Asia’s Most Prestigious Leadership & Sustainability Award
What has the business world learnt from the covid-19 pandemic? Does the dire adage ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ apply? Or does the self-serving ‘to the winner belongs the spoils’ spell the order of the day? What have businesses learnt from a virus that brought more economies to their knees than all the wars in the past century combined?
The truth is, it can go a variety of ways. Southeast Asia has seen the shuttering of brands and businesses which we have always thought of as invincible. Backed by foreign conglomerates, these big boys have always been on the top of the food chain, until a force as mighty as the one that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs wiped out the alphas at the top of this millennium’s food chain.
Those left are quickly realizing that being the apex predator is no longer guarantee of fiscal or organizational success. So, which is the way forward? Do corporations merge to form larger entities for market domination? Or can it possibly be the time of the SMEs, whose leaner organizational makeups and ability to maneuver more efficiently in tight spaces give them an advantage?
I believe the key is still balance. The word ‘harmony’ rarely makes an appearance in executive speech, but it is specifically the lack of balance in the natural world which opened up the Pandora’s Box of covid-19 in the first place. Humankind has upset the balance of nature so much that we will continue dealing with the backlash of the coronavirus for a long time to come.
This wake-up call should also apply to the older ways of doing business. Divide and conquer strategies may no longer be applicable to markets unable to pay premium prices for goods or services. Which begs the question: what can businesses do to stay relevant, make a profit and make a change in the communities in which they do business in and with?
There is no one answer. There are as many ways to corporate success as there are to make a good cup of tea. Situations and environments differ, as do tastes and preferences, needs and requirements. That is why the ACES is such a valuable platform for businesses who strive to do business better, in order to serve their publics in a more profound way.
Each nominee is a case study in themselves, a guide for other organizations to refer to if they are attempting to make changes that a nominee has undertaken successfully. By the sharing of their experiences, all nominees contribute to new possibilities in a world of new norms.
One thing I can be grateful for in this time of new corporate challenges, is how the leadership of ACES had long ago realized the need for a new way of doing business. This need has now been expediated as the world learns to co-exist with coronavirus. The ACES mandate of business with a social conscience, and the managing of human resources with heart, rather than by route, has come to the forefront now. In an economy where staff worry about job security, it is now the time for humanity to be put into play when human resource decisions are made.
Companies who have already inculcated a culture of learning, upskilling and requalifying, will now realize the truth CS Lewis hinted at when he said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when we look back everything is different.”
Hemant K Batra
Hony. Chairman – ACES Council
Founder & Hony. Chairman – Kaden Boris Global Alliance
General Assembly Member (Lifetime) – Union Des
Associations Internationales, Brussels
Co-founder & Fellow – Goeman Bind HTO, Policy Think Tank
Vice President – SAARCLAW (SAARC Apex Body – Inter-Government)
Governing Council Member, Project Repeal Laws, Centre For Civil Society
Awardee, Mahatma Ghandi Seva (Service) Medal
Sustainability is about relationships – how companies reach out and build inclusively, enabling communities near and far to prosper and thrive. Research has repeatedly shown that during such periods, companies that take the short-term view are simply unable to meet the needs of the market. Covid19 has made visible a simple but important lesson. If humanity is to outmanoeuvre this iteration of the coronavirus, we need to work together. From the ashes of the crisis, inclusive business models will emerge as the pathway forward.
As nations individually responded to Covid19, there were calls for countries to work in unison. Operating in national silos fundamentally undermines our ability to restore freedom of movement, re-establish efficient supply chains and secure overall global economic health. In short, we need to connect, adapt, and get back to business with a resolute focus on inclusive social and financial well-being.
This explicit lesson on interconnectedness is one that business leaders would do well to explore as they brace to strengthen organisations to withstand the multiplier effect of this health crisis. Far from taking this time to go slow, pause and re-fuel, now is the time to realise integrated systems through digital seamlessness, traceability, supply chains and global co-ordina- tion. It’s time to recalibrate business process and for business leaders to re-design for resilience to acute change and exoge- nous shocks. It’s time to embrace inclusivity through sustainability.
