Why tech disruption is driving CEOs mad

Asset Benchmark Research announces the Best CEOs for 2017

THE late Andy Grove, the former chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation, famously attributed management success to being paranoid. He even wrote a book about it – Only the paranoid survive. It is one trait that Asset Benchmark Research's (ABR) Best CEOs of 2017 have in common, leading their companies through a constantly evolving landscape.

Just as it was when the book was published in 1999, change is a constant and companies today are confronted with a myriad of them including those that could disrupt business as usual. CEOs have to face up to these changes but the best ones also seize the moment as an opportunity to leapfrog the competition.

ABR, which conducted the review of The Asset Corporate Awards for the Best CEOs, shares the experience of Noriaki Goto, who says in his submission that it is not just about embracing change but also initiating change. The president and CEO of Krungsri Bank, the fifth-largest bank in Thailand in terms of assets, says that what concerns him is the bank’s ability to execute quickly in the face of ongoing digital disruption. But just as important, is also being able to capture emerging opportunities.

As Goto led the integration of Krungsri Bank into the Japan’s MUFG group beginning 2014, he has at the same time not lost sight of addressing the digital challenge. The bank has launched Krungsri Uni Startup and Krungsri RISE projects to support fintech startups by providing funding and management know-how.

Over 2,700 kilometres away, Liu Xiaochun is likewise uneasy. The president and CEO of Hangzhou-based CZ Bank believes China is undergoing tremendous change that will transform its economy to be very different from what it was in the previous three decades. He thinks about how to be able to adjust the bank in a timely manner and to innovate to keep up with the development of the times.

Liu also says that technological change has had an impact on the bank. In the past two years under his stewardship, Liu has grown CZ Bank’s personal banking business from almost nothing to become one of the fastest-growing divisions. His other goal is to build the bank’s international business. “We need to continue to innovate or the success of the past two years will stop,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is changing with the times rather than being satisfied with past success.”

E.SUN Financial Holding Company’s president and CEO, Joseph Huang, who is a repeat awardee, explains how he has “long been seeking fintech innovation to develop another revenue stream”. He worries that regulation can become an obstacle for digital innovation in Taiwan. Regulators will need to be fully informed and have to establish reasonable policies to apply new technology to financial services.

Huang plans to embed fintech as part of E.SUN Bank’s businesses, including SME lending, wealth management and the credit card business. His vision is also for E.SUN to be the bank with soul in the eyes of the public. To that end, he says the most important metrics for performance are social and environmental responsibility.

In oil and gas, a newcomer this year is the president and CEO of Bangchak Corporation, Chaiwat Kovavisarach. He has exemplified strong leadership traits. Like Krungsri’s Goto, he embraces innovation as part of a new paradigm shift. He set up the Bangchak Initiative and Innovation Centre (BiiC) to build upon existing green energy and bio-based businesses.

Last year Bangchak also launched a service station model called “Greenovative Experience” that utilizes green energy and recycled water at its service stations, helping attract new customers. Chaiwat has spun off the company’s solar business to list on the Thailand stock exchange. “I believe in doing the best I can today because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he tells ABR. Chaiwat brings more than 25 years of engineering and investment banking experience to Bangchak. His background has prepared him well for tasks ahead.

Serving the second year of his term, president and CEO of PTT, Tevin Vongvanich, once again impresses with his leadership acumen and grit. Under his stewardship, Thailand’s largest energy firm has returned to profitability in the quarter to December of 2016 following an earnings loss in the preceding quarter.

PTT’s financial performance is now on track for growth even as oil prices haven’t fully recovered yet. The company’s healthy balance sheet inspired gains in the company’s shares. Tevin is also the proponent of PTT’s sustainable development principle that seeks to promote balanced growth in profit, people and the planet. He ensures that senior management leads in PTT’s volunteering programmes.

Staying relevant in a world of flux is one of the thoughts that keeps George Hongchoy up at night. As CEO of Asia’s largest Reits, he needs to constantly think about the impact of disruption to the business. This has led him to plot aggressive strategies to stay ahead in the game. He has taken strategic steps to strengthen the resiliency of the company’s portfolio by refurbishing assets, expanding its footprint to first-tier cities in China, and buying quality assets.

The process of building company strength hasn’t been easy for Hongchoy. As the only Hong Kong Reit involved in the total privatization of public assets, Link faced controversies and public concerns that necessitated a shift in mindset and stakeholder management. Along with active stakeholder communication, Link has moved to address those issues and achieved a more resilient business for Link Reit.

The chairman and CEO of China’s second-largest telecom operator, China Telecom, Yang Jie also believes innovation will ensure the long-term development of his company. Facing barriers including intensifying market competition and government regulation on “upgrading speed and reducing tariffs”, in 2016 their company grasped the AI trend. They have since devoted themselves to becoming a leading service operator with integrated intelligent information.

Wang Xiaochu, chairman of China Unicom, another major telecom operator in the country, is giving China Telecom a run for their money. They have achieved success by maintaining the rapid development of their 4G business and have also co-operated with internet companies on big data packages. They turned around unfavourable conditions in 2015 to enable a 2.4% year-on-year growth in service revenue and a net addition of 60 million 4G mobile subscribers.

In transportation and logistics, Enrique K. Razon Jr, chairman and president of the Philippine-based port operator ICTSI, says he has learned from the Asian financial crisis. While he is financially conservative, he has not lost sight of the big picture in terms of digital innovation. He introduced the first vehicle booking system for trucks going into and out of their terminals in the country, to stop congestion. He took over as chairman of the company in 1995 and is involved in managing and operating twenty-eight ports and terminals in eighteen countries. Razon has also transformed the company by focusing on the kind of people he hires.

He oversees implementing ICTSI Group’s corporate social responsibility advocacy through his foundation and sees to it that the philanthropic and CSR activities they conduct address the concerns of his host communities and the country in general. The foundation’s projects center on education, community assistance and sports.

Like Andy Grove’s book, Only the paranoid survive, mega-competition, changing regulations and a change in technology are altering the industries these CEOs work in. By taking advantage of a strategic inflection point, these nine have transformed their companies beyond enhancing their earnings per share by capturing new opportunities. In the words of the Razon Jr, “CEO’s shouldn’t get awards”. However, if they should, these are the CEOs that deserve the recognition.

 

To view the awardees of The Asset Corporate Awards 2017 - Best CEO, please click here.