• Perspectives
  • 23 October 2020

Leading in the new norm

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Larry Fink – the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager– in a webinar that was broadcast to our clients globally.

I always enjoy my conversations with him, and this time, we exchanged our views on a host of topics, from investing and operating in the new normal, to prevailing themes such as globalisation which are very relevant for us in the region.

What resonated with me most and gave me the most pause for reflection, was what the role of a leader looks like in the new normal. Here are three takeaways that I would like to share with my fellow business leaders.  

Don't forsake your organisation's culture

Today, we face one of the greatest challenges of our generation. In just a short span of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed life on the planet for millions of people. And continues to do so.

Businesses are rethinking and redesigning their work arrangements. Some are implementing permanent remote working while others are looking at a hybrid model with a proportion of employees working from home to allow flexibility.

To this point, Larry questioned the businesses’ ability to effectively bond their employees and build their organisational cultures with a distributed workforce in the long run.

Many of you would agree that building a unique corporate culture, even under normal circumstances, is not an easy task.

But I would argue that given where we stand today, business leaders must place a much stronger emphasis on how to build and preserve our culture because it is the glue that keeps our people together.

When did you last check the pulse of your organisation? Are you doing that enough? The boards and executive teams have an important role to play here. We must ensure transparency in communicating the rationale behind gathering these insights and the actions taken as a result of these pulse checks.

We also need to make concerted efforts to monitor the corporate culture and its sub-cultures, as well as to lead by example through exhibiting the desired values and behaviours that we wish to embed in the organisation.

When you put a focus on culture, your employees will recognise you for this and will live by it. It also helps get them through difficult times and navigate with purpose in the new normal.

Be brave and bold in the new normal

Larry revealed that he pushes BlackRock’s board of directors as much as they push him.

As we steer our companies forward in an environment where uncertainty is likely to stay, the ability to be brave, bold and open has become an important trait for all visionary business leaders. This explains why BlackRock has grown to what it is today in a relatively short period of time.

We must strive to be brave and be entrepreneurial in our approach. We must constantly ask ourselves the difficult questions – Can we still rely on the old rulebooks? Is our existing business model still relevant? What does it take to change?

We have to be bold in standing by our beliefs for the long-term success of our companies.

We must be open to new ways of working and new ideas from companies that have pivoted successfully.

I am sure the bold and brave move by Satya Nadella to steer Microsoft away from a failing mobile strategy to cloud computing would have brought him countless challenges along the way. But his determination to fight against the odds and lead with a clear vision paid off as the tech giant’s valuation grew by 230% in just five years.

Stand up and be counted

“Our responsibility as leaders of large companies and small companies, men and women, is to show a voice, a voice to your clients, a voice to your employees. And through that voice, you will have a voice in your community. And through that voice, it will benefit your shareholders,” said Larry.  

It is evident that business leaders are expected to take a more proactive stance, as opposed to the passive voice in the past. Today, they must champion the right causes for their key stakeholders – employees, clients and community – and articulate what the organisation stands for.

The global community today faces many challenges - global warming, poverty, economic inequality, the breakdown of infrastructure.

Much of this has been worsened by the pandemic. So, what can we do to help?

Larry’s letter to CEOs signified a watershed moment for corporate action on climate change. This could reshape how companies - that BlackRock invests in on behalf of their clients – do their business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit.

As business leaders, we have a much larger consideration and responsibility – What can we do for the society and our future generations?

Through our voices, we have the ability to influence and to bring people together to do the right things towards the right direction.

Like the medical researchers working on a vaccine, we too must find the silver linings from the pandemic for our organisations to come out stronger and more resilient – not unlike how we have emerged from past crises.

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Version: July 2020