Before the crisis, business leaders were taking stock of their business impacts on the world at large. There is increasing recognition that doing good is good business, with a view of companies as value creators. The growth of sustainability disclosure and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investments attest to this. However, while climate change and sustainable development goals have been viewed as legitimate targets, they were perhaps categorised as ‘good business practices’ at the fringes of corporate practices, rather than strategic imperatives.
Reorienting business to be a force for good cannot be a fringe idea. Businesses can contribute to communities in more tangible ways than any other form of organisation in society. Leaders that embrace sustainable thinking show real action with their organisational core purpose front and centre. They integrate sustainability into short and long-term strategies, embed it in policies, programmes and processes and leverage it to deliver products and services that can be simultaneously exception- al and inclusive. Sustainability cannot bear fruit when it is merely expressed through big statements, external brand touch- points, siloed social programmes and sustainability reports unsupported by necessary motivation for actual impact and change.
A holistic lens is required to tackle the cultural and structural silos that currently inform corporate thinking. Every year, The Awards in Corporate Excellence and Sustainability highlights organisations across Asia that have used that holistic lens to successfully integrate sustainable thinking into their DNA. Distilling the final winners to be awarded the hounours for this year was, as ever, an extensive and comprehensive exercise. Across the Sustainability categories, we have seen exceptional examples from organisations who have embedded transparency, shown the value of stakeholder engagement and embraced innovation, with winners illustrating the art of building meaningful sustainability practices in ways that make good business sense as well as enhancing their business relationships and the communities in which they operate.
As corporates reorient and restructure to respond to the ongoing pandemic, it is my hope that our winners each act as a light to remind us of our common humanity and interconnectedness. By reshaping business through a holistic lens, sustainability can move from the fringes to the heart of strategic decision making. I predict that organisations that embrace inclusivity through sustainability will not only thrive, but lead, in these extraordinary circumstances.
In his classic work A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of time, it was the worst of times.” Who would have thought a work published in 1859 could have summed up the sentiment of a year in the third millennium?
No year could have owned this phrase more than 2020. One virus was all it took to put paid to the best business strategies, and the most stalwart of organizational growth plans. And yet, through completely unmet sales quotas, botched mergers and acquisitions, and failed expansion plans, what we have seen most of at ACES and Beacons has been the unquenchable spirit of optimism and positivity.
Our nominees and winners, with no exceptions, all understood that our usual pull-out-all-stops black tie Awards could not/should not happen this year. And yet, most urged us to continue with compiling the success stories of our inspiring personalities. “Just because we cannot meet them at the Awards, does not mean we cannot learn from them via Beacons,” said one of our Filipino nominees.
As so, it is with great pleasure that my team and I present to you the covid-19 version of Beacons 2020. Not seeing you all face-to-face did not stop us from pushing beyond the norm to present a totally revamped, uplifted editorial concept which can be expanded online at the capture of a QR code. Now the book can be displayed on your executive lounge coffee table, but can also be carried with you via our website, even if all the travelling most of us are doing is between home and office.
The overarching belief of these outstanding men and women of the corporate world, as contained within the pages of Beacons, is tenacity. Corporate warriors and strategists know that time is the great equalizer. Only the best ideas survive the test of time, and only businesses with truly forward-thinking leadership will be able to navigate the stormy seas of a world where co-existence with covid-19 is a more realistic projection than a post covid world.
It is not without fear that many corporate leaders have begun tentatively testing the waters of business again, guided by solid health advice, and a gut-feel honed by years of keeping ears to the ground and fingertips on the pulse of trends and changes. Many of these men and women who venture out do so because they know the livelihoods of many depend on the decisions they, as key executives, must make in the final quarter of the year.
It is a daunting task, carried out in the murky twilight of uncertainty, but if we take a page out of the books of Augustine “Og” Mandino II, the American author of the bestseller, The Greatest Salesman in the World, we too can say, “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”
May we all continue to be stars in our various industries. And to each other.
CEO, Mors Group