Australia: Leading Australian business in a globalised world
Last Updated: 11 December 2014

Corrs Partner and CEO John W.H. Denton was invited to address the Australian and New Zealand School of Government's (ANZSOG's) China Advanced Leadership Program on the topic "Leading Australian Business in a Globalised World" in Sydney today.

Attended by 21 delegates and led by two Chinese government Vice-Minister officials, John spoke about how you must not only react to and manage change but how you must also be opportunistic and use our rapidly changing world to your advantage.

Click 'text version' to read John's speaker notes.

  • Open with quote from Thomas Friedman (American journalist, columnist, and author) – "In Globalization 1.0, which began around 1492, the world went from size large to size medium. In Globalization 2.0, the era that introduced us to multinational companies, it went from size medium to size small. And then around 2000 came Globalization 3.0, in which the world went from being small to tiny."
  • Friedman captures the essence of globalization. The world is getting smaller and smaller, through a combination of new technology and changing mindsets. Technology makes travel and communication easier and inexpensive and we are changing our habits and behaviours to accommodate these technological advances that are bringing us closer together.
  • The world is sure to become even smaller with the advent of faster forms of transportation and new communication technologies including holograms where we would be able to have this same session with each of us virtually sitting here while we are really either sitting in our homes or offices.
  • The decision will not be whether we choose to navigate in this incredibly globalised world, but how we navigate such a world and more importantly, how to do it successfully.
  • As leaders, the challenge is upon you not only to serve successfully, but to forge a path forward that embraces globalisation in a way that enhances your standing both inside and outside your organisation.
  • As the CEO and a partner at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, the most globally connected law firm in Australia, I am daily confronted by the forces shaping this globalised world. You would think that it would be easier to do my job in a smaller world, but the challenges increase exponentially because what may work today, is not guaranteed to work tomorrow.
  • It is in this ever-changing environment characterised by hyper connectivity and hyper localisation where your skills as a leader are most tested.
  • While there are a multitude of traits that a leader should possess to navigate this constantly shrinking world, there are a few that I think are essential for navigating this phase of the globalised world.
  • The signing of the China – Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) is a good example of the benefits of successful and forward-thinking leadership.
  • The FTA negotiations ambled along for nearly eight years before President Xi Jinping came into office last March and accelerated the process. The successful leadership of President Xi and the negotiators at the Ministry of Commerce on the Chinese side and PM Tony Abbott and Trade Minister Andrew Robb on our side were the key ingredients in finally delivering an FTA with significant benefits to both countries.
  • The end result is an FTA with significant access for Australian companies to China's services sector, as well as reduced tariffs on major Australian agricultural exports, ultimately making 93% of Australian exports to China tariff-tree in four years. The Chinese will gain the same services sector access in Australia as many developed nations like Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Private Chinese investors will also get the same ability as other foreign investors to invest up to A$1.078B in Australia before triggering a review of acquisitions by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).
  • CHAFTA would not have come about without the successful leadership from Chinese and Australian government officials, but it's now up to business leaders in both countries to take advantage of this landmark agreement and maximise the opportunities that have been set down on paper.
  • CHAFTA is emblematic of leaders in both China and Australia thinking bigger than what had been done before with bilateral FTAs and not just pushing the envelope, but raising a new standard for future bilateral FTAs negotiated by the two countries.
  • That's one of the essential traits of being a successful leader, especially one navigating an increasingly globalised world – I am always striving to think boldly and ambitiously about the future.
  • The secret to being able to think this way is to be open to new ideas and to listen for fresh and meaningful insight will generally follow. Because you are CEO does not mean that you know it all, even if you've been successful until this point in your lives. There is always more to learn, more insights to gain and more opportunities to exploit
  • How do we stay open to new ideas learn? There are many ways including the obvious one of going back to school. While leading a successful legal practice at Corrs, I went to Harvard Business School for its very intensive Executive MBA program. I took full advantage of the opportunity to take a step back and gain a new perspective on where I had been professionally and where I wanted to go, as well as embracing the chance to continue learning.
  • The people I met from all over the world included classmates from Egypt, the US, Poland, Germany, Nigeria, Chile and China. Each one of us brought our own experiences, outlooks, and perspectives to the program and through our exchanges and interactions, we all came away learning more about the world around us than if we had never met.
  • What else can we do?
  • I think you should always surround yourself with people on your teams who are able to challenge and stretch you with their different perspectives and experiences.
  • Just as important is sometimes taking matters into your own hands and push yourself to try new things, to go outside of your comfort zone. of course There is always a chance you may fail in these new endeavours but if you don't fail sometimes it means you are not trying hard enough.
  • Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba once said, "Remember that your past successes may lead to your future failure. However, if you learn a lesson from every failure, then you may ultimately succeed."
  • So how do we remain nimble and flexible in the face of change. as we know Change is the one constant in a globalised world. Yet, even the most confident and successful leader can be thrown off by change.
  • Change will come in two forms. Change can come from without, which is often outside your control, and within, which can come about by your own doing.
  • For the change that comes at us without any forewarning, we must take that change and figure out how to conquer it. There are other times where there is an opening for change and as leaders, we must not be afraid to effect the kinds of change we would like to see.
