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Interview: Fields Wicker-Miurin

Published by Newsweek on 1999-08-01

Fields Wicker-Miurin, 40, has enjoyed a highly successful career in the diverse worlds of culture and international finance: Director at the London Stock Exchange, Member of the Royal Society of Arts in London, Director of the London Theater Festival. A frequent commentator on television and in Europe's print media on European and world affairs, she is currently a Partner and Vice President for Global Financial Markets at A. T. Kearney Inc. in Britain. Wicker-Miurin, who was born and educated in the United States and France, has also been designated a "Global Leader for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. She spoke recently with Newsweek's Pranay Gupte in London and New York. Excerpts:

GUPTE: You've been emphasizing the "soul" and "spiritual values" in your successful business career. Isn't that unusual in the world of business to be talking about the soul?
WICKER-MIURIN: I grew up very active in creative arts. And they aren't mathematical. Creativity comes from inside you, and it can't be explained by formula. It's not a procedure that you learn. So I've always had a part of me that says that's not traditional in the business sense. I wasn't a "traditional business person" because I had all these other interests. But also because I've been very lucky to have mentors in my life totally outside my business and my professional life who have been fantastic listeners, good coaches, and who have challenged me in a very loving way to think about different dimensions of my life that people certainly in a business world would not normally encourage me to think about. The more I study aspects of leadership and think about what we need from our leaders over the new millennium and how those characteristics, I believe, exhibit some changes from the past because of the interconnectedness of the world--then the concept of the soul and caring about your fellow man becomes that much more important. And I would love it if our leaders actually began to think the soul was an important part of what they needed to nourish, as well as the cash flow of a company.

How do you "nourish" business with spirituality and creativity?
It's got to start with the way with educate our kids. In our schools- whether in the US or in Europe--multidisciplinary educational studies are not encouraged. It's incumbent upon families, I believe, to give a broader education for their children and to support them in that. It would be wonderful if the educational system began to recognize that you get much better people if they are better balanced and have a better understanding of the full range of their capabilities. They make better business decisions, they make better artistic decisions. You have opera houses who don't have to get subsidies to their expense from government because they know how to manage themselves better. And you have businesses who appreciate the creative concepts, who understand when they look at a theater director that his job of pulling together lots and lots of different individuals with different talents, from the lighting director to the star performer is a job of teamwork. These are lessons and skills that everyone could benefit from, regardless of the area.

Is there sufficient recognition in the international business community of going beyond conventional ways of doing business?
Unfortunately, I don't think we've recognized that. I think there's so much more good that could be done if people understood early on how much they could learn from all the other disciplines. And it's not just business and the arts. It's science and business, and business and the humanities. The magic, I think, of the human race is how multidisciplinary we can be. One of my small struggles is to fight against overspecialization because I think we miss the Renaissance people in the world, we miss the people who can connect lots of different ideas across a range of fields and come up with a much better idea at that end. I certainly don't believe being responsible socially and being responsible as an individual is incompatible with providing good returns for your shareholders. Many of the best lessons in life come from totally outside one's own sphere of operation. You just have to be brave enough or lucky enough to stick your head above the parapet and look. I think we've still got a long way to go. I'm encouraged because I see certainly in Europe the people are beginning to talk about concepts of the social responsibility, they're beginning to talk about a longer term horizon than just the very short term financial return. Anything that allows leaders of companies to be more elastic and experimental in a sense in what tools and skills they bring into the company is good.

Everyone talks about globalization. Is it losing its cachet? Is it becoming cheap and coarse?
I got into a big argument about seven months ago at a conference when somebody asked me what I thought about globalization, and I said, "I refuse to use the word." I hate the word. Absolutely hate the word. I hate the word because I think it means as many different things as you want it to mean, and people use it callously and carelessly to mean whatever they want it to mean. That broad a term often means it's very difficult to identify what the problems are you're trying to fix. And therefore, what I always try to do whenever anybody asks me is push back and say, you know, "What in particular are the issues or concerns that we need to address? Let's just find a different way to talk about it." It will be much easier to find an answer if you have a specific question--the more specific the question, the easier it is to get the answer. So I try to avoid using the term "globalization."

As the new millennium approaches, anything special that international business leaders should be thinking about?
Jonas Salk had a wonderful quote, he said, "We have to learn to become better ancestors." I think we have to learn to become better ancestors. Will it happen overnight? No. Maybe I'm just realistic and determined to try to do my own little bit to try to help it happen.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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