Leadership in Asia: Riding the waves of change

by Contributor14 Mar 2018

Lifelong learning will be critical for success as leaders face unprecedented local and global challenges across technology, the financial markets and changing business needs

Constant change, agility and adaptability are words that are synonymous with the future of work. Countless research papers have been devoted to predicting what’s in store for the business world and particularly what the workforce of the future will look like. Even the most casual observer of workplace trends would know that almost everything that workers are doing today in their jobs will change significantly over the next 10 years – to the extent that some jobs may cease to exist and brand-new jobs never previously imagined will come into being.

The key to riding these waves of change, says Professor Alex Frino, deputy vicechancellor (global strategies) at the University of Wollongong (UOW), is education.

“Education is the key, and companies need their people to buy into the idea of lifelong learning – where people stay up to date with technological advances but equally develop an agile mentality that will allow them to utilise new developments as quickly as possible,” he tells HRD.

While lifelong learning is critical, Frino also urges employers not to discount the experience already present in their workforce, especially in the face of technological change. “Value your older and more experienced staff, because they have already been through enormous technological change in their careers and many will have developed strategies for adapting to change that will prove invaluable for younger staff members to emulate,” he says.

Skills in the wider context

Frino is well qualified to comment on the wider forces impacting the business world. Not only does he hold degrees from UOW, Cambridge University and the University of Sydney, but he is also a former Fulbright Scholar and one of the best-published finance academics in the world, with over 100 papers in leading scholarly journals. He has also held positions with leading financial market organisations, including the Sydney Futures Exchange, Credit Suisse and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the US.

“Education is the key, and companies need their people to buy into the idea of lifelong learning” - Professor Alex Frino

He says Singapore is well positioned to lead the way in business and financial innovation and can also provide insights on how to maximise productivity through the workforce.

“Singapore’s greatest resource is its human capital,” Frino says. “The island nation has invested heavily in its human resources and is now reaping the rewards of this strategy. It has a highly educated, multilingual workforce that is ideal for providing global services, particularly in the financial services sector."

During Frino’s long association with the Singapore Exchange, he has particularly admired Singapore’s financial services sector for its high levels of innovation and its global outlook.

“Most financial markets around the world have traditionally focused on servicing their local investor community, but Singapore’s clients are just as likely to be international,” he says. “This gives Singapore an edge in the global marketplace and means that it is well positioned to capitalise on the trend towards globalisation of capital markets.”

Learning from ASEAN

Business leaders will likely glean some critical insights when Singapore chairs ASEAN in 2018. Having just completed its Golden Jubilee, ASEAN has proven itself as the mainstay of economic and political stability in Southeast Asia, Frino says.

“Singapore’s chairmanship of ASEAN gives it and its business leaders the opportunity to reinforce Singapore’s position as the leading financial centre in the region and showcase itself as a centre of business innovation,” he says.

Frino adds that Singapore has stated that as ASEAN chair it will focus on the themes of resilience and innovation, as well as pushing ahead with regional economic integration to help bridge the development gap between member nations.

“These are certainly laudable aims, and as an international economic success story Singapore certainly has the skills and experience to achieve that,” Frino says. “However, there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from previous unsuccessful attempts to integrate major organisations across the region, such as ASEAN Trading Link – an attempt to connect the Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand Stock Exchanges that was decommissioned after five years.”

Other areas to watch

What are some of the other emerging areas that may impact on business operations in 2018? Frino says bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies remain a highly volatile environment.

“In my opinion businesses in Asia – and all around the world – should tread with great caution in this area. In January this year we saw a Japanese company lose S$675m when its cryptocurrency transaction was hacked, so it appears that there are still significant security issues to be overcome.”

Frino is more confident about blockchain technology’s ability to enhance the way Asian businesses operate. For example, one of blockchain’s great advantages is that it makes it possible for large listed companies to run electronic AGMs by providing a secure environment that allows shareholders to participate by attending and voting electronically. Obviously this greatly improves access for shareholders of large Asian businesses who may reside in different countries and otherwise have difficulty attending AGMs.

“In my extensive research into what makes better businesses, I’ve found that companies that are better able to engage their shareholders, and take direction from them, generally benefit considerably,” Frino says. “Therefore, I would strongly recommend that companies based in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia embrace the blockchain technology that enables electronic AGMs.”

MBAs in focus

Taking these disparate elements into consideration, what skills do professionals need to take advantage of this environment and serve businesses better?

“Professionals who want to take advantage of this new environment need to be multilingual and highly skilled,” says Frino. “But perhaps most importantly, they need to be culturally aware and culturally sensitive in order to maximise the opportunities that will undoubtedly emerge.”

One option for those looking to build their skills is an MBA. The MBA was first offered by the Harvard University Graduate School of Administration in 1908; since then, MBA programs have been advancing the frontiers of skill and character development in their students. With an eye on technological, industrial, societal and ethical changes, the modern-day MBA is aligned with skills that enable graduates to produce tangible industry outcomes; indeed, it is MBA graduates who are our future leaders.

UOW’s MBA course has a strong focus on developing agile thinkers who are well trained to participate in a rapidly evolving global business environment dominated by big data. The UOW course is based on three major platforms that MBA candidates immerse themselves in:

  • Diagnostics, where MBA candidates diagnose issues in real organisations and develop strategies to deal with the challenges;
  • Exploration, where they study the latest thinking, practices and research, and develop skills in innovation and business transformation;
  • Integration and application, which develops strategic decision-making skills so that UOW MBA graduates are able to translate their learnings into solving real-world challenges in their organisations.

It does not matter how fast businesses change, key skill sets for MBA graduates remain constant and relevant. These skills include complex problem-solving; critical and analytical thinking; being creative; managing; leading and coordinating people; emotional intelligence; judgment and decision-making; and cognitive flexibility. Looking to bolster your success and the success of your organisation in 2018? It might be time to return to study.

The University of Wollongong conducts its MBA program in Singapore, in partnership with PSB Academy at its City Campus. Details of the program are available at www.psb-academy.edu.sg/uowmba

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