February 24, 2020
My guest this week is Cary Horenfeldt, a self-styled digital payments expert. He’s an advisor to Bain & Company and consultant to an ever-growing FinTech community in Asia and beyond.
Based in Singapore, Cary sees growing enthusiasm for digital payments. Regulators are relaxing rules, making way for new entrants, while merchants contemplate ways to drive sales across new payment platforms. The only real loser in this payments frenzy is cash, and no one seems too sad to see it go.
So-called digital wallets are all the rage, accounting for 54% of all China e-commerce sales, which in turn, represent 620.5 billion dollars of a booming 1.2 trillion dollar marketplace. “Super Apps” created and supported by Chinese behemoths Alibaba and WeChat capture QR codes with the swipe of a smartphone, making payments quick, smooth and seamless.
In less than 20 years, China has risen to become the world’s digital vanguard. It now leads the world in digital payments, and with only 56% smartphone penetration there’s still lots of upside.
February 10, 2020
On Saturday, February 8, deaths attributed to the Coronavirus surpassed those from the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. It’s the speed of the spread of this particular disease that’s cause for concern.
Data shows that it took just 20 days, compared to 80 for SARS, to result in 800 deaths. But data can be misleading. Because the infectious footprint of the Coronavirus is so much larger than SARS with the Chinese city of Wuhan at the epicenter, it feels precarious.
Against this backdrop, I received a message from Ben Rolfe. He was texting from an isolation room in Singapore’s National Center for Infectious Diseases, suspected of contracting the Coronavirus.
Ben is one of a handful of experts in the region who track and tackle infectious disease. Regular listeners may recall our conversation last November. In that episode, entitled “Asian Contagion,” Ben celebrated the dramatic reduction in malaria across the region, but raised concerns about other forms of infectious disease provoked in part by rapid urbanization, limited healthcare budgets, and poor planning.
Finding himself on the front-line of an epidemic, surrounded by healthcare workers in biohazard suits has given Ben a rare, albeit unwanted, perspective, and the conversation that follows is a warning to us all.
February 6, 2020
This week, we’re back with a program favorite, Jim McGregor. For Jim, China has been a stomping ground for more than 30 years and he brings to our conversations the thing we appreciate the most – perspective.
To truly understand China is to witness the country through the long arc of history. It’s as consistent as it is surprising. In certain instances, it takes a crisis to reveal the underbelly of a nation steeped in secrecy. This time, the crisis came in the form of the corona virus, striking at the heart of China’s Hubei Province, and resulting in the lockdown of Wuhan, one of the country’s most essential industrial centers.
The number of infected has skyrocketed to more than 20,000 people in less than two weeks. Wuhan remains the epicenter of the outbreak, but cases are spreading throughout China and the world, with more than 25 countries reporting confirmed cases.
The economic impact on China, and the rest of the world for that matter, has also raised concerns. Because of an over weighted dependency on China for manufactured goods, any slowdown on the Mainland will most assuredly have an impact on the global economy. Economists say China’s growth could slip from 6.1 to 5.6% in 2020 because of the outbreak, and by extension, trimming 0.2% off global economic growth. Not an attractive prospect when staring down the barrel of a possible Recession later this year, or early next.
January 30, 2020
This week I’m in conversation with Elisa Mallis, Vice President and Managing Director at the Center for Creative Leadership. She’s talking about Corporate Boards in Asia and how the time has come to re-evaluate the role of the Board member in order to establish a new kind of leadership culture.
The Center, better known by its acronym, CCL, has made its mark as one of the world’s preeminent leadership training and development firms. For decades, CCL has researched global leadership trends then tailored programs to equip executives in the art of change and adaptation. Elisa her colleagues have recently completed a year-long study covering six key markets spanning South and Southeast Asia. The results suggest that Asia’s Boards – by their own admission – are way behind where they need to be in order to lead their organizations through complex times.
The world is faced with bold new challenges and what’s needed is a bold new response. So, say hello to the Board. While CEOs and their operating teams focus on day-to-day challenges associated with running the company, targeting earnings and managing costs, Board members are being called upon to step up, assume greater responsibility, help set the organizational agenda, and fill its ranks with domain experts and technical specialists.
January 16, 2020
This week I’m in conversation with Sasha Conlan, Founder and Owner of Singapore-based Sasha’s Fine Foods. We’re back in Singapore, and it’s that funny time of year where we find ourselves sandwiched between the Christmas season on the one end and Chinese New Year on the other.
Over the course of my thirty years in Asia, I’ve come to appreciate this 4-5 week “in-between” period as a time to reflect all that has occurred and all that has yet to come. More often than not, food is involved. Whether we’re talking stuffed turkey or pork dumplings, the holidays mean food and lots of it for weeks on end.
My mid-riff is the only evidence on hand, but here’s the point: Whether American or Chinese, French or Indonesian, we all imbibe in the culture of food.
