What are the major challenges facing businesses in Asia?

LS International

As former VP of Sales for J&J China, James Mounter has extensive experience of working in Asian markets. After holding various customer and innovation roles in the UK and across Europe, he moved to Asia in 2011. Whilst based in Singapore, James led the Asia Pacific Regional Customer Development team. In 2014 he relocated to Shanghai where he is currently leading the Consumer Sales organisation. With a wealth of experience behind him, James is perfectly placed to share his insights on employee engagement and the wider challenges faced by businesses in Asia.

Mounter reminisces on mistakes he made when he first moved to Asia saying, “I wasted about six months when I first got here by worrying about cultural differences, probably the biggest piece of feedback I give to people moving to Asia is that we’re all people.”

He sees leadership being about creating an environment that is more about “mission and vision” than day to day work and tasks. Building engagement and trust by harnessing the contributions that team members make to bring those teams closer together breeds success.

Making people feel respected within the team around them may be a universal aim, but what about the specific challenges in Asia that are distinct to those territories alone?

Mounter sees China very much as a unique territory, calling it “superheated” as so many businesses are looking to invest there. He describes Asia as a “centre of gravity for innovation.” He cites beauty innovation coming from Korea and Japan as an example and Samsung, particularly, as an innovator that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.

Part of the problem, Mounter suggests, is that traditionally Asian brands are perceived to be ones who just copy the ideas of others. This outdated view is a challenge for multinationals and Samsung is an example of a company that is producing a steady stream of innovative ideas day in day out.

Local competition is another challenge that Mounter has observed across Asian countries. As the middle classes continue to rise across South East Asia and businesses find themselves with more capital, greater media access and better local understanding, competition is becoming more aggressive.

The third major challenge identified by Mounter is the rapid evolution of business. Whereas international companies have long term business plans and long-term planning cycles, local competitors take far less time bringing products to market. By co-innovating with manufacturing facilities, a product can be on the market within just three months, while the global average tends to be 12-24 months.

This means that many multinationals are struggling to meet these challenges, stay relevant, and maintain market share in Asia

James sees now as being “the time to really learn from local talent and hire outside.” He goes on to explain that the “most successful hires here in J&J have been people who have been working in aggressive local startups who bring the culture and the network that we can tap into.” Developing what he calls “the mind of the startup” is another way to overcome the current challenges. Mounter gives the example of L’Oréal in China, who have rapidly accelerated their process and started to work with third party manufacturers.

Finally, James brings everything back to leadership and believes that humility and flexibility to learn and embrace new ways of doing things hold the key to future success in Asia.

Click here to check out James Mounter on this months career success podcast!