皇家飞利浦电子公司（Royal Philips Electronics）新任首席设计官肖恩•卡尼与其他顶级高管一起走进会议室时，总是喜欢来一出所谓的“清醒度检查”。做法很简单：拿出一件屡获大奖的飞利浦产品，比如一副舒适的血红色耳机，或者一款精美的项圈——里面藏着一个感应器，如果佩戴它的老人摔倒，护理者就会收到警报。卡尼如说：“开会的时候，一般会先播放一组没完没了的幻灯片和Excel表格。轮到我时，我会直接拿出某一款产品，大声说：‘这就是我们来开会的目的。只有拳头产品才能推动销量上涨。’”卡尼目前常驻荷兰工作。
可是，飞利浦的企业经营就不那么成功了，欧洲经济增长放缓对该公司造成的打击非常严重。由于全球建筑业减速，而各国消费者和政府纷纷削减开支，飞利浦的照明和医疗保健部门都遭受重挫。该公司第四季度陷入亏损，净亏损达1.6亿欧元（2.11亿美元），而上年同期却实现了4.65亿欧元（6.15亿美元）的净利润。近期前景颇为黯淡，毫无亮点可言，美国银行（Bank of America）、花旗（Citi）和摩根大通（JPMorgan）的分析师们全都发出了用词尖锐的警告。“考虑到全球经济不确定性，特别是欧洲经济形势不佳，我们对2012年业绩持谨慎态度，”飞利浦首席执行官范豪敦发布最新财报时表示。因此，卡尼现在这份设计工作或许是全世界最令人艳羡的职位，但同时也可能是最具挑战性的职位。
When Sean Carney, the new Chief Design Officer at Royal Philips Electronics, walks into a boardroom with other C-suite executives, he likes to offer what he calls a "sanity check." He defines this as plunking down an award-winning object such as a set of cushy, blood-red headphones, say, or a sleek-looking necklace hiding a sensor that detects when an elderly patient has fallen and alerts caregivers. "First, you start these meetings with endless PowerPoint presentations and Excel files. So then I'll drag out a product and say, 'this is why we're here; this is what's driving sales,'" says Carney, who is based in the Netherlands.
Carney, 49, has a soft, even voice and, aside from neatly cropped salt-and-pepper hair and a few crow's feet around his eyes, a baby face. This is the man with the considerable task of bringing Philips (PHG), Europe's largest electronics maker, back to life. Philips grew into a global design powerhouse during the 1990s and 2000s, becoming one of the most coveted places for young creatives to work. Over the decades, the firm has made everything from flatscreen televisions to light bulbs to life-saving health equipment. In 2011, Philips celebrated a record-breaking number of international design awards. Thanks to the elegant, streamlined aesthetics of its products, in the most rarified design circles, Philips ranks with the likes of Apple (AAPL) and BMW.
Its business hasn't fared so well, however. The slow-down in Europe has disproportionately hurt the company. Its lighting and healthcare divisions have struggled as global construction slowed and consumers and governments alike cut back on spending. The firm swung to a fourth-quarter loss, posting a net loss of 160 million euros ($211 million) after a profit of 465 million euros ($615 million) a year earlier. Near-term prospects have been anything but bright, with analysts from Bank of America (BAC), Citi (C) and JPMorgan (JPM) all issuing stark warnings in the past weeks. "We are cautious about 2012, given the uncertainty in the global economy, and Europe in particular," chief executive Frans van Houten said in a statement when the company issued its last earnings report. Now, Carney finds himself with one of the world's most coveted design roles — and perhaps one of its most challenging.
His rise has been notably quick. He's only been at Philips since March of last year, when he came on board as design leader of the Consumer Lifestyle division. He left struggling Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) to join Philips. There, he was head of Global Experience Design within the Imaging & Printing Group, based in San Diego. In July 2011, Philip's revered design chief Stefano Marzano announced he would retire at the end of the year after two decades at the company. Carney was named to Marzano's high-profile post.
Carney is stepping into big shoes. In 2011, Philips Design received 99 major international design awards, including multiple prestigious iF and Red Dot prizes for product design -- the most ever for the brand. And then, dramatically, as of January 1, 2012, Carney's role shifted again, as the firm turned to design to help it out of its current difficulty. During Marzano's tenure, Philips Design operated as an internal service provider to the various divisions of the electronics giant -- essentially a design agency within the larger organization. Now, under Carney, design is integrated as a strategy and a practice throughout Philips.