In an engaging virtual presentation last week, I had the privilege of discussing critical strategies for 2024 with over 400 global CEOs, business leaders, and senior executives at W+B Advisory Group's inaugural CEO series, organized by ICON Executive Search and Events. This pivotal event aims to empower industry frontrunners with actionable insights, fostering a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the dynamic business landscape.

Setting the Stage

As we stand on the brink of a rapidly evolving business environment influenced by technological advancements, global uncertainties, and changing consumer behaviors, this virtual talk served as a compass for CEOs navigating through these transformative times. Drawing from experience as I have formerly served as a CEO myself, the collaboration with founders, CEOs, and fellow consultants in Asia over the past four months has afforded me valuable insights poised to benefit leaders of diversified conglomerates and SME owners/operators.

Against the backdrop of a virtual gathering that included a friend and colleague, Zihuan "Zwee" Wee, an acknowledged digital transformation expert based in Singapore, the forum delved into the non-negotiable must-dos for CEOs in 2024. Attendees were presented with a strategic roadmap dissecting key trends and addressing the transformative impact of generative AI on business models.

Rethinking Coffee Beyond a Commodity

The briefing began by highlighting a statement from Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who emphatically stated that "Starbucks Is Not in the Coffee Business." His emphasis on Starbucks being more than just a coffee seller, rather a provider of a unique experience for customers, reflects the broader vision he had for the company. Schultz recognized the importance for businesses to transcend products and services, aiming to build an emotional connection with customers.

Think Strategic

Following in Schultz's footsteps, it's crucial for leaders to adopt a strategic mindset, looking beyond their products and services. Starbucks' journey involved shifting away from viewing coffee as a mere commodity. Schultz envisioned Starbucks as an experience, a destination where customers could enjoy premium coffee, emphasizing the need to build an emotional connection beyond the functional aspects of the product.

Think Digital Transformation

Building on the "beyond coffee" mindset, Zwee urged CEOs to tap into the power of digital transformation. Digital transformation is all about innovation and building a powerful competitive advantage. In using Starbucks as an example, he highlighted the evolving mobility in consumer behaviors, showcasing Starbucks Cards as a compelling case of utilizing digital tools for effective cash flow management. These funds remain stored in the form of electronic value on the card until they are used for transactions. The cumulative total of all customer balances on Starbucks Cards represents a substantial amount of money, often referred to as "stored value."

From a financial perspective, the large pool of funds stored on Starbucks Cards provides the company with a unique form of cash flow. It essentially represents money that customers have paid in advance for future purchases at Starbucks. This stored-value system also allows Starbucks to benefit from customer loyalty and repeat business, as customers are incentivized to return to Starbucks to use the funds on their cards and accumulate rewards through the Starbucks Rewards program.

Think Adaptability

Digital transformation is no longer an option; it's a necessity. CEOs must adapt to a landscape shaped by dynamic consumer preferences. The rise of generative AI emerged as a pivotal trend, reshaping the very foundations of business models.

In essence, Howard Schultz's vision for Starbucks, coupled with insights from digital transformation experts like Zwee, serves as a blueprint for CEOs navigating the complexities this year. The emphasis on creating unique experiences, building emotional connections, and leveraging digital tools underscores the evolving nature of successful business strategies in the modern era.

Think Differently

The CEO talk series encapsulates a profound truth about the essence of successful business strategies. Schultz's vision for Starbucks serves as an inspiring example for leaders across industries. As you navigate the dynamic landscape of the modern era, the ability to think differently remains a crucial key to sustained success and growth.

My one piece of advice: The power to stand out lies not just in the product itself but in the experience, emotional connection, and strategic innovation accompanying it. Be different!

Want to learn more?

On February 3, 2024 (Saturday), in a W+B webinar, we'll feature accomplished family business successors Jose Franco Soberano and Sam Christopher Lim, Eng Bee Tin's Gerie "Mr. Ube" Chua, and family legacy coach and advisor Steve Legler from TSI Heritage in Canada, along with myself, to jumpstart the year for every family business.

Secure your spot now and explore strategies to align core values with growth objectives in family businesses. Reserve your seat today through Pat at