Increasingly, however, the source of our favorite foods are less known to us. For most, plucking vegetables from the home garden or slaughtering the fatted calf are chores reminiscent of a by-gone era. Grocery stores are the modern-day go-to. The source of most of our nutrition needs. But what exactly does that mean? Or more importantly, what, if anything, are we giving up by relying on middlemen and retailers to source the food we rely on?
Sasha says rising consciousness, growing concerns around processed foods, and a simple, healthy desire for farm-fresh products are creating new opportunities for small business owners that can deliver.
December 12, 2019
This week, I’m in conversation with Sriven Naidu. Sriven works in higher education and professional development consulting. He’s based in Singapore and has found a discernable increase in interest from corporations desperate to improve employee satisfaction, team performance, and commercial results.
Week-in, week-out, we introduce topics that organizations in Asia (and elsewhere) are grappling with. This week, we take a look at mindfulness. The term means different things to different people, and in preparation for this program, I spent some time perusing a number of descriptors. Wikipedia’s defines mindfulness as, “the psychological process of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment.”
What the heck does that have to do with the running and operating of a modern corporation, you ask? Well hold tight, because in this episode I tracked down someone who lives and breathes mindfulness at the organizational level. How can mindfulness help? That’s the question I put to Sriven. I asked him to explain how two seemingly antithetical concepts – mindfulness and commercialism – might, in fact, co-exist.
December 6, 2019
In this week’s episode I’m in conversation with Nick Fang, Managing Director of Black Dot, a Singapore-based media consulting and advisory firm. In our conversation we banter about the idea of what it means to design and imbed a national narrative. Nick has worked as a journalist, a presenter and a public commentator. Since leaving journalism, he’s dabbled in politics, served as a member of a local think-tank, and contemplated what we’ll call the evolving Singapore narrative.
It’s about the stories we tell ourselves. Curious, isn’t it. We, as humans, are masters of the art of story-making. Just as we design tales to project to the world who we are and what we stand for, so do nations employ similar devices to align its citizenry to a common set of ideals or principals.
Singapore has oftentimes been seen as a country small enough to test new ideas and approaches and demonstrate to the world what’s possible. It is exemplary in every way, but most notably in the roll-out of infrastructure, institutions and incentive structures that keep Singapore on the cutting edge.
November 1, 2019
In this week’s episode I’m in conversation with Ben Rolfe, CEO of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance. While most of us are out and about, getting on with living and working, a small but essential group of researchers are watching the way we live and work; studying disease patterns and contemplating the odds of epidemics.
Communicable diseases come in all shapes and sizes. And while many are encouraged by human activity relating to how we eat, greet, wash and copulate, others are more insidious. But here’s some good news. Malaria is in retreat. That right. One of the world’s most debilitating mosquito-born diseases is whistling its swan song throughout much of Asia. China, it appears, hasn’t had a case in three consecutive years. And other emerging markets like Myanmar are seeing such vast reductions that it too hopes to declare victory in just a few short years. And It’s Ben’s goal is to create a malaria-free Asia by 2030.
October 17, 2019
My guest this week is young explorer and accomplished photographer, Alex Pflaum. In our conversation we turn back time and wander into the wily world of the ancient Silk Road, where Alex spends his time these days. He’s betting on a renaissance among budding Central Asian economies, not in trade, but in tourism.
At the time we spoke, Alex was working round-the-clock, finalizing the layout for his new book. Captured in his images is the awe-inspiring expanse of virgin landscape. There’s a raw beauty to it. Not for the feint-hearted, I thought, but for the last of us who find pleasure in remoteness.
This is the Silk Road, after all. The very name conjures up images of camel convoys, Mongol hordes, boundless horizons, and of course, the Great Game, that period in the 19th century when British and Russian spies vied for territory and trade rights throughout Central Asia.
But for Alex, the new Silk Road offers fresh opportunities for adventure seekers, eco-tourists and a few madmen as well.
October 11, 2019
My guest this episode is Kyle Hegarty, Singapore-based entrepreneur with an expertise in sales training and development.
For years Kyle has worked with multinational and Asia-based sales teams and culled from this experience a treasure-trove of tales on what it takes to do business in this part of the world. His new book, soon to be released, is titled, The Accidental Business Nomad: A Survival Guide for Working Across A Shrinking Planet.
Kyle’s diatribe comes at an interesting moment. There are countervailing forces in play. On the one hand, global commerce and Internet access are bringing people closer together. On the other hand, some countries are starting to think that too much economic integration is a bad thing. The prospects of Recession are on the rise and leaders from the US to the UK are calling for protectionism to safeguard jobs and bolster homegrown businesses.
Just as there’s no stopping the political winds from shifting, nor can one prevent the wings of commerce from beating. People are at the heart of all commercial exchange, and so it is that Kyle has turned his attention to the many things that can go wrong when diverse cultures meet in the marketplace. In this week’s episode we discuss tales of cultural communication mishaps.