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Wharton's Mauro Guillen on the trends that will shape the next decade

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Mauro Guillen, Wharton Professor and author of '2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything', joined The Final Round to discuss his new book and the biggest trends that will be shaping the next decade.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: Of course, look, 2020's not even over, right? This has certainly been the hardest year of many of our lifetimes, still have about five months to go. But our next guest has just published a book called "2030-- How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything." And we're joined by Mauro Guillen, Professor at Wharton and the author of that book.

Mauro, great to have you back on the program. So let's start-- I guess I was thinking about this earlier today. When did you begin this project, because I don't think it started last week? And how did you maybe adjust-- as recent developments came in, or the pandemic started, all these kinds of things, how did you adjust, if at all, your thinking around the big themes you hit in this book?

MAURO GUILLEN: So Myles, thank you so much for having me. So I started doing research for this book about seven years ago, because I was making presentations, you know, with executives and my own students at Wharton, and they were always asking, where's the world headed, right, so many things changing. And you know what?

My only regret after publishing the book this week is that instead of 2030, I should have titled the book 2028, because the future is arriving faster. So in a nutshell, this pandemic accelerates most of the trends that I discuss in the book, and I've added a postscript about that, with only two exceptions. And I could tell you about them, if you're curious.

MYLES UDLAND: I'd love to hear the exceptions, because I think that-- I look at, you know, a lot of the outline, and maybe I could guess one before you told me the answer. I wonder if the rise of China, perhaps, is being rethought in the wake of the pandemic? Because I think I look at, you know, sort of the assumption, maybe a 2014, '15-type assumption, China will be the world's largest economy. Biggest middle class will overtake global primacy. I'm wondering if that's maybe something that's-- that's being rethought a little bit here?

MAURO GUILLEN: Well, a little bit. It's not the two that I had in mind. But you see, actually, China will be the largest consumer market in the world very soon, but only for about 12 years or so, because India is going to take over. And the reason is population aging in China, right, India having a much younger population.

And that's one of the trends, by the way, that this pandemic accelerates, which is population aging. We're postponing having babies, right? But the other two are, you know, the role of women.

So I'm very, very optimistic about the role of women in the book, and I must say the pandemic doesn't accelerate that trend. Because as you know, women are experiencing high unemployment as a result of this. And then they're stuck at home, and they undertake more household tasks.

The other big one is cities. So this pandemic could slow down the growth of cities, especially-- especially in Europe and the United States, perhaps not so much in the emerging world. So I think those are the two trends plus, perhaps, what you mentioned about China, that maybe we need to reconsider, to rethink in the wake of this pandemic.

DAN ROBERTS: Professor, Dan Roberts here. Let's talk about the remote work revolution, so to speak. You mentioned in your notes, and I'm sure this comes up in the book, the idea that many, many people will likely now be working remotely permanently. Now, I think that's clearly the case that some amount of people have been told that.

But Myles Udland and I have discussed on this show often the take that maybe that's been a little overblown, that people right now are kind of rushing to assume that so many people will just work remotely forever. We think a lot of companies are going to maybe surprise some people when-- you know, whether that's 2021, summer 2021, whenever it is, when they tell employees OK, it looks like the coast is clear and things are safe. We expect you back at the office now.

MAURO GUILLEN: Well, most of what I hear from companies right now-- and as you can imagine, many talent managers and HR managers are essentially asking and conducting surveys, internal surveys to see how their employees are thinking about this. And most of what I hear is that we're going to go to a hybrid model. So a majority of American employees who are working from home now, they're saying, yes, I would like to have a remote component in my work week, but I would like to also go to the office.

So there's a lot of burnout. There's a lot of feeling of loneliness. And also, companies are realizing there are limits in terms of coordination. And how in the world do you onboard a new employee if you're doing it entirely online? It's extremely difficult.

And you know, companies need to have a culture that brings people together, and it's very difficult to create that in the online world, at least with the technology that we have now. And that's another question, whether, you know, soon technology will improve, and I think it will, right? So I think we're going to a hybrid model, rather than, you know, all the extreme to permanent remote work.

MYLES UDLAND: And Professor, obviously, thinking about "2030," a fascinating kind of thought experiment, but what's happening right now is certainly going to shape how that all plays out and really, through two lenses. And I think one is the stock market, which really is kind of an inequality thing, right? It's exacerbating all the inequalities we've already seen. And also the election this year. And just as you see the landscape right now today, how much do you think those two events could, I don't know, surprise the public or will reset the trajectory, perhaps, that at least the American public believes it is on or headed towards?

MAURO GUILLEN: Well, regarding inequality, I think this pandemic is clearly a big accelerator, right? So not everybody has access to remote work. Some people have to use public transportation, and therefore they're more exposed to the virus. Not every child has a good Wi-Fi connection at home. In fact, the estimates range between 10% and 20% who really lack either the hardware or the connectivity.

So this is a huge accelerator of inequality. And whoever gets elected president is going to have a big problem on his plate come January, because I think there's going to be even more demands on the part of society to try to address this issue. So both, I think, Trump and Biden are going to have to do something about it because, quite frankly, I think it's spinning out of control.

Even before this pandemic we were, if you remember, at heights in terms of inequality that rivaled those during the Gilded Age of 120 years ago. So we've got to pay attention to this. And I think there's a business case, by the way, also to be made about it. But companies, I think, should do whatever they can to help society, you know, reduce inequality, because this could come back to haunt all of us, not just the ones who lose.

MYLES UDLAND: Yeah, and I think in the investing world, you see some of the outlines of that, ESG certainly rising as a factor, things like that. But I imagine the progress there will be deliberate, at best, when it comes to the corporate world's view on inequality, and potentially higher taxes, things like that. We will certainly get into that another time.

Mauro Guillen, Professor at Wharton, thank you so much for joining the program. The new book's called "2030-- How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything." Really appreciate you taking the time today.

MAURO GUILLEN: Thank you for having me.