InsightPress Release

Asia’s next generation of CEOs poised to meet challenges ahead, report says

HONG KONG — Asia’s next generation of CEOs is adopting new approaches to leadership and positioning themselves to meet a wide array of financial, geopolitical, and social challenges on the horizon, according to Teneo’s “Next Generation of CEOs and Corporate Leaders: Perspectives on leading through disruptive change” report.

The report is the result of interviews with the CEOs of public and private companies across Asia. This includes young, second, and third-generation leaders taking over and steering major family-owned enterprises toward new frontiers, as well as emerging CEOs founding the region’s most exciting new companies. The companies are located across China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, and Singapore.

“This report highlights how the role of today’s CEO is evolving almost as quickly as the financial, geopolitical, and social landscape in which they operate,” said Ursula Burns, the chairwoman of Teneo. “These issues are especially poignant across Asia, where a new generation of CEOs and corporate leaders are poised to make their mark at this particularly important moment.”

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“It was fascinating to discuss how the next generation of CEOs and business leaders are re-shaping their organizations to meet the economic, geopolitical, and social challenges they face,” explained Lauren Chung, CEO, Asia Pacific, Teneo Strategy & Communications. “It was clear that many are adopting very different leadership models than previous generations by emphasizing authenticity, engaging more directly with employees and modeling core values that resonate with their staff, investors and other key stakeholders.”

New definitions of leadership

The pandemic led the emerging generation of CEOs to fundamentally question what it means to be a leader. Many are exiting the pandemic having faced their own vulnerabilities and are taking advantage of the professional and personal sources of support available to them. At the same time, some are adopting higher-touch, more motivational leadership approaches that connect with their employees’ desire for work to be about more than just financial targets.

Corporate purpose, values, and culture serve as a “North Star”

There was an almost unanimous view that a clearly defined corporate purpose, set of values, and positive culture are all critical to the success of their companies, creating alignment and support for a company’s vision and strategy. One CEO of a major logistics company commented that his organizational purpose was like a “North Star” for him and his teams amid volatility and was a source of great clarity and strength amid challenging times.

Agility seen as key to risk and resilience

Agility and adaptability are acknowledged as key organizational muscles for ensuring business sustainability and success amid uncertainty. To this end, many leaders indicate that they have shortened their planning cycles since the pandemic and place a premium on scenario planning to bolster resilience. Against this backdrop, they highlight the importance of information and insight, which they seek from their colleagues, boards of directors, and outside consultants.

More frequent stakeholder engagement

Leaders across the region indicated that stakeholder engagement continues to grow in importance, but also in complexity. For example, CEOs are talking with their boards of directors more frequently to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face. Investors remain key stakeholders and are currently most concerned with issues such as China’s economic outlook, geopolitical uncertainty, and the war for talent. Against this backdrop, leaders recognize that younger employees are looking for employers who can engage their hearts and minds.

“Social” pillar prioritized among ESG practices

Each CEO interviewed faces heightened expectations across the environmental, social, and governance pillars, but most prioritize the social pillar. This is influenced by the unprecedented support companies provided to their employees and communities during the pandemic and the recognition that positive social practices can be equally good for the community and the company if undertaken in a genuine manner. That said, many leaders acknowledge that more practical progress is needed across the E, S, and G pillars and recognize that investors remain the driving force.

Young employees drive the future of work

Talent has assumed outsized importance for Asia’s next generation of leaders, with the need to engage with and inspire employees more critical than ever. All of the leaders interviewed have implemented some degree of hybrid working, with more mature companies allowing one day a week or one day a month of work-from-home and younger companies making flexible work a native practice. While the pandemic ushered in many of these changes, younger workers are sustaining them by continuing to demand hybrid work, active training, and opportunities for rapid career growth.

Wait-and-see on Web3

All recognized that Web3 – particularly blockchain and the metaverse – is poised to fundamentally alter the business landscape. The financial sector is unsurprisingly keen on the blockchain, while those in the property and hospitality sectors see opportunities in the metaverse. However, CEOs across the region are adopting a wait-and-see approach, rather than making significant commitments, as the regulatory environment remains uncertain for many of these technologies and there is still a lack of an obvious near-term business case.

The future of Asia

Overall, leaders are bullish about the prospects of Asia, and many have active plans to expand their footprints across the region. China is expected to remain a key market, even as its growth slows. Southeast Asia is seen as a growth opportunity, and select industries are investing in developed Asian markets. All leaders acknowledged that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to doing business in the region and carefully tailored their approaches to these markets.

The perspectives highlighted in this report illustrate a positive outlook for the future of business in Asia based on the next generation of leaders who are well-positioned to navigate uncertainty.

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