The future of Australia – China business relations and a world of opportunities for emerging leaders

By Nicholas Flood, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Nick FloodGraduating from my undergraduate degree in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), a period where graduates for the first time in many years faced career uncertainty, served to enhance the personal interest I took in China’s economic development. Many commentators at the time asserted that the Australian experience of the crisis would, to a large part, be determined by China’s experience. With these insights in mind, I came to an understanding as a young Australian professional that China’s future & my future were intertwined.

Six years later and well into the early stages of my career, it is this very same dynamic that opens tremendous opportunities to me as an emerging business leader. The opportunities in China for expats, particularly those who are highly skilled and who possess over five years’ experience, are significant, given that such candidates are in short supply.

I’ve recently returned from Shanghai where I had the opportunity to undertake a hands-on consulting engagement with a large Chinese organisation through the Sydney MBA. Whilst in China, I undertook a series of lectures at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and forged new professional relationships with the school’s extensive alumni network in Shanghai at a networking function, in addition to the placement with the Chinese corporation.

Under the supervision of Professor Hans Hendrischke, I’ve also had the opportunity to supplement this experience with a robust program of classroom, self-directed and peer-learning to assist me in turning the insights gained from this experience into lasting understandings.

Put simply, undertaking the China International Business Project has fundamentally transformed my understandings and perspectives of the key factors that are shaping the globalisation strategies of Chinese enterprises and the implications of this globalisation process for Australian businesses.

More importantly, it has facilitated real personal and professional growth which will equip me as an emerging Australian business leader as China comes to take an ever increasing position of centrality.

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A Shanghai Soiree and the Danger of Disruption

By Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Belinda - Blog PhotoMy first encounter with China (apart from the outings to our local Chinese takeaway as a child) was when I was sixteen, in Naples, Italy, when I was on a student exchange program. I recall meeting a Chinese boy, Chao, who gave me a silk panda handkerchief. Fascinated with my new friend, and passionate about politics from a young age, I remember asking him about life under the communist regime and its differences with the free market economy – not knowing that discussing The Party was taboo – to which Chao replied that China was actually opening up.

Ten years later, I visited Beijing for the Mission Australia Charity Challenge, where I spent ten days trekking different sections of the Great Wall. On that visit (my first and only previous visit to China before the International Business Project in Shanghai), we stopped at Shanghai airport and our tour guide informed us that Shanghai is a city quite different to Beijing – something that I was looking forward to discovering as part of this journey (incredible that it had taken me almost nine years to return!)

The weeks leading up to the International Business Project trip had been chaotic: I had moved from Brisbane to Sydney to attend course pre-departure, then to Perth to commence work with my first client – which was fast becoming a full time role as a business development manager to build a national and potentially global brand. I arrived in Sydney from Perth early on Thursday morning to fly with the majority of the class on QF129 to Shanghai. I couldn’t believe that I was really there. I resigned from my job to make this journey and had no regrets. Money couldn’t buy the exposure to this world class team of students and there is no price on following dreams.

MBA students were invited to the Shanghai Business School Alumni Cocktail Reception, as a welcome to Shanghai. The reception was held at the Andaz Hotel in the French Concession, a chic quarter in Shanghai. The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Jason Yat-sen Li. Jason is a partner and founder of the Yatsen Group, a commercial group headquartered in Beijing with interests in mining & resources, technology and financial services businesses in Asia. His achievements and vision for Australia’s future are certainly something to aspire to! Jason’s presentation about the disruptive economy and its opportunities expanded my mind to deliberate on the disruptive economy: the impact of technology, creativity and innovation on business. Jason’s message was clear: if you devise yourself or your business as a purpose, providing a service or product to an individual, you are more likely to see disruption approach.

The class selected from six Chinese companies to work with during our stay in China. Our team worked with a one hundred and ten year old Chinese cosmetic company, Jahwa, to increase their online presence and international brand with a focus on developing a strategy and recommendations to enter the US market with their high-end skin care range.

In addition to an intense course schedule and meetings with clients, we explored the essence of Shanghai, including the iconic roof top bar scene – the views of the Bund from Bar Rouge and the infamous Shangri La – magical; dined at the Four Seasons Hotel (probably the most exquisite meal for the trip); shopped – the bazaar at the Yu Yuan Gardens; bargained at the Nainjing markets as well as excessive designer boutiques (although my highlight was the Taikang Lu laneways where contemporary meets traditional art, design and café culture); pampered – beauty, hair, massage and nails; and even stumbled across a match making market where families advertise their eligible children for a suitable spouse!

