Fast Company recently convened a Fast Talk session in Chicago, bringing together some of the smartest people from some of the strongest and oldest brands in the world. Our objective: New insights on emerging best practices when it comes to customers, technology, and business.


ALAN WEBBER (founding editor, Fast Company): Rumors of the death of old-economy companies, it turns out, were flat-out wrong. To get started, let's have a lightning round: What's the biggest misconception that you've heard over the past couple of years about what was wrong with old-economy companies? You choose: Gloat or vent.

AMY WILLIAMS (vice president, FInance and planning; Allstate Insurance Co.): People kept telling us, "You just don't get it. It's about how many customers you have." But no one talked about the economics. To me, the great lesson is that you have to focus on both the customers and the economics.

FRED CRAWFORD (global executive vice president, consumer products, retail, and distribution; Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Consulting Services): New companies were overhyped, old companies were maligned, and both were wrong. The reality is that consumers have changed, and what they want has changed. Going forward, we're going to require a blend of the best that new- and old-economy companies have to offer.

JIM SAPPINGTON (vice president, U.S. information technology; McDonald's Corp.): The idea that old-economy companies can't change or are too big to move fast is wrong. Right now, we're seeing old-economy companies move much faster than we thought they could.

WARREN HOLTSBERG (corporate vice president, venture investing; Motor-ola Inc.): My favorite misread was the idea that business fundamentals had changed - that the traditional ways of doing business didn't matter anymore: If you sold enough product or enough items at a loss, eventually you'd make a profit.