaining four chapters of the book expanding on each basic and, again, employing examples to better illustrate their knowledge.

The thing about political risks is that they are always there. They are imminent and we can do nothing more than try to prevent them and learn from them, to use the present in order to make the best of it for the future. It is not about predicting the future, which is impossible. “No one ever builds a disaster recovery plan that allows for the destruction of everybody in the office at 8:45 am. That is never the plan” assures Howard W. Lutnick, CEO at Cantor Fitzgerald on the how the company dealt with the 9/11 terrorist attack aftermath. Paradoxically, Rice and Zegart maintain that the best way to deal with crises is not having them. Henceforth, they dedicate a whole chapter to providing key takeaways in order to better respond to crises. Politics has always been an unpredictable business. There is no one that can discern accurately how human history is going to unfold. However, the authors are convinced that managing political risks does not have to be pure guesswork and that being prepare is essential and can improve companies performances in a great deal.

Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations can Anticipate Global Insecurity completely revamps the way we reflect on the topic. It is easy to notice both authors proficiency in the field. On one hand, the past experiences of former U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice serve as anecdotes to elucidate the build-up of the theoretical framework. It is valuable to have such a persona to act as a primary source that has lived among other high-end characters and important people in history. On the other hand we have Professor Amy B. Zegart, who with her natural eloquence excels in conveying the importance of political risk management nowadays. Consequently, everyone can get a precious lesson from this book, ranging from students that are interested in navigating the sphere, to everyday workers, company owners and public servants.

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