Alan Webber

Author, Rules of Thumb

Expert on change and innovation in the knowledge economy.

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As one of the most widely respected and knowledgeable leaders in business journalism today, Alan Webber brings audiences unusual depth of knowledge and insight into an economy fueled by information, change and innovation.

An award-winning, nationally-recognised editor, author and columnist, he launched Fast Company, the fastest growing, most successful business magazine in history and winner of two national magazine awards, one for excellence and one for design. He was named Adweek's Editor of the Year in 1999, along with co-founding editor William Taylor.

In 2000 Fast Company was sold for the second largest amount of any magazine in U.S. history.

Webber understands the important characteristics of a "fast company": the ongoing competition for the best people, for great ideas, and for the right way to think about leadership.

Alan is co-author of three business-related books, including most recently, his first eBook, The Global Detective.

His previous book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self offers the fruits of forty years experience in business from one of its most successful journalists.

Going Global looks at the techniques and tactics needed to succeed in the global economy.

Changing Alliances reports on a Harvard Business School study of competitiveness in the U.S. auto industry.

Before founding FC, Alan was for five years the managing editor and editorial director of the Harvard Business Review. During his tenure, HBR was twice a finalist for National Magazine awards; he oversaw the journal's visual redesign and created the architecture for the journal's editorial performance that continues to this day.

Alan's columns and articles have appeared in numerous national publications, including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine and The Washington Post.

Webber has been elected as an honourary Senior Fellow by the Design Futures Council — "For significant contributions toward the understanding of changing trends, new research, and applied human knowledge leading to innovative design models that improve the built environment and the human condition."

He is a former fellow of the U.S.-Japan Leadership Program and a John J. McCloy Fellow. He has worked in the public sector as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and in several capacities for the city of Portland, Oregon.

Rules of Thumb
Whether you're an entrepreneur, a business leader, or a person trying to make sense of a fast-changing, unpredictable, hard-to-chart world, Alan Webber addresses issues that business leaders in any situation can relate to: how to lead and inspire others; how to deal with failure; how to avert crises; how to create business strategy; how to hire, fire, and mentor; and, how to find a career that's right for you. With 52 rules of thumb — one for each week of the year — Alan offers wise, fun, and helpful advice based on his own experience — fresh insights and hard-won truths gathered over 40 years.

Entrepreneurial Thinking — Some Queries

  1. Do you have the right kind of leadership for your organisation?
  2. Are you playing a bigger game?
  3. Are you getting more than your fair share of truly great people?
  4. Is your culture about teamwork or "all for yourself"?
  5. Is your corporate DNA diverse enough?
  6. Are you living inside your customers' skins?
  7. Do you know what your company's design is saying about you?
  8. Do you know what your company stands for?
  9. Is technology a cost or a way of doing business?
  10. Is your company a talk show?
  11. Are you a fast company or a slow company?


  • Cofounder and former editor, Fast Company
  • Author, Rules of Thumb
  • Doctor of Humane Letters Honorary Degree, Boston Architectural College
  • Honorary Senior Fellow, Design Futures Council
  • Co-author, Changing Alliances and Going Global
  • Former Harvard Business Review editorial director, managing editor and associate editor
  • Former Associate Editor, Oregon Times magazine
  • Recipient, Oregon State Newspaper Publisher’s Association Award for news and feature writing
  • Named John J. McCloy fellow
  • Columns and articles have appeared in numerous national publications, including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine and The Washington Post
  • Former fellow, U.S.-Japan Leadership Program
  • Former special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation
  • Former editorial page editor of the Willamette Week
  • Former administrative assistant to the mayor of Portland and chief of his policy council Former administrative assistant to Portland’s city commissioner
  • Former Associate Editor, Oregon Times magazine
  • Recipient, Oregon State Newspaper Publisher’s Association Award for news and feature writing


Life Reimagined

Discovering Your New Life Possibilities

by Richard J. Leider and Alan M. Webber

Think of it as the most significant social story of our time: We are witnessing the arrival of a whole new stage of life. Today we’re seeing people reach what used to be the “age of retirement” and convert it into the “age of possibilities.” The authors call it "Life Reimagined." What those two words suggest is a new stage of life and — perhaps more importantly — a new way of thinking about life and living. At its core, Life Reimagined calls on each of us to engage life with a profound sense of what is possible, what is desirable, and what is personally meaningful.

