The Digitized CEO trend we highlighted in our Eight Executive Trends for 2020 was underway before the COVID-19 outbreak. But there’s no doubt that the demand for bold leaders who drive digital transformation has accelerated and intensified in the past few months.

FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE

Rewind to last year and CEOs across a spectrum of industries were experimenting with digital solutions and ramping up cyber security. Here in Asia, digital development has typically followed the US and the EU rather than spearheading the trend. Technology was long seen as a back-office support function rather than the backbone of an organization. Now, every company that wants to remain competitive must scale up its tech functions across all departments, in order to sell its products and services, offer its customers an immersive experience and engage its workforce.

Tech is transforming the way we shop, pay and manage our health. It’s clear that there will be an app for everything in the coming months. In Asia, the revolution is in full throttle, from developed markets like Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong to emerging markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India.

The CEO’s role in the metamorphosis is crucial and elicits the courage to invest in technology and in data-smart teams. Today’s CEO must broker all business units. Major companies in Asia are already taking the plunge: The Standard Chartered bank in Hong Kong has launched a digital bank, while Grab in Singapore has applied for a digital banking license.

FROM FACE-TO-FACE TO THE INTERFACE

Asia is traditionally a face-to-face culture, but this is rapidly changing. The CEO who once measured team engagement by office hours, must adapt to a work-from-home, school-from-home culture. It’s a double-edged sword… teams that once endured long commutes have extra time and energy to spend working, but work-life balance is proving complex: they don’t want to be “ever-on.”

There is also a desire to revive the human touch and CEOs must find ways to transmit empathy and positivity. To gain speed, companies and their CEOs can “lose” contact. Relationships with clients and employees can be maintained through digital communication, but igniting new ones is more complex.

A QUESTION OF BALANCE

It’s clear that today’s CEO in Asia must be decisive and adaptable. No CEO is an island. Today’s business leaders must be prepared to take advice and listen, in close collaboration with their CEO and CIO. These are challenging times for everyone, and there are often more questions than answers. Savvy leaders will open their minds, invest in tech and people, and move over to online platforms and apps – to take a company to the next level.

CEOs who are moving from one world to the other, can propel their careers by pursuing online courses in AI and digital transformation, in order to stay relevant. We’re living and working in an historic moment: one in which the bravest, smartest and most flexible companies and leaders will thrive.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you’d like to chat about the role of the digitized CEO, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Sonal Nayyar

Jon Goldstein
Senior Partner, Singapore
[email protected]

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