Inside Asia Podcast
US Voters and the World: Don’t Know and Don’t Care (w/ Steve Okun)

US Voters and the World: Don’t Know and Don’t Care (w/ Steve Okun)

July 30, 2020

On this week’s episode of Inside Asia I’m in conversation with Steve Okun, political pundit and senior advisor with McClarty Associates. For years now, and with each new US political cycle, Steve steps up to offer an outside-in view of how things are shaping up. Understanding how politics shape Asia commerce is his forte.


Every four years, US presidential elections role around and Americans are asked to pick a candidate who best represents their needs and ideals. Bread basked issues like jobs, the economy, and healthcare top the list. Foreign Policy? Well, it barely ranks. In most cases, it doesn’t even make the top 10. 


It should not, therefore, come as a surprise that as the US enters this political season, America’s engagement with Asia won’t receive so much as a mention. The only exception, of course, is China. Every politician needs a bogey-man, and this time round, it’s the Middle Kingdom, or as, no doubt, it will be characterized in political ads and stump speeches as “the red threat rising in the East.”


It’s the kind of rhetoric that politicians like to bandy about. It’s good for public morale, they might argue, but it has little bearing on the outcome of an election. So why do it?

Building the Imagination Muscle (w/Tony Estrella)

Building the Imagination Muscle (w/Tony Estrella)

July 23, 2020

These days, we busy ourselves 24/7 with emails, text messsges, spreadsheets and reports. Human contact is becoming obsolete, and Covid-19 and its social distancing requirements makes Zoom calls the last step in severing us from our friends and work colleagues. What’s left?


The imagination, apparently. I’m talking about the science of day-dreaming. Momentary opportunities to give your brain a break, and in so doing, restoring the capacity to create in new and unexpected ways. You think I’m dreaming? I’m not. Neuroscience holds the proof and here to assist me in understanding what that entails is Tony Estrella. Inside Asialisteners may recall a conversation we had a year ago, when we discussed the Science of Sleep. [Listen here:]


In this episode, we take it one step further, drawing the connection between sleep as an essential function and dreaming as the creative output. Embrace dreaming as a practice of sorts, and the results could prove spectacular.


Somewhere along the way, we stopped listening to our dreams. For centuries, images conjured in our unconscious state informed our biggest decisions. Indigenous people even to this day describe the dream state as a gateway to the divine. Science put an end to that. For centuries dreams were discounted as nothing more than nighttime nonsense. Breakthoughs in neuroscience say that was a mistake. Time to get it back!

Finding Resiliency in Emerging Asia (w/ James Crabtree)

Finding Resiliency in Emerging Asia (w/ James Crabtree)

July 16, 2020

My guest this week is James Crabtree, an Associate Professor at the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy and a frequent commentator across news outlets here and abroad. In a recent Foreign Policy article entitled “The End of Emerging Markets,” James outlined many of his concerns as efforts are made to weather the Covid storm.

In this episode, we visit the developing markets of South and Southeast Asia. Well, maybe “visit” isn’t the right word. Most emerging markets in this part of the world remain locked down. This, in contrast to China, Europe and North America where re-opening is the theme of the day. It’s a balancing act between containing Covid and resuscitating economies on life-support.

It’s laudable that markets in this region are airing on the side of safeguarding the health and safety of its citizens. But its equally concerning - because in emerging markets at least - poor economic performance can quickly lead to political unrest.

Solar’s New Shine (w/ Gavin Adda)

Solar’s New Shine (w/ Gavin Adda)

July 2, 2020

This week my guest is Gavin Adda, CEO of Total Solar Asia. He is one of the true-borns who embraced solar and its potential nearly 15 years ago.

This week, we take a look at the burgeoning solar industry. To be frank, it’s been a slog in many parts of Asia, where the appetite and economics for solar have long struggled to add up. Only Japan, some might say, has proven the exception. Change, according to Gavin, has finally come, thanks in large part to a dose of good old fashioned economics.