One message was clear from Jason’s presentation, our cultural experience and company consultations: critical thinking is essential to creative disruption. Question what you are told, identify ways to improve yourself and your business; and ask yourself what drives you, what you stand for and how what you stand for makes your career more interesting and fulfilling.

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Debunking myths about women in Leadership

By Nancy Nguyen, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

2014_06_06-3 MBA Nancy Anita Omar (0486) 100%As a young child, I remember watching “Beyond 2000”, a show promising what the next millennium would offer from futuristic cars, to the newest and brightest inventions and ideas. It was a testament to the changing world around us, signifying “mans” advancement for the better.

Today, living in the millennium, we are surrounded by new contraptions, such as the Smartphone, but our single oldest ideals and perception about women and their role in society has not followed suit. Women and their role in the workplace still lags significantly, demonstrated by the ever increasing pay gap of 18.2%, where women only earn 82c for every $1 her male counterpart earns – the largest divide recorded in history. So how does this happen in a society that is supposed to be improving with the times and how can we change that? From these observations one might concede that there appears to be too much talk and not enough action.

The recent Leadership Re-Imagined panel discussion hosted by the University of Sydney Business School in partnership with the UN Women National Committee Australia, held at Doltone House, suggested a need for marked disruption not dissimilar to an analogy of “a nuclear bomb” to reset the embedded societal norms and unconscious bias blocking the advancement of women in leadership.

Something which struck me deep was an impactful address made by the Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Ms Belinda Hutchinson AM, who echoed how our society has placed successful women in a dilemma, with most being single, divorced or childless. A bleak outlook for many women who aspire to do something deep and meaningful in their career life.

Sadly, today myths still exist, examples including women being too emotional to lead, being poor networkers because they don’t drink beer or play golf, needing to look and behave like a man to advance and that really women just need to work longer, harder and do their time if they want to progress based on merit.  Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women National Committee Australia, reminded us the notion of “merit” is highly subjective and that an individual’s “deemed potential” from a 55yr old male executive is very different from that of a young aspiring female. Julie also reminded the forum that she has fortunately been able to progress her career because someone believed in her as opposed to proving merit, offering her life changing UN CEO position at the age of 23.

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, stated that she would not give up her birth right to equality and will work to launch programs with top leaders throughout the nation including government, industry and community to engage discussion about unconscious bias endemic against women that is deeply rooted in society.

Lance Hockridge CEO of Aurizon, has taken a bold move mandating 30% representation of women in his workplace by 2019 to level the playing fields.

Surprise and fear quickly filled the room, as Julie McKay quoted “waiting for the black clouds of backlash to roll in”. It is without doubt that fighting for equality in the workplace will be an enormous challenge, one that all individuals need to believe and commit to if things are ever going to improve for future generations.

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Celebrating a ‘different’ CEO

By Lisa Tarry, Careers & Corporate Relations Manager MBA Programs, Management Education, at the University of Sydney Business School

In times of change, we often need a different Lisa Tarryapproach.  The Mindful Leadership Global Forum took place in Sydney this week where leaders explored a variety of strategies to tackle exhaustion, the feeling of being overwhelmed and disengagement.

At the same time, we are tackling the call to differentiate if we are to be noticed; if we are to survive in this technology driven world. The fact that there is now a Mindful Leadership forum is evidence that before we can change our business models, we need to work on changing ourselves.

Could a strategy for differentiation be to simply tell the truth?  Faced with regular lies and corruption from our politicians and business leaders, would this be an easy opportunity to differentiate, to stand out, to be different?  Bernadette Jiwa, author of The Difference Map and spreader of ideas, suggests we take this approach when re-imaging a business.  Using the map – a one pager that begins with three principles – you’re guided to think about the truth: the truth about yourself, the truth about the market and the truth about the people you want to serve.

We have certainly seen an appetite for values based leadership amongst our MBA students at the University of Sydney Business School. In fact, we recently explored the Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership by Harry M. Kraemer in a panel event titled, Values to Action.

This approach reflects our career management services created for the MBA programs.  Encouraged to own their development and enjoy success because of who they are – not who they aren’t – we use strengths based career coaching and work with each individual to help them to reflect and determine what is important and what is not – the first principle of values based leadership.

With so much talk of the need to differentiate, and to improve distinctive capabilities in line with a changing marketplace, the ability to demonstrate clarity on executing the most effective strategy is key. Knowing yourself and your strengths is one thing, but the most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team.

