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Australia must shed 'island culture' to succeed in Asia

by Pamela Young | 29 Jun 2014

Australia is at the crossroads on its growth curve. It has a decision to make. Resist change and face the consequences, or evolve its thinking and take the next steps towards prosperity and a better future.

With just 22.68 million people, we are a tiny market and with growth rates hovering between 2 to 3 per cent, we are not enjoying the good life as we did in the 1990s.

However, opportunity is knocking at the door. Our closest neighbours represent almost half the world’s population and their economies are growing at between 4 to 8 per cent. Surely we will increase our effort to get a larger slice of the action in these rapidly urbanising and consumerising markets sometime soon?

The ASEAN countries together are home to 614 million people, many of which are in the same (or similar) time zone as Australia giving us a major trading advantage over European and American nations. Indonesia is growing at 5.3 per cent, Malaysia at 4.7 per cent, Singapore at 4.1 per cent and the Philippines at 6.8 per cent. These markets are open to us all, not just a few.

China challenge

Then there is China at almost 1.4 billion people with GDP growing at 7.6 per cent. Admittedly it is a much more challenging market to enter as it takes time to build relationships and learn the language and culture, but when other nations from much farther away are making the effort, you have to ask why we are so slow to react.

The answer lies in our island culture and if we are not careful, we will not only be isolated by our location but by our lack of capability and interest in working with people from non-Western nations, which at a time when the world’s fastest growing nations are non-Western, is a very big concern indeed.

Nations that share a number of physical borders with other nations (most of Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America) have an advantage over us. They, for the most part, have greater cross-cultural experiences and capability due to the fact that many cross their borders daily and conduct business in multiple languages learning about the culture and business protocols as they go.

Down-under we do not have this opportunity so we have to invest in strategies that will compensate for that and equip us to compete on the world stage in the Asian century.

The crossroads ahead are clearly labelled: rapidly increase our cross-cultural skills and language capability and encourage exports of sectors that can help build cities and infrastructure, and service rapidly growing populations. 

First steps

There is enormous opportunity for financial, education and health services as well as engineers, architects, designers and constructors — just to name a few — and it’s time for the services industries to step up and make this happen. Let’s not live through another decade relying on our resources sector to carry the load; we can improve our productivity and growth by taking our world-class services to Asia.

There are just a few hurdles we have to get over and they are mostly attitudinal. We need to want to do business with Asian people. We have to be open to learning their culture and language. In addition, we have to acknowledge that ‘our way is not the only way’. When you take your services and solutions to another market, one that is so culturally different, you need to be able to adapt.

The first step is easy: better integrate Asian people living in Australia and ensure there are no barriers to their succession to the top of your organisation. With more diverse leadership teams, that include Asian people, you will develop greater Asia-capability and operate more competently and competitively when taking your services to our fast growing neighbours.

About the author

Pamela Young is the author of Stepping Up and Managing Director of growthcurv.



  • | Jun 29, 2014

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