Asia’s next generation of CEOs are leading their companies through arguably the most complex financial, geopolitical and social challenges to have emerged in the past few decades. This includes ongoing interest rate hikes, war in Europe and trade and territorial tensions in Asia as well as new technologies that are changing the way people live and work, among many other factors.
Young and emerging CEOs in Asia are adopting new models of leadership to meet the challenges they face, uncover new opportunities to drive growth and enable positive change for their employees and the communities they operate in.
In a series of one-on-one interviews with 20 such leaders located in mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, Teneo, a global advisory firm with headquarters in New York and seven offices across the Asia Pacific, explored how they are approaching the agenda-determining corporate issues of our time: leadership, corporate purpose, values and culture, risk and resilience, stakeholder engagement, ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategy, the future of work, technology and Web3, and the outlook for Asia.
Leaders embrace corporate purpose amid challenging times
Next-generation CEOs identified a few key themes at the top of their agendas, including the much-discussed “war for talent” and the almost constant need to evaluate and prepare for “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”. But what was perhaps most striking was how they are rethinking their approaches to leadership in the midst of personal and professional challenges.
Leaders faced deep personal challenges over the past three years of the pandemic, which continues to effect day-to-day work and life in much of Asia. These challenges led some to rethink the human element of running a business, shifting the balance of their focus to enhance their level of engagement with management peers, external stakeholders and – most important – employees.
Increased engagement with employees was strongly influenced by corporate purpose, values and culture, as employees today are looking for a more motivational, mission-driven style of leadership that prioritizes purpose as much as profits. The leader of a hospitality chain with more than 2,300 employees in Greater China explained, that “if they [employees] believe that their company and their CEO really want to make a difference in the world, they become excited to be a part of the change.”
Purpose, values and culture
CEOs were very aware that driving this level of engagement depends on having a clearly defined corporate purpose, values and culture. The CEO of a Chinese real estate and logistics space investment company with over 5.1 million square meters of gross lettable area summed this up by characterizing purpose, values and culture as a “‘North Star’ [to] give direction for executives to think about how to navigate volatility.”
The leader of a Japanese sustainable data company, recognizing how easy it is to lose sight of corporate purpose, explained that he reminds himself every day of the mission of the company and communities it to employees, customers and prospects. Another CEO shared how he uses storytelling to communicate purpose, values and culture to these stakeholder groups, an approach that requires the company to have a clearly established corporate narrative to ensure consistency of messaging.
That said, one of the most interesting findings from the interviews was how concepts such as purpose, values and culture differ across generations and stage of corporate development. Leaders indicated that while younger employees emphasize the need for a sense of meaning and belonging in a workplace, older generations are more interested in the company’s future prospects.
Similarly, younger companies tend to be strongly influenced by their founders and spend a lot of time refining their purpose, values and culture to align with their personal beliefs and corporate strategy. More mature companies, on the other hand, generally espouse purpose, culture and values related to their operations, services or products.