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A Changing World: It’s time our leaders adapt

July 15, 2021

By Noah Grundy

In 2021, business became the most trusted institution according to the Edelman Trust Barometer—more trusted than civil society, government and media. With this newfound position, the question becomes: how will business leaders build upon this strong foundation?

One thing is clear, our leaders must adapt to meet this moment; by empowering their employees through collaboration and developing a stronger company vision—one that connects the “head and heart.”

We discussed this, and more, at the recent Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific, broadcast live from Melbourne on Thursday 17 June. Narelle Hooper, Editor-in-chief of AICD Magazine, was joined by three CEOs for a timely discussion about how leaders must change, delivering insights into building impactful company culture in a session entitled Leading with Purpose: Adapting to a New World.

At this inflection point, when the public expects more from business than ever before, Damien Mu, CEO of AIA Australia and New Zealand, believes that shared value “is about identifying how the head and heart come together (the economic and social benefits of what you’re doing). That’s going to drive a legacy that everyone wants to be a part of.” It’s about spreading a “genuine commitment to caring,” because “when people are bound by a common purpose,” they want to “do the right thing.”

For AIA, that boils down to “our dream” of “championing Australia and New Zealand to become the healthiest nations in the world.” To make the change, AIA Vitality is the company’s wellness program incentivising users to make healthier life choices.

Arup Australasia Co-Chair Kerryn Coker echoed Damien’s remarks, though added that purpose-led culture is “reinforced by [corporate] structure.” Arup, which is held in trust, embraces a flexible work model. “It’s amazing how that engenders for all our people, that they own part of the business—they own our success”.

Joining the panel was Nestlé Oceania CEO Sandra Martínez, who focussed on collaboration, saying “it is not only important, it is inevitable.” The pandemic placed pressure on supply chains. Organisations had to move quickly, and CEOs could not do it alone. This was an “opportunity” to realise the decision-making power of employees, recognising that “we need to understand that many of our employees know the problems and the solutions better than we do.” We should “empower them to make decisions with conviction,” and this includes “the freedom to get it wrong sometimes.”

Kerryn agreed, sharing leadership is a necessary response to the “complexity” of modern industry. Her decision to share the Chair of Arup was an “acknowledgement” of that complexity. “It’s really working well for us,” she said.

But Sandra said there’s no reason to stop there. Nestlé has been working on ways to recycle soft plastics, and the most efficient way to do that has been to collaborate with competitors. “These problems can be treated as pre-competitive—it’s in the interest of the industry…. I’m really excited when I see my competitors making positive change.”

In response to whether non-traditional approaches to business might perturb the market, Damien underscored the importance of communicating company vision: “The market wants to know that you will do what you say,” so if you “only talk about quarter on quarter, that’s what the market will expect from you,” but if you have a “broader narrative about your vision” the market will respond.

Shared value “is about factoring in what’s happening outside the organisation and bringing that inside the organisation,” but “it does need to be measured…. Once you have a dream, you need hope, and hope is optimism grounded in data.”

The Shared Value APAC Summit was held on 17 June 2021 in partnership with major sponsor AIA Australia and supporting sponsors IAG, NAB and PwC Australia.

Missed this year’s event? Don’t fret! We’ve launched a first-ever on-demand ticket, to give you access to the Summit’s full program of keynotes, panel discussions and lightbulb presentations for the next three months. Find out more by visiting