Who’s playing catch-up now? As Asian markets boom, MNCs need to blow-up old mindsets

We’ve read the numbers and forecasts. Asia is home to 3.5 billion consumers, one-half the world’s population. The region has amassed the world’s most important manufacturing and sourcing ecosystem, driven by world-class talent in logistics, R&D, and procurement. Asia has a thriving capital allocation system and stock market and, most importantly, a value system that honors sacrifice, hard work, and learning. The giant sucking sound is the multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth from the West to the East. Stock markets in Asia have surged well above their pre-Lehman values, while Western consumers are still climbing out of debt, having seen their net worths plunge by many trillion dollars over the past couple of years. To top it off, Samsung is now the largest global tech company, larger than HP and IBM in revenues.

There will be more disasters, bubbles, booms and busts in Asia over the coming years but it seems clear that this great recession appears to be the tipping point for Asia as the world’s center of gravity.

We have two observations to make. First, while it is clear to almost everyone that the center of gravity of the largest global multinationals is shifting to Asia, why then does the management talent driving growth remain largely in the West, as if Asia will always represent a small slice of a company’s revenues? For most of these multinationals, local executives based in Asia continue in execution mode: they are asked to sell more, execute better, and matrix more effectively with decision-makers in headquarters. But how many Asians sit on their Boards or in their C-suites to help guide their firm’s growth in China, India and emerging markets? The future will be driven by the needs of Asia and the emerging markets, but we still have a glass ceiling.

Second, we are already watching the Asian multinationals respond to the opportunities in their backyard: Huawei, Samsung, LG, Infosys, and others. Korean giant Samsung reports more than $15 billion in revenues in China alone. Watch the best Asian executives flow to these companies.

For the large Western multinationals, the hard work — the transformative work — has yet to begin. Being the biggest today is yesterday’s news and a pretty hollow measure of performance. The only thing that matters for HP, IBM, Google, Proctor, or any other mega Western multinational, is not their sheer global size, but rather their success in organizing themselves to meet the needs of people in the vast emerging markets, especially Asia, whether these needs be thirst, health, transportation, communication, management skills, shelter, travel, learning or fun. Their challenge is not to drive more quarter-to-quarter in Asia but to change their cultures, business models and Western-centric priorities. Who is doing this?

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