Few people have battled as hard as Gavin to see this renewable source of energy begin to take its rightful place. Through a series of executive roles at Samsung, REC and Cleantech Solar, he arrived at Total, the French energy giant. His mission: to spread the word that solar is not only good for the earth, it’s good for the corporate bottomline.

Purpose Incorporated (w/ John Wood)

Purpose Incorporated (w/ John Wood)

June 25, 2020

My guest this week is John Wood, Founder of Room-to-Read, one of the world’s most successful education and gender equality non-profits. He wasn’t always in the business of building and filling libraries in the poorest parts of the world. For years prior, he served as a senior executive with Microsoft. Then came his great awakening. I won’t spoil it for you. Our conversation takes you back to the beginning, and it’s quite a tale.

He’s a four-term member of the Clinton Global Initiative Advisory Board, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and a book author. His latest: Purpose Incorporated: Turning Cause Into Your Competitive Advantage. It’s a user friendly guide on how to steer an organization towards a world where purpose and profit co-exist.

John’s backstory is powerful. But it’s his thinking about the future that holds the greatest appeal. This is a story about possibilities. And at a time when the world is spinning from pandemics and economic displacement, John’s words of encouragement and their practical application are well received.

Mega-City Madness? (w/ Daniel Moss)

Mega-City Madness? (w/ Daniel Moss)

June 21, 2020

My guest this week is Daniel Moss, Bloomberg’s Asia Economy columnist based here in Singapore. In this week’s conversation, we contemplate the risks vs. rewards of urban living. We’re talking about mega-cities – defined as urban centers with a population of 10 million or more.

What took hundreds of years in Europe has taken only decades in Asia, and the region for that – plain and simple – is economic growth and opportunity.

For billions of Asians the city means jobs, new wealth, and opportunity. Unfortunately, the dream hasn’t panned out for many - one in three to be exact. By some estimates, over a billion urban-dwelling Asians live in slums and abject poverty. The only reason they stay is because their rural options are even worse.

That fact alone should be enough to point the finger at governments. In this region, cities have received the lion’s share of resource and investment. It’s where you can find the best infrastructure, the best wireless coverage, the most jobs, and if can afford it, the best housing.

Rural communities, on the other hand, have been left to their own devices. For many, even basic electricity and indoor plumbing remains a distant dream.

Some attempts – albeit few – have been made by governments to right this wrong. Although, if truth be told, investment in outlying communities probably has more to do with political expediency than economic altruism.

I ask Daniel to share with us his thoughts on Asian urbanization and how Covid-19 might encourage a re-think.

Hong Kong Doth Protest (w/ Mark Clifford)

Hong Kong Doth Protest (w/ Mark Clifford)

June 10, 2020

This week I’m in conversation with Mark Clifford, a long-time resident of Hong Kong, a former journalist and Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post, and for the past 13 years, Executive Director of the Asia Business Council. In our conversation we look to Hong Kong. It’s been 23 years since the handover of the former British colony to to the People’s Republic of China. In that time, economic prosperity has grown, but so has political disharmony.

In years past, public protests – sometimes in the millions – have provided Hong Kong residents with the means to make their voices heard. With the exception of pro-democracy marches in December 2005, the first of five promised decades of guaranteed autonomy went relatively well. Hong Kong had its issues like any other major metropolitan center, but China – for the most part – behaved, leaving Hong Kong to do what Hong Kong does best – make money.

Maybe it was the jarring of the global economic crises in 2008 or repeated failed promises by Beijing to allow universal suffrage, but by 2010, tensions mounted. For nearly every year since then, the people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets, tongue-lashing China for it’s sometimes subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – infringements on Hong Kong’s sovereignty.

Security laws have been cause for the largest protests. One year ago, an estimated two million people turned out when the Hong Kong legislature – at Beijing’s behest – tried to push through a controversial bill allowing criminal extradition to China.

Two million Hong Kong Chinese can’t be wrong. They’ve lived on the edge of the world’s most powerful communist country and many are all too familiar with how the mainland bends the law to support its own ends.

So what does this all mean for Hong Kong’s economy and the companies vested in its future? Listen to my conversation with Mark and find out.