At a Gallup breakfast just this morning I heard about “What great managers do differently”.  I was surprised to learn that only one in five (18%) of the current management population have the innate ability to lead, which means companies miss the mark on hiring or promoting the right managerial talent 82% of the time.

This tells me one thing. Knowing yourself and taking ownership of your career is critical, as being reliant on an organisation to promote you is way too risky. The pathway to the CEO position is different for everyone, and how you leverage your unique experience, skill set and network can be what gets you there.

The late Donald O. Clifton, the father of Strengths Psychology, once said that “What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders.”  Perhaps this is also why we are missing the mark 82% of the time when recognising talent.

Secondly, “balance and perspective” can help us to prepare and develop the right attitude for wise decision making, particularly when allocating time and resources within the strategic context.

Thirdly, “true self-confidence” enables the leader to build a team of highly qualified people without fear of being overshadowed, leveraging their own unique talents along with their teams, to move an organisation forward.  They have “genuine humility” a fourth principal, and one of my favorites, that depends on self-knowledge and an awareness of the talent that exists at all levels.  Genuine humility, it is said, helps a good leader to stay grounded (and mindful).

Would living our truth, in a values based manner help us to differentiate, improve distinctive capabilities, and take a mindful approach to technology?

Time will tell, but considering the possibilities offered by the Difference Map, a focused CEO with a purpose on achieving the mission and maximising impact (not just profit alone), who cares about the people he or she serves (both internal and external stakeholders), committed to helping them to live better lives and thus experience positive emotions, and who genuinely looks to create value at all levels, would be someone worth celebrating.

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Struggle Street: The Australian Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

By Christopher Murphy, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

2013_03_01 MBA (30%) 264There has been much conjecture about the 2014 Commonwealth Budget – with university fee deregulation, Medicare co-payments and changes to fuel excises well reported. One of the biggest losers under the budget, which has so far avoided widespread media coverage, is the Australian entrepreneur.

Close analysis of the budget papers reveals that the Government has scrapped programs such as Industry Innovation Precincts, Commercialisation Australia and the Innovation Investment Fund. This has had the effect of draining almost a billion dollars from Australia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Admittedly, the Government has not yet released details of its Entrepreneur’s Infrastructure Program – but this initiative is likely to pump $484 million into Australia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – far less than the funding removed by the budget scalpel.

In April this year (prior to the 13 May budget delivery) StartupAUS released their Crossroads report. This report outlined that Australia’s entrepreneurial landscape was hopelessly devoid of Government or corporate sector investment. This report merely highlighted widely held views that Australia’s economy is undiversified, and remains exposed to international market shocks. In his 13 May speech, Treasurer Joe Hockey espoused that “complementary investment” was the key to diversifying Australia’s economy. Investment in Australian entrepreneurs can be that complementary investment. As we enter financial reporting season, it is clear that Australia’s heritage industries, such as commodities, mining and banking are a safe bet for investors – but it is time to shift the conversation away from financial return and address how we can work together to future proof the Australian economy.

Notwithstanding huge funding cuts, it is not all doom and gloom for us entrepreneurs. There is speculation that the Government may finally address the Employee Share Option Program (ESOP) in Australia. Well known Australian entrepreneurs, such as Dave Greiner and Ben Richardson from Campaign Monitor; as well as Jodie Fox from Shoes of Prey, and Ash Davies from Tablo have welcomed this news with nervous trepidation. In 2009 the then Labor Government implemented some controversial changes to the ESOP, making company shares issued to employees taxable upon issuance. This made use of the ESOP as a recruitment tool almost impossible for Australian early-stage-startups.

With a high Australian dollar and an almost non-existent appetite for high-risk investment, it is hard enough for early-stage-startups in Australia. Even with an MBA from the University of Sydney (an enviable degree!) it is a tough gig for those of us who want to solve problems and use our technical expertise to develop innovative solutions. The reality is that entrepreneurism is a key driver of economic growth. It creates social prosperity, and promotes innovation. Both the Government, and the business community, need to develop a more in-depth understanding of the realities of entrepreneurial life in Australia. Hopefully, the future leaders of Australia who are enrolled in the University of Sydney MBA program (some of whom are nearing completion) already have, and will continue to develop, a detailed appreciation for the Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem; and will support its growth however they can.

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Parenting, work and an MBA: Overcoming the barriers and achieving success

By Renee Connellan, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

USBS070513-151 - R2“I don’t know how you do it, Renée!”