One of the profound truths that under lies Life Reimagined is the liberating notion that “each of us is an experiment of one”: in other words, each of us is free to find our own way forward on this journey of discovery. But another truth is that there is a set of six practices — ways of engaging with Life Reimagined — that can help each of us find that way forward. The six practices are:

  • Reflect
  • Connect
  • Explore
  • Choose
  • Repack
  • Act

Life Reimagined offers the opportunity for each of us to grow — not just older, but grow more whole, more healthy, and more uniquely ourselves.

Berrett-Koehler (20 Nov 2013)

The Global Detective


Alan Webber

In a world of questions, the world needs someone to go out and get the answers. Meet Alan Webber, aka The Global Detective. If you've ever wondered how business is changing, where you can find new thinking and innovative start-ups, if you're troubled by global competition or have a hard time making sense of this next generation of young people in the work place, you've come to the right place. The Global Detective is on the case. In this opening episode, you'll find some bad business revisited outside Munich and meet some bright young kids inside a classroom in the mountains of Austria. You'll hear an entrepreneur who almost went broke talk to the Global Detective about "economics as war" and interact with a young woman from Romania who looks and sounds, well, like a vampire. And you'll find out what's changing and what's not, where there's just more of the same, and where you can find surprising clues to real sources of innovation, creativity, and, ultimately, hope. It's all in Part 1 of the adventures of The Global Detective, as he travels to the lands of the tall blonde people.

New Word City, Inc. (13 Oct 2010)

Rules of Thumb

52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self

Alan Webber

Whether you're an entrepreneur, a business leader, or a person trying to make sense of a fast-changing, unpredictable, hard-to-chart world, this book's engaging style addresses issues that readers of all ages can relate to: how to lead and inspire others; how to deal with failure; how to avert crises; how to create business strategy; how to hire, fire, and mentor; and, how to find a career that's right for you. With 52 rules of thumb-one for each week of the year — this book is incisive, fun, and helpful. It's a book based on real experience, a book that's smart — but more importantly, that's wise.

Collins Business; Reprint edition (29 Jun 2010)
HarperBusiness (1 May 2009)

Going Global

Four Entrepreneurs Map the New World Marketplace

William C. Taylor and Alan M. Webber

For anyone wondering how this new global economy works, Going Global provides fascinating and information-packed interviews with four pioneers who are taking their companies beyond the curve of change. They are: David Whitwam, CEO of Whirlpool and leader of its mission to assemble a global network of factories; Kenichi Ohmae, longtime chairman of McKinsey & Company's Tokyo office and now a leading independent authority on global business; Barbara Kux, vice-president of Switzerland's Nestle, the world's largest food company, who is working for change in Eastern Europe; and John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm behind some of the most influential, creative, and world-changing companies of our time. These four individuals — from different backgrounds, nations, industries, and personal experiences — together represent a template for change. The marketplace they are mapping involves adventure, high stakes, and intense pressure, but also memorable voyages and dramatic discoveries that make for "must" reading for Americans who wonder where their businesses are — or should be — headed in the future.

Penguin Books Australia; Reprint edition (31 July 1997)
Viking/Allen Lane (25 July 1996)


Alan tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Innovation, Leadership and the Law Profession

The law profession is squarely in the cross-hairs where innovation and leadership intersect. Three major forces are upsetting the status quo — not just for lawyers, but for their clients, as well — and calling for effective leadership to guide the changes.

Firms, CMOs, and lawyers who meet these challenges will flourish; those who embrace the status quo may do well in the short run, but in the longer run they run a huge risk of becoming dinosaurs like the Big 3 and other industrial age companies and industries that have failed to adapt. The three major forces are: globalization, technology and human capital. In this presentation, Alan Webber explores these forces in depth.

He discusses how the world is becoming flat, a la Tom Friedman’s book, and the implications of this trend for clients and law firms alike.

As Web 2.0 expands, industries are converging. Everything is becoming connected and interactive and new forms of social communities and mass participation are emerging. This is shifting power to consumers.

Human capital
You can no longer cut your way to greatness, or merge your way to greatness. The key to success now is knowledge and creativity — in a word, people. Clients now are under enormous pressure to adapt, change culture, get customers to co-create their products and services and to attract talent in order to do all this. This is no less true for law firms.

