Annual Spring Luncheon

A glorious spring day and the splendid setting of the palmer house hilton made for a gala occasion indeed, when the commerce alumni association hosted its thirty-ninth annual spring luncheon on friday, april 30.

More than four hundred alumni, friends, faculty, and staff of the college gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the historic Chicago hotel for
a few special hours of pleasant socializing, elegant cuisine, awards, and presentations, including a keynote address by Robert Thomson, U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times of London.

Dean Howard Thomas took the occasion to welcome and thank the Commerce alumni in attendance — many of whom had traveled considerable distances to be there — and also expressed gratitude to all the college's loyal graduates and supporters, whose generosity continues to make CBA a byword for excellence in business education.

The luncheon served, as always, to showcase the prestigious service and teaching awards presented annually by the Commerce Alumni Association. For profiles of the award-winners, see 1999 Commerce Alumni Association Awards.

The keynote address, presented by Robert Thomson, was provocative, humorous, insightful, and thoroughly entertaining. U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times since September 1998, Thomson described himself as, "like Rupert Murdoch, a former Australian." A journalist for twenty years, he has covered general news and financial affairs in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Sydney, and in China and Japan. He began writing for the Financial Times in 1989, and has covered, first-hand, the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the spectacular excesses and precipitous decline of the Japanese "bubble economy." He has held a series of editorial posts for the paper since 1994, and in the summer of `98 was chosen to take the helm in the United States.

Framed as a five-year outlook on the business environment and titled "Globalization — Where on Earth Is It Going?" his talk drew on his wide-ranging experiences and perspectives on the world economy, past, present, and future. Perhaps the best summary of his viewpoint came with his opening and closing image of "a cheese maker in Tuscany." While it is popular to regard such picturesque cottage industries as fragile and endangered, Thomson feels that times have never been better for small-scale producers of quality items. "Cheese makers in Tuscany" and their ilk now have access to unprecedented resources for marketing (through the Internet) and distribution (through the highly efficient delivery services routinely available today). "Quality and originality are the key," he said. For the much more looming and significant question of emerging economies, however, the outlook is quite different, as investors inflate and deflate currency values in a ceaseless quest for short-term profits. "Movements in capital cause huge dislocations in emerging countries," he said, noting that what is needed is a "sense of community responsibility." By contrast, investors regard it as "wimpish to give a moment's consideration to the effect on the countries involved." Thomson is an advocate of not only the Euro, but the concept of a world currency, which could do a lot to help shield vulnerable economies from currency fluctuations and profit-mongering. As to the "extraordinary embrace of the U.S. economic model of the late 1990s," he wryly suggested that there are "serial economic models" comparable to "serial monogamy" and that the economic success of the United States may be put in perspective when compared with the success (and subsequent decline) of the Japanese and Asian economies. Yet his overall outlook may be termed optimistic, as exemplified in his observations on the impact of market forces on China, "where the people literally had to horde cabbages to get them through the winter up until just a couple of years ago." Somewhat rashly, for a journalist anyway, he offered three tips for market-watchers: