Business leaders and HR professionals gather at AmCham’s annual Conference to exchange insights on optimizing people resources for transformational business results

Rosemary Goater, Heidrick & Struggles


By Jennifer Khoo

The 2016 AmCham Human Resources Conference opened with a keynote speech by Rosemary Goater, Partner at Heidrick & Struggles (H&S), a global executive search firm.

Goater, a Canadian with 20 years of executive search experience in Asia, talks about the pressures and opportunities facing leaders in the region, and shares ideas for “futureproofing” local talent against inevitable change.

Drivers of change

All companies aim to hire the best leaders, but good people aren’t always easy to find, develop or retain. Goater sees three “themes” driving major change and placing pressure on the talent pool in Asia.

First, the region is rapidly evolving and diverse, not only from a cultural and language perspective but also from a legal and regulatory one. “There is no such thing as ‘One Asia,’” she says.

The second theme relates to the internationalization of local companies, especially Chinese firms. Over the last seven years, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Chinese firms on the Fortune 500 list, she notes.

Third, technology is disrupting the way we work, the way we interact with clients, and the makeup of the workforce through the rise of the ‘Gig Economy.’

In light of these themes, the quest to hire, nurture and retain good leaders is even more pertinent, as “everyone is looking for the same thing: tech- savvy, future-relevant and internationally trained leaders,” she continues.

Personal development

Goater shares six qualities for leadership success in Asia’s diverse and rapidly evolving business landscape:

  1. communication – the ability to communicate “the local story to global”
  2. ability to influence and manage stakeholders – many leaders fail to utilize social capital to get things done
  3. strategy – many good plans fail at the execution stage due to poor strategic management
  4. agility – adaptability, learning mindset, forward thinking, and resilience
  5. empowerment – leaders who can energize their people are “magnets for talent”
  6. innovation – leaders who can “enable” technology for relevant business needs

Naturally, all six attributes are difficult to find in one person, and unrealistic expectations can put further pressure on the local talent pipeline. By way of a solution, she suggests that more companies support internal leadership development, given the insufficient amount of internal development opportunities currently available.

“From one report, more than half of respondents say their top executives spend only one to 10 percent of their time on leadership development; only 49 percent of companies say they have a clear development plan for emerging market leaders; and 59 percent say their leaders have little or no accountability for developing their next layer of leaders,” she explains.

She recommends “a customized leadership development or advancement plan for local leaders, and giving people in the region ‘profile to global’ without mobility by allowing them to drive global initiatives and projects.”

Shadow of a leader

Being a good leader is about more than just developing yourself. It is also about having the ability to coach, mentor and develop others, says Goater. Unfortunately for some, a restrictive company culture can suffocate even the best of intentions.

Research by H&S suggests that many MNCs don’t provide enough local candidates with a clear path up the career ladder – an issue that is often to do with company culture (which is usually driven from the top, especially in Asia).

Such is the importance of good leadership in Asia that 67 percent of respondents from H&S’ APAC survey cited senior leadership as their primary reason for staying with a company. In China, this was the biggest reason, followed by an attractive company culture.

As the saying goes, ‘People don’t quit companies, they quit leaders.’ Sometimes all it takes is one person joining or departing from a company for its culture to change completely, says Goater. “Individuals have more power than they think.”