Peer-to-peer board community Criticaleye held its 2024 Asia Leadership Retreat in Singapore last week, sponsored by AlixPartners. 

The timing felt particularly fruitful: in the current climate of unprecedented uncertainties for business, the most resilient C-suites are ready to explore new paradigms for strategy and culture. Lian Hoon Lim, Ignatius Tong and Reshmi Khurana, Partner & Managing Director at AlixPartners, joined the Retreat and shared their unique insights with senior executives from some of the region’s most prominent companies for broad-ranging discussions on critical topics: from the shifting calculus of growth versus profit and harnessing AI for real business advantage, to individual ambition and creating a culture of ownership that drives lasting change. 

Action trumps analysis

The new normal of permanent disruption is driving many firms to take a close look at how they operate: closer than may have seemed urgent during a long era of runaway growth. Criticaleye’s research shows improving business performance is now priority number one for senior leaders, outpacing even the hot-button imperative of AI investment. 

During his keynote on “New Models for Growth and Innovation”, Lian Hoon argued that the sine qua non of building better business is simple: begin building. Perfectionism breeds paralysis: unpredictable conditions can make it tempting to try to hone an “ideal” strategy before any consequential move – but agility and decisive action are what move companies forward. They are especially important in risk management, where the fast-evolving threat landscape makes over-deliberation a real liability. With the digital environment throwing up new Infosec challenges daily, frequent reviews and piecemeal adjustments to risk frameworks offer a much more powerful safeguard than the root-and-branch overhaul that happens slowly, rarely, and in reaction to major crisis. 

Understand your capabilities, and act accordingly

Lian Hoon identified the symbiotic qualities common to companies who perform best amid disruption: the drive to turn threats into opportunities, combined with a clear-eyed understanding of institutional strengths, weaknesses, and capacity to execute. For example, the most cutting-edge technical innovations are only as powerful as the teams they serve; AI is top of mind across sectors, but turning new tech into operational advantage means instituting skills development programs that keep pace. 

Taking part in a panel on “Driving Performance Improvement”, Ignatius expanded on the importance of honest self-evaluation as a business asset. No initiative intended to boost productivity or efficiency can succeed without a sound appraisal of what a business can handle. As much as capabilities need to be strength-tested, understanding culture is also crucial to breaking institutional stasis. Within companies rocked by testing economic conditions, decision-making can become mired in a collective and pervasive attitude of risk-aversion. Contributing from the floor, Reshmi noted that talent development frequently overlooks the importance of fostering a culture of ownership. Rewarding people who act in urgent fire-fighting contingencies while maintaining a birds-eye view of long-term strategic implications will ultimately shift the balance from cautious inertia to positive action. 

Key takeaway: Move fast and adjust things

Overall, the message emerging across the sessions as a whole was galvanizing. Times may be turbulent, but for leaders willing to act decisively and course-correct as they go, unprecedented challenges go hand in hand with extraordinary opportunities.