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Asian CEOs Redefining Leadership: McKinsey

In a recent article, the authors claim that these head honchos are navigating today's shocks with bold moves and a determination to create sustainable growth

At a time when the world economy is grappling supply-side challenges and a geopolitical shift, it is the Asian CEO who appears to be best positioned to make bold moves that redefines what it means to be a leader. Setting aside a wait-and-watch mode of letting crises pass, these head honchos are leaning into the volatility to find new opportunities. 

“There is a sense of determination and purpose in their decision making, and at the same time they are also equally willing to learn, unlearn and embrace change,” says an article published by McKinsey consultants Gautam Kumra, Senior Partner and Chairman-Asia and Joydeep Sengupta, Senior Partner, Singapore.  


When the going gets tough, the tough get going

The article starts off by describing 2022 as a turbulent year, with geopolitical tension, financial-market volatility, inflationary recession, and food and energy shortages caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors point out that the world is at the cusp of a new era, characterized by supply-side challenges amidst a shifting geopolitical landscape. 

In spite of this complexity, civilization continues to progress forward relying on modern leaders’ focus on resilience, including the geopolitical variety, that could weather future storms with the best leaders and companies opting for a mix of offense and defense. While protecting downside risks, they are quick to capitalize on new opportunities to generate upside. 

The authors described this as a mix of strategic courage and long-term vision and pointed out that developing countries in South Asia and Southwest Asia were strengthening their digital infrastructure to embrace new technologies. Business leaders in these regions were harnessing these opportunities to change people’s lives and address crucial societal changes. 


India’s top leaders broke the clutter time and again

The article cites Arundhati Bhattacharya, former chairperson of SBI, and currently the India CEO of Salesforce, who launched digital-only brands and mobile apps. Her pursuits were backed by the belief that for a country of India’s size, financial inclusion can be attained only by having a strong technology backing. 

Similarly, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani’s belief that markets play a role in the widespread adoption of digital technology, resulted in his focus on creating public infrastructure as a means of generating social good. Nilekani helped the government roll out several digital initiatives such as Aadhar and the ONDC which aims to get small merchants eCommerce ready. 

A third example taken by the authors is the Freshworks CEO Girish Mathrubootham who believes that building a successful business with the right value system and ethics is an accomplishment by itself where the leader can only earn trust through a heart-led approach that puts humans first over business motives. 


It’s just not digitization, it’s net-zero as well

While most of these cases are related to digitization, Asian leaders have also made proactive moves around the net-zero transition of enterprises. Sustainability efforts have by far revolved around green business that could touch as much as $4 trillion to $5 trillion across eleven sectors by 2030, the report says. 

In this scenario, the authors cite Loh Chin Hua, CEO of Singapore’s conglomerate Keppel for starting an organizational makeover in 2020 that put environmental sustainability at the core of the company’s strategy. In fact, its senior management’s performance appraisal process was itself based on their contribution to this goal. 

Not only have these leaders focused on speed, nimbleness and responsiveness, they have also encouraged risk-taking and innovation. As GV Prasad, co-chairman and MD of Dr. Reddy’s Lab says, failure is an inherent component of an industry like pharma. We are a very experimentative company and encourage people to take risks. And if they fail, they fail for the right reasons and we are okay with that. We don’t punish failure.

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