GERALD CELENTE TREND FORECASTER KNOWS WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS
By MICHAEL KANE
Looking Ahead: As president of the Trends Research Institute, Celente gets paid to predict.
August 11, 2008 -- If Nostradamus were alive today - and had a subscription to Fortune and a booking agent - he'd have a hard time keeping up with Gerald Celente. The Bronx native and current resident of upstate Rhinebeck is the founder of the Trends Research Institute, and a regular guest on TV shows such as "Oprah" and "Today" and the national nightly news.
Seeing the future of business is Celente's stock in trade. To clarify, seeing how present-day global events will affect the future of business is his real specialty. It's not just NYSE upticks and profit-taking that Celente foresees. It's what Iran-Contra had to do with Wall Street. It's what the jalapeno-pepper scare means to small-town grocers.
Wondering, "What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" Ask Celente.
And many do. His newsletter, at $185 a year, is a corporate must-read, and his itinerary is filled with speaking engagements from addressing a DeBeers diamond conference in South Africa to speaking on global economics before the governments of Norway and New Zealand.
A graduate of West Virginia University and author of the books "Trend Tracking" and "Trends 2000," Celente, 62, has converted a curiosity about the world into a career as econo-soothsayer. @work caught up with him long enough to ask about his past, present and especially the future, and why it's a dream job pointing the way to a more profitable tomorrow.
Any idea what started you down the path to trend predictor?
Well, going way back, I was one of seven kids growing up in The Bronx. Some days I'd go out with my father in his '57 Cadillac Coupe deVille. I'd be babbling along about nonsense, and he'd give me a steely look. And in Italian he'd say, "Papagallo!" or parrot - stop repeating what everybody else is saying and think for yourself.
Still, there are no want ads for "global trend analyst."
No, first I got into politics. I went to Albany to work as an assistant to the secretary of the state Senate. Which was the worst job I've ever had in my life. Imagine standing in the back of the chamber BS-ing until a senator walks in, and then you run over and pull a big leather chair out to help him sit down. I lasted one session.
You turned your back on politics?
I became a political atheist. And it was when Jimmy Carter was president. When the revolution in Iran began, I was watching it grow, and I said to myself, "This is real." And then I remember Carter on the White House lawn telling the American people that the Shah was the "island of stability" in the Middle East. I knew then that politicians would say anything.
But how did that lead to trend forecasting?
I thought, "What will be the implications?" I knew oil prices would go up, so I started trading oil. Instability would continue, so I began tradiing in gold, which is a safe-haven commodity. I realized then that current events form future trends. Everyone got caught up in ideology. I let go of that and said, what does it mean, what's going to happen in business? And with the income from gold and oil, I set up the Trends Research Institute in 1979. I was 32 years old.
What are your greatest hits?
The first call I made was there'd be a huge growth in bottled water. Back in '82, Perrier was all anyone knew. I was seeing more concern about pesticides. But I was way ahead on that one, nearly a decade.
The next one was the 1987 stock market crash. And it was for reasons that economists weren't seeing. The Teflon had started to wear off the Reagan administration, with the Iran-Contra scandal. Things were starting to fray. The market was overbought. It was all money, money, money. And a lot was merely image. I saw that cracking.
What's your best prognostication ever?
Gourmet coffee. In 1990, I was the keynote speaker at a National Coffee Association conference. At the time, Starbucks had just 35 outlets. People drank Sanka and Nescafe. But the microbrew trend was going on. I knew there was a quality market. So I gave a presentation saying gourmet coffees were the next big thing.
Did they listen to you?
I remember after the speech, I'd changed into shorts and a flowery shirt and was hanging around by the pool. No tie, no suit. I looked like a different guy, so nobody recognized me. And I overheard these two guys talking, saying, "What a bunch of bulls- - - t, that trend guy with his gourmet coffees."
And your biggest whiffs?
My biggest misses are usually political. I thought Gore would beat Bush, and that Kerry would beat Bush. Politics are tough, because you're betting on people's personalities. Also, with economics, it's tough to nail down the timing. Looking now at the top trends of 2008 - our economy will continue to unravel. I just can't pick the exact dates.
What's your secret method?
I break society down into three sectors. At the bottom, there's the crowd, that's always going to follow. At the top are the ideologues. And in middle are the informed. They're the people who read, who are aware. Once we see movement within the informed, that's when we see a trend developing.
So, you advise your clients how?
I show them new opportunities. For example, the whole global corporate model is breaking down. It was always about growing or manufacturing vast amounts of product and shipping it far distances. That doesn't work anymore because of high energy costs. As a consequence, local economies will thrive. You'll start seeing a revival in these little towns and small cities that died when the country became suburbanized. All because of increasing energy costs. Like Chief Seattle said, "All things are connected, like the blood which unites us all." Our process is making connections between different fields.
So, don't invest in major corporations?
Modell's, Lowe's, Starbucks, they're melting down. And with the market gap left by empty stores, something new is born. Without giants in control, people will use their innovative skills to thrive. We believe it's going to be the beginning of a renaissance. Something old is dying, and something new will be born from it.
What's a workday like for you?
My day-to-day is reading, about six hours a day. I read The Post, the Times and the Financial Times. And occasionally the Wall Street Journal. I read USA Today because of the audience it goes to. I want to know what they're reading, what they're watching, what they're thinking. On the Internet, I read Haaretz, I read Al-Jazeera. I go to the Drudge Report, the Independent. I scour it.
Why is this a dream job?
Because I think for myself. George Bush, Hillary, Barack, McCain - they're not my leader. I'm my leader. I look to people for information in subjects and areas I don't know about. But for things I know about, I think for myself. Before he died, Kurt Vonnegut had a great line. He said there should be a Cabinet position called secretary of the future, so we could see where we're going. No one can fully predict the future, of course. My purpose is to free people up to think for themselves and find their own innovation.
Saturday, August 23, 2008