Globalizing Page in Asia Pacific

March 24, Roger Bolton

The latest Arthur W. Page Society visit to Asia, with stops in Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong, increased my optimism about the prospects for Page to achieve its ambition to become a truly global organization.

The last time I visited Shanghai, it was the week that Barack Obama was elected president. I spoke at the American Chamber of Commerce to an audience that was enthralled by and curious about what was to come under the first black president of the United States. There was a sense of excitement and possibilities.

Just a little more than eight years later, I found myself back in Shanghai shortly after a presidential election. Our traveling group included Page Chairman Dave Samson, GM, Public Affairs at Chevron; Page Globalization Co-Chair Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text100; Richard Marshall of Korn Ferry, who hosted the Shanghai and Hong Kong events; and Peter Debreceny of Gagen MacDonald, who also serves as VP of Page for APAC. Their presence demonstrated a significant level of Page commitment to the region.

As before, there was curiosity about the presidency of Donald Trump, along with some concern about what the new administration might bring to the U.S.-China relationship. There was a strong sense of pride that it was China's President Xi Jinping, speaking in Davos, making the case for open trade and the importance of the post-war international order. Martin Wolf's column on this topic in the Financial Times (subscription required) aptly captures the irony and the stakes.

Most of the participants in our discussion in Shanghai were Chinese communicators in prominent regional roles for Western multinationals. Many of them would make great members of Page Up, Page's membership organization for senior members of our teams. They have a very global perspective and a sound commitment to the importance of corporate character based on ethics and authenticity.

Aedhmar noted that Chinese companies now are leapfrogging the West in technology leadership as she discussed the Page Society's vision of the CCO as builder of Digital Engagement Systems. Dave described how technology is transforming stakeholder activism and how the communication function at Chevron has evolved from being reactive to proactive and now is increasingly predictive, based on digital engagement with stakeholders.

In Hong Kong, we saw more Chinese companies, in addition to Western ones, and more Western communicators, in addition to Chinese. Richard Marshall and Richard Lin of Korn Ferry and Hong Kong-based Page member Stephen Thomas, CCO of AIA Group, talked about the increasing demands of CEOs for senior, strategic communication leadership. The group had a lively discussion of the convergence of the roles of the CCO and the CMO, as well as the need for digitally fluent talent.

As in Shanghai, the Hong Kong session revealed a sound understanding of the importance of corporate character and the role of the employee as advocate for the enterprise.

In Tokyo, we met with chief communication officers of dynamic global companies that are going through some painful adjustments. They are focused on the challenge of how to evolve very prominent corporate brands as business models change to respond to new business realities, and they bring to that effort significant experience in their companies, as well as substantial skills in corporate communication and reputation management.

The inescapable conclusion: Although regional differences are in some cases profound, leading communicators around the world are grappling with similarly challenging issues. It's very helpful to exchange ideas about how to help our enterprises create value for customers, shareholders, employees and society through authentic engagement with stakeholders.

This trip built on visits last fall to Kuala Lumpur and Delhi by Aedhmar, Peter and me; and to Sydney by Dave, Peter and me. We're already seeing active recruiting and event planning in Australia and India, led by Australia Country Chair Paul Edwards, CCO of ANZ Bank; and by India Country Chair Madan Bahal, CEO of Adfactors.

We already have nearly 80 members in Europe, but little more than a dozen in the Asia-Pacific region. We have been concerned that language barriers and a sense that the corporate communication function was not yet fully developed in parts of Asia meant that progress there would be slow.

That may be the case, but an impressive group of dynamic communication leaders in each of those cities suggests significant progress may be possible in the near term. This is important because the challenges our members face increasingly are global and we all benefit when we can share insights and expertise with those who bring different perspectives.

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