  • As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." This simple maxim should be a guiding principle in your lives, whether written on a banner hanging in your office or a post-it on your desk for you to look at when you're feeling stuck or baffled by a particular situation.
  • To be a successful leader, you must not only react to and manage change around you, but be opportunistic and use a rapidly changing world to your advantage by effecting and implementing the change that you would like to see.
  • As the CEO of Corrs, I could simply sit back and watch the changes taking place in the legal industry, including the trend towards greater consolidation within and across national borders, and be a passive participant. Instead, I have charted a course for my law firm that maintains its independence and leverages its strengths, while building partnerships with top law firms around the world.
  • CHAFTA contains promises to open the Chinese legal services market whereby Australian law firms will be able to enter into commercial associations with Chinese law firms in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and provide legal services to clients all across China. The agreement will also make it easier to organise secondments between Australian and Chinese law firms.
  • CHAFTA is very new and it has yet to be ratified by both China and Australia, but I am studying closely the possible changes in how Australian firms will be able to provide legal services in China and how these changes could affect Corrs.
  • Before CHAFTA changes the legal services environment, I will make sure that Corrs is well positioned to benefit from those changes. If certain changes do not materialize or I spot an opportunity to effect change, I will be sure to take it.
  • Change is not merely a passive activity; it can also be actively brought about by your actions as leaders. I think back to the GFC when the leaders of the world's 20 most important economies took charge and developed a strategy to address the great changes wrenching the global economy. Global leaders enacted change in 2008 to coordinate a global response to what was at the time a dark period for the global economy rather than waiting longer for circumstances to force them to take action.
  • As leaders, you must not be afraid of meeting change head on, but more importantly, bringing about the change that you would like to see in the organisations and community around you.
  • To effect and manage change, it is interconnectedness and linkages across all parts of society (business, government, education, etc.) that become important.
  • We live in a world where our effectiveness as leaders is enhanced by the connections we've built.
  • Sandra Day O'Connor, a former United States Supreme Court Justice, said "We don't accomplish anything in this world alone ... and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something."
  • As you've already learned in your capacity as high-ranking government officials, you are not effective in your roles as an individual without connectedness or having linkages.
  • Connections, whether traditional face-to-face interactions such as engaging at programs like CALP or modern interactions through WeChat, QQ, Sina Weibo, or Line, are how we build deeper interconnectedness.
  • As leaders, we must embrace both the traditional and new ways of building linkages. The challenge is to make effective use of these proliferating platforms from which we can influence others by harnessing them to help build deeper and broader linkages.
  • As you either confront or effect change, it's difficult to go at it alone. You are always learning and growing as individuals, but managing and mastering change requires bringing others along with you. To build networks, organizations, and movements to do so, you need to have linkages with others.
  • Interconnectedness is fundamental to building things! For without it, any type of leadership might as well exist in a vacuum. Your degree of connectedness is going to determine how effective you and your generation is at managing the changes you are sure to confront.
  • As a business leader, the more linkages we can create not only across all levels of our own societies, but across national borders, will make a globalised world not only seem even smaller, but more inviting and familiar.
  • I have found it extremely beneficial to step out from the walls of my organisation and become more involved in the larger community around me. Whether it's my work with APEC, the Business Council of Australia, The Australia Council, or as an External Adviser to the Federal Government's advisory panel that drafted the "Australia in the Asian Century" White Paper, I have been fortunate to be involved in various communities and build linkages with their members.
  • Most recently, my long-standing involvement with both the APEC and the G20 has taken up quite a bit of my time. As one of the three Australian members of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), I was in Beijing nearly three weeks ago for the 4th ABAC broadening and deepening existing linkages with other business leaders from across Asia, as well as making new connections. I was fortunate enough to chair an ABAC Dialogue with Leaders event with President Xi, President Putin from Russia, and President Aquino from the Philippines, as well heading up the Finance and Economic Working Group.
  • A week after that, as member of the B20 leadership group, I was again with President Xi and then with Prime Minister Modi and importantly their teams continuing to build linkages.
  • Through these activities, I am able to engage in global policy and trends that are important to Australia and the global community and relevant to our clients and our people.
  • It's on this note that I would like to conclude with what I think is the final trait that makes for a successful leader in a globalised world – the ability to navigate across and understand different cultures. Cross-cultural communication is the skill that separates those who business leaders who merely work in a globalised world and those who shape that same world.
  • Before becoming a lawyer, I was a diplomat in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade working in our embassies in Moscow and Baghdad. Through these early experiences overseas, I quickly learned the importance of taking the time to understand the culture in which I had been placed and how to effectively communicate with those around me.
  • It can be difficult as a leader to step outside of oneself and try to see things from the perspective of the person sitting across from you, but the ability to do so makes for building richer and deeper connections with others.
  • Taking the time to understand other cultures and building cross-cultural communication capabilities helps build trust, which is the foundation for strong and lasting relationships that will strengthen you as leaders.
  • Whether you are a business or government leader, the traits are the same. As Thomas Friedman makes clear, the world continues to grow smaller, but by honing these traits, you will flourish as effective leaders.

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