Diffuse the uncertainty with knowledge

One of the oldest adages in business is that companies hate uncertainty.

To some degree, that is a farce, as the future is always uncertain. But this year, with so much hanging in the balance in national and state politics and the economy, the future is spectacularly uncertain.

Yet, if businesses stand frozen in their tracks, they surely risk losing market share to others willing to boldly go forward, despite the uncertainty.

The only thing that can diffuse uncertainty is knowledge. While you are contemplating whether to zig or zag, allow me to suggest you attend the 11th annual Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast to be presented by BizTimes Media on Friday, Jan. 20.

The event will provide southeastern Wisconsin business leaders with early forecasts about the worldwide trends that will affect their companies in 2012.

The panelists who will share their insights about doing business in the year ahead at the conference will include:

  • Michael Knetter, Ph.D., an economist and president of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Knetter serves as a research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research. He serves as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund. He previously served as an associate dean of the MBA program and professor of international economics in the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He also served as a senior staff economist for the Council of Economic Advisors for former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Knetter will provide his annual macro-economic outlook for the year ahead. 
  • Daniel Ariens, president and chief executive officer of Ariens Company, based in Brillion, Wis. Ariens Company manufactures outdoor power equipment for consumer and commercial use. Its products include walk-behind lawnmowers, riding lawn mowers, rear engine riders, string trimmers, tractors, zero turn mowers and snow blowers. The company sells its products through a dealer network, as well as home center and farm stores in the United States, Canada, and internationally. The company serves landscape contractors, golf, turf, and sports turf industries. Dan Ariens is the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ariens. During his tenure at the helm, Dan has led several strategic acquisitions, creating a family of brands that represent several of the most respected names in the consumer and commercial equipment markets, as well as the replacement parts and accessories segment of the industry. Ariens will speak about the economic challenges and opportunities facing Wisconsin manufacturers in 2012. 
  • Mark DiBlasi, president and CEO of Roadrunner Transportation Systems Inc. in Cudahy.  Since joining Roadrunner, DiBlasi has transitioned the company from a single-service long-haul LTL (less than load) trucking company to a full-service transportation provider. Through organic growth and strategic acquisitions, the company has more than doubled in size since 2006, and its stock is now traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Roadrunner has annual sales of more than $771 million and more than 1,000 employees. Prior to joining Roadrunner, DiBlasi served as vice president of the Southern Division for FedEx Ground Inc. DiBlasi will speak about emerging trends in transportation and logistics. 
  • Bill Haack, chairman and CEO of Zywave Inc. Haack founded Zywave, a provider of best-in-class software solutions for insurance brokers and financial planners around the world, in 1995. He previously served as chairman and CEO of Frank F. Haack & Associates, which grew under his leadership to become the largest independent insurance brokerage in Wisconsin. Haack will speak about cutting edge business technologies.
  • Frank Krejci, president and chief operating officer of Strattec Security Corp., a Milwaukee-based global manufacturer of automotive access products such as locks, key fobs, latches, handles power door mechanisms and contract die casting. Strattec has been providing parts to the automotive business for more than 100 years. The company has grown to have annual sales of more than $267 million and 2,500 employees, and its stock is traded on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. Krejci’s prior experience included serving as an executive at Wisconsin Furniture, Briggs & Stratton Corp. and Cutler-Hammer. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Krejci will speak about the year ahead in the automotive industry. 
  • Sara Meaney, a partner at Hanson Dodge Creative, America’s “leading active lifestyle agency.” Based in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, Hanson Dodge has been assisting brands to reach new audiences, embrace emerging technologies and distinguish themselves as market leaders for three decades. Recent clients that have sought Hanson Dodge’s brand-building services have included Wilson Sporting Goods, Trek Bicycle Corp., Wolverine Boots, Kmart and Volkswagen. Meaney will return for an encore of her presentation last year and discuss the latest trends for businesses in mobile technology and social media.

The 11th annual Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast will take place Friday, Jan. 20, at 7:30 a.m. at the Italian Conference Center in downtown Milwaukee. We still have some room for you. For additional information, visit www.biztimes.com/trends.

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