What’s the punch line of all these trends? A major disconnect exists between the law firms (and clients) of today and those of the future. Lawyers traditionally are left brain to the max: logical, skeptical, a little distant, urgent, often not great listeners and not team players. But increasingly, clients want to be heard and wooed; they want a relationship, not a transaction.

Optimism, Innovation and Leadership

The last decade has been a dizzying time of change: boom, bust, scandal, terrorism, war, disease — and who knows what comes next! It’s easy to lose focus and to get discouraged. In fact, much of the conventional wisdom today sounds pretty pessimistic. Webber’s message is different:

Three words define where we are today: optimism, innovation, and leadership.

Why Optimism? First, because conventional wisdom is wrong: much of the ‘90s was right! We built the technological infrastructure to change how business gets done, how people live and work, how value gets created. The next ten years will see an even more exciting, more demanding, more important business revolution — conversion to this new operating system — and the people who understand and respond first will win.

We should also be optimistic because, in each industry that conventional wisdom says is failing (airlines, retail...), one company stands out — through innovation. That’s the second key word.

Here are 10 rules for out-innovating the competition. Great companies:

  1. Don’t let lean times make them mean organisations.
  2. Practice “serious innovation.”
  3. Change customer expectations.
  4. Change the basis for competition — they reinvent the rules.
  5. Change the economics of their industry.
  6. Get more than their share of great people.
  7. Live inside their customers’ skins.
  8. Learn across the board, and learn at all levels.
  9. Create new opportunities for their partners; they have an “open system” approach to doing business.
  10. Have great leaders who “get it” when it comes to building a future.

Leadership is the key, especially in challenging times. Great leaders make sense for their people, their customers, and their business partners. They describe a future that is important, powerful, desirable, achievable, and reasonable; and they show people how to get there by working together. They adapt, they understand essentials, they understand the need for integrity and transparency in their operations, the value of values. They deliver productivity. They are honest.




A major consulting firm:
Great reviews. Waiting for the formal surveys, but the buzz was all good. He was unconventional for the audience and definitely got them thinking! He was really perfect. Enjoyed his presentation very much. I didn't catch him afterwards, he had to leave early. Please do let him know.

A leading global professional services consulting firm:
Your talk was off the charts great and was worth every cent. Many people said they appreciated how well you knew your audience and how important, well received and riveting your remarks were. It was the highlight of the conference.

A major financial services company:
Hi Alan! Just wanted to thank you again for the session you provided for us this week. Proves that great things can happen last minute. I personally got a lot out of our time with you. The leadership stories you shared are not only entertaining but inspiring and drive us all to be better leaders.

As I mentioned this was a tough crowd, talking to a bunch of accountants about leadership could be painful. Well, you blew them away. I received terrific feedback from so many of our participants and many thank yous that should be passed on to you. My favorite comment came from one of our participants who I quite honestly thought would be resistant to a session such as yours, here is what he had to say about you to the group, "Alan Webber was outstanding. I was riveted by his every word".

A national transportation association:
I heard nothing but praise for your presentation at our recent Annual Meeting. And thanks too for tailoring your talk so well to the needs and concerns of our members. Your emphasis on service and customer concern — really hit home. A number of people told me how relevant your comments were to their day-to-day operating situations.

A national manufacturing association:
All the reviews we’ve heard on the Annual Meeting have one thing in common: Everyone thinks Alan Webber was super. After your presentation, I had CEO’s collaring me in the hall and saying ‘Now that’s what I want our management to hear.’ I’m getting lots of request for transcripts or tapes of your talk. In other words, you were right on the mark, with a perfect theme message for our audience and our ‘global enterprise theme’.

Chief Staff Executive, an industry association:
Dear Leigh Bureau; Just a note of thanks for suggesting Alan for our Leadership Conference held last week; he was the highlight of our meeting. His insights and observations on the business world, the global environment and entrepreneurial lessons were just what I was looking for the senior leadership of our industry. I was very impressed that he came in to Chicago early and spent a great deal of time with our members, learning their issues and concerns and tailoring his message to this group. My thanks again, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

A national social services association:
Dear Alan — I hope that you are doing well since your wonderful presentation at our Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. Again we so valued your excellent general session keynote...and all of the time and effort you put into making the presentation so on-target for our not-for-profit aging services provider audience!

An industry association:
Thanks again for presenting at the member meeting. The session was great and I've heard nothing but rave reviews.


— USA Today