Capabilities - The key to connection

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28 October 2012

The 'Australia in the Asian Century White Paper' ambitiously defines twenty-five national objectives for 2025, setting the policy making framework for the next phase in Australia’s integration with Asia. There are five key themes to those national objectives. Two in particular provide insight for Australian business to fully recognise the opportunities presented by our nation’s comparative advantage.

Building capabilities

Australians need to build their Asia relevant capabilities.  This will require developing skills and deep understanding about Asia and its cultures, languages, challenges and business practices.  While an obvious means for achieving this is direct education (in schools, universities, vocational training), Australian business will have a significant role through fostering and championing those who have extensive experience and understanding about our region, and those who seek it.

The White Paper objectives include that one-third of board members of Australia’s top 200 listed companies will have deep experience in and knowledge of Asia.  It suggests businesses engage Asia-capable talent and staff possessing knowledge of products and markets in Asia, and promote flexible and dynamic workplace cultures.

Australia has long and tested relationships with Europe and the US, but our interaction and engagement with Asia is also considerable and has been steadily increasing for decades.  That growing engagement has been led by relatively few individuals in Australian business, who disproportionately represent large enterprises.  Key to integration in Asia is business relationships, particularly one-on-one personal relationships.  When the engagement of an Australian organisation and its Asian partner is limited to relationships between only few personnel, we have seen that integration is slow at best.  If Australian business continues to adopt this approach, the abundant opportunities currently available will not be realised.

The White Paper suggests a number of pathways for the development of Asia-capable leaders and workplaces, including encouraging peak business organisations to report annually on business practices and processes for the promotion of Asia relevant expertise and knowledge.

In Australian businesses which are successfully engaged with Asian partners, we see staff who are excited by the contrasts and opportunities which their Asian partners present.  Even before detailed policies are formulated, tangible market benchmarks are set and progress reporting become standard practice, Australian business can gain by incentivising and supporting a wide range of employees, not just senior management and board members, to take interest and develop their knowledge of Asian culture and business practices, and to seek meaningful engagement with our regional partners.

Operating in and connecting to growing Asian markets

Australian businesses have proven they can adapt their commercial models and strategies to become highly attractive to our regional markets.  The White Paper provides several examples.  Through becoming integrated into regional supply chains, and particularly through providing value-added inputs to services in Asian markets, Australian businesses can establish credibility and confidence and attract additional inbound investment (including from regions outside of our own).

To secure emerging opportunities, Australian businesses will need to remain competitive and resilient.  An organisation that identifies better ways to conduct its business, improves its business models and tailors its goods and services to the Asian markets holds a competitive advantage.

The Australian Government has said it will work hard to open our regional markets to Australian trade and investment.  Banks and providers of professional services are also recognised in the White Paper as having the potential to help other Australian businesses to integrate with Asian markets, including by connecting Australian businesses with customers and partners in our region.  Through advising on cross boarder transactions, these service providers have valuable exposure and insight into Asian markets and business practices, understand the importance of mutual respect, and are experienced in overcoming challenges presented by different negotiating styles.

Australian business needs to leverage off its growing base of Asia relevant skills, experiences and understanding.  By keeping current on developments within our region, Australian businesses can participate with the Australian Government and guide it in the formulation of detailed policies to assist with our connection into Asian markets.


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