Multinationals Look to Asia Pacific to Drive Global Business Innovation

Top-performing multinational companies increasingly now look to Asia Pacific as a testbed for innovation in their business models and services before introducing them to other parts of the world.

The revelation comes in a book, “Leadership Disrupted”, published in Singapore today by Mark Braithwaite, head of global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson in Asia Pacific. It gives an extraordinary insight into how top companies and leaders are responding to disruption and what they are doing to try and stay ahead.

Based on research from 70 face to face interviews with the APAC leaders of some of the world’s largest and most successful multinational companies, with combined sales of more than $1 trillion, the book investigates how leaders are being challenged by the accelerating pace of change across all industries.

“Business model innovations are increasingly being tested in APAC and exported to Europe and the US,” says Mr. Braithwaite. “Innovation is no longer just about product, but new ways of servicing customers and companies choose Asia to test this because its culture of embracing change is far ahead of that in the West.”

“The pace of change is accelerating, and we are living through a period of disruption that will be an extinction event for companies that are slow or unwilling to adapt,” Benjamin Tan, Senior Vice President Asia, for Qantas Airways is quoted as saying.

Richard Martin, Managing Director of IMA Asia adds: “During turmoil, success comes down to the teams that are built and how they are led.”

One example of a successful innovation trialled in Asia comes from a global services company, which has moved their whole business onto WeChat in China. The innovation was to shift 100% of communications between employees and customers – including marketing, invoicing, video-conferencing –onto WeChat. The global CEO said this leapfrogged what’s happening in the West and has resolved many efficiency problems.

Another example comes from a global financial services company that created a new software platform in APAC to bring their third-party re-sellers closer to the customer and drive sales harder. The development was innovated, funded and deployed in Asia and so successful that managers in the US and Europe wanted to use it. In both cases, regional leaders took a risk on locally-driven innovations to avoid bureaucracy and being slowed by others – and the whole business benefitted.

The book argues that Asia is better at testing such innovations due to higher rates of economic growth and a predominantly young, Millennial, workforce. “When the economy’s growing at 8%, your business is expanding at around 50% and most of your staff are under 30, people are used to change and doing new things – and it’s normal rather than scary,” Mr Braithwaite says.

In some cases, global CEOs are allowing greater local freedom to stimulate innovation. But in many other cases, leaders in APAC are themselves instigating trials of innovative approaches and informing HQ in Europe or the US later.

Around 80% of the chief executives interviewed said that instilling a more open and entrepreneurial mindset in their people, notably at middle management level, was their biggest challenge. Many doubted whether even half their senior management had the mindset and capabilities they needed for the challenges ahead.

“This is giving many leaders a massive additional workload – because they can’t shift mindset without taking a new approach themselves.”

Interviews with CEOs in the book reveal the emergence in APAC of a new approach to leadership at many multinational companies, which is much more collaborative and “networked” because an autocratic approach no longer works.

As one CEO explained, “We have created a mantra – sustainability, innovation, collaboration.”

“There needs to be a way. Strong relationships, communication, clarity and engagement – which starts with the humility to know we don’t, and never will know everything,” Mr Braithwaite argues.

“Leadership Disrupted” is published today by Odgers Berndtson, and available through the firm’s website, Amazon and, from April, Swindon Books in Hong Kong. The firm is hosting events to discuss the issues raised across Asia Pacific. In response to the concerns shared by chief executives, the firm has introduced a proprietary new tool, LeaderFit™ Profile, to assess mindset in executive recruitment.