I can’t tell you how many times people have said that to me in the past 18 months. The challenges of working full-time, raising young children as a recently single parent and studying simultaneously are very real. But for anyone who believes that it can’t be done and, more importantly, that it can’t all be done well, I can assure you that is a myth.

I won’t sugarcoat it – there are sacrifices to be made, but to be honest, they’re not as tough as most people suspect. I saw the adjustments and rebalancing I’ve been through as an opportunity to take stock of what is important, and very quickly identified what was – and wasn’t – adding value to my life. This helped me to refine the view I had of what is most meaningful to me, helped me redefine my goals, and showed me a much clearer path to achieving the success I wanted.

I discovered that, for me, success is partially about realising my personal and professional goals, without compromising my values. But, most of all, success is about being a great mother to my kids and being a role model that they can trust and rely on, always.

There is a perception that children get in the way of achieving more in your career, like they form an invisible barrier that prevents women taking on more responsibility outside the home. For me, that perception could not be any further from the reality.

My children are not an excuse for me not to try. Instead, they are my greatest enabler, inspiring me to find the extra drive and motivation that it takes for me to not only finish the MBA, but to continually strive to perform to the absolute best of my abilities.

Surrounding yourself with people who want you to succeed is so important, particularly when you’re trying to balance your commitments. Embarking on further studies and fitting it all in with a family does require a supportive network around you, made up of people who are able to provide a loving and stable environment for your children when you’re working or studying.

Wearing such dramatically different hats from day-to-day – and sometimes minute-to-minute – can feel a little disjointed. But, with practice, it’s easy to become fluid at making the adjustments.

These transitions are made easier by knowing that each and every part of my life is aligned with my values. I can be myself consistently, regardless of whether I’m being Renée the breadwinner, the student, the mother or friend.

As with all aspects of life, we all get better with practice – and our mistakes and failures along the way can be turned into successes of the future… as long as we’re learning.

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Leadership Practice and Development

By Anna Hynek, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and coach for the unit ‘Leadership Practice and Development’

DSC_1025 (2)What it is like to be a coach for the core unit of Leadership Practice and Development?  Really rewarding. Facilitating positive learning experiences for students in their first MBA class has been one of the most rewarding undertakings so far in my MBA at the University of Sydney.

I began my University of Sydney MBA with this transformative, challenging and energising class. There couldn’t be a better way to start a top business program. From the first weekend, students were engaged in experiential activities that facilitate the development of their self-awareness and leadership skills. The unique teaching method is one of the reasons I chose the University of Sydney Business School. I emerged from the experience with increased self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-confidence in my ability as a leader of people.

So, I enthusiastically leapt at the opportunity to be a coach as I wanted to help create that incredible experience for others. While being a student of Leadership Practice and Development is different to being a coach, I have found both to be rewarding and fulfilling experiences that have had direct impact on my professional life. As a student, growth is found through self-reflection, engaging in repetitions of activities, practicing with other students in the safety of the MBA and then practicing the new skills in life. As a coach, growth is found in facilitating another person’s experience, being present in the moment to ask the question that might lead to a person’s evolution and to offer advice. I also took advantage of being able to listen to different sections of the class again. I honed strong facilitation skills and reinforced leadership skills learned as a student in the class.

The close friendships I have formed are hands down the most incredible part of being a coach. I enjoyed the chance to get to know the two incoming cohorts, comprised of over eighty new diverse, intelligent and interesting students, in a way I never would have just taking a class together.  And I hold in high esteem and friendship the remarkable group of talented, smart and dedicated coaches. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to get to know each of them and work closely with them over the last year.

This journey, like the decision to return to school to study for an MBA, is not without its challenges. The selection process was competitive – we submitted an application, including an essay and if selected, were invited to interview. The time commitment is large, probably equal to a full class. There is time spent training, preparing materials, in and outside of class days, as a coach. And there is the challenge of navigating something new and unchartered.

But I would do it again in a heartbeat. The return can only be measured in a different kind of currency not discussed in Data Analytics – the currency within oneself that values continuous learning, challenging oneself to improve, connecting with all kinds of different people and above all, values the opportunity to be part of a smart, dedicated team that is constantly creating an incredible educational experience for everyone in the room.

Special thanks to a dedicated, inspiring group of fellow coaches – Allison Way, Angus Edwards, Anita Mitchell, Georgia Knox, Kellie Rigg, Maurya Reider, Marc Armitage, Mark Carrick, Mike Jenner, Satish Ayyalasomayajula and Willis Gray.

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