Media Madness (w/ Vivek Couto)

Media Madness (w/ Vivek Couto)

June 5, 2020

This week I’m in conversation with Vivek Couto, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Media Partners Asia, a market research and consulting firm catering to the telecom, media and entertainment industry. According to Vivek, total minutes spent viewing online video in Southeast Asia jumped 60% in the first quarter of the year. Most of that new viewership occurred via smartphones, which suggests that video streaming is a private affair. Gone are the days when families circled up around the TV set to watch their favorite drama or gameshow.

That’s a problem for content providers and advertisers who rely on programming reach. While programming choice is great for consumers, it makes the economics of the media industry ever more difficult.

Even before the Covid crises, pay-TV operators were feeling the pinch. Billions of dollars have been deployed by licensed operators from Singapore to Seoul. They’ve spent handsomely on fiber optics networks, satellite links, and customer care and billing services just to keep their customers happy.

Then along came the disrupters, those so-called over-the-top or OTT providers that charge a low monthly fee for all the streaming video you can consume. You know the ones I’m talking about: Netflix, Hulu, HBO-Now. Add to these a new tier of regional or single-market providers, and the market is flush in quick and cheap subscription choices.

How the industry is struggling to adjust is the subject of my conversation.

Purpose-Driven Investing (w/ Munib Madni)

Purpose-Driven Investing (w/ Munib Madni)

May 28, 2020

After Covid-19, one of the biggest subjects occupying academia and boardrooms is Conscious Capitalism. You’re either deeply familiar with the term, or you’re not. If you’re not, climb aboard. Capitalism as we know it is about to undergo a major transformation.

For the better part of a year now, the topic has been coming up in conversations with CEOs, investors and thought-leaders, who say the old paradigm of operating solely in the interest of shareholders is done and dusted. The new paradigm is more inclusive. That means accommodating and protecting the interests of a broader group of stakeholders, including employees, the environment, and society at large.

Some cynics say it’s already too late. Optimists, on the other hand, believe that through consensus building, re-allocation of resources, and top-down leadership, it is not only possible, but probable. Evidence abounds showing that corporations can be both profit- and purpose-driven.

Up this week, the asset management industry. As buyers and sellers of corporate assets, they are the proverbial gate-keepers of corporate financial performance. With $80 trillion under management worldwide, there’s power at play. Fortunes have been made and lost on the decisions laid down by asset managers. For the longest time, financial performance has remained the central barometer for all buy and sell decisions. This too must change.

Enter a new breed of asset manager. Those that believe that the best corporations are those that do well by doing good. In this week’s episode, I speak to one such individual. Munib Madni spent 13-1/2 years with Morgan Stanley before he saw the light, resigned, then re-emerged as CEO of his own asset management firm, Panarchy Partners.

In this conversation with Munib, we talk about the evolution of the industry, the forces now shaping a new kind of investing, and the emergence of corporations, poised to make a difference.

Lockdown to Rebound (w/ Anne Hockett)

Lockdown to Rebound (w/ Anne Hockett)

May 22, 2020

Lockdown to Rebound. That’s the theme of this this episode. But, unlike other episodes where we ferret out experts living and operating in the greater Asia region, this conversation brings it all back home - literally.

Hunkered down in Singapore, I – like many of you – have had ample time to contemplate life and some of the bigger questions. We’ve all employed coping mechanisms, started new hobbies, or maybe just caught up on sleep. There’s no right or wrong solution. It’s all about creating some peace of mind, but also developing a few practices to better build physical and mental well-being.

Fifteen years ago, Anne created Youhealing, a service designed to offer health, nutrition, and wellness advice. Over the years she’s consulted with thousands of clients on how to best restore and preserve good health. She’s been talking about the importance of boosting the immune system longer than anyone I know. That seemed like appropriate fodder in a world where personal healthcare responsibility is the custom of the day.

So it is, on the occasion of our nightly dialog, that we turned our attention to what life in lockdown has taught us. We also ventured into what can be done to combat a virus for which there’s currently no medical solution.