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Celebrating the Best!

CNBC’s Asia Business Leaders Awards recognize the top leaders in Asia.
Celebrating the Best!

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of CNBC’s Asia Business Leaders Awards. The annual awards celebrate and recognize vision, excellence, and the spirit of achievement of business leaders across the Asia-Pacific region.

As CNBC’s Research Partner, DDI conducts in-depth, face-to-face interviews with CEOs shortlisted by The University of Chicago Booth School of Business on a number of financial indicators. The interviews assess the CEOs’ leadership qualities based on criteria such as strategy formulation and execution, talent management, innovation, and sustainability. Each year, DDI interviews dozens of CEOs in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Two of the winners honored last November at the awards ceremony in Singapore include Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan; and Dr. Pailin Chuchottaworn, president and CEO of PTT, who was nominated for the award in his role as president of IRPC PCL. Both men are a testament not only to the quality of the award winners, but also to the high level of leadership talent in the region.

CNBC Asia Business Leaders Award
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO,
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO,
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

An exceptional example of the quality of executives found at the top of some of the leading organizations in Asia, Carlos Ghosn has been lauded for his visionary and impactful leadership of Nissan. He was named the 2011 CNBC Asia Business Leaders Award recipient “for inspiring growth for his company, while keeping in step with global trends.”

At the time of Ghosn’s arrival in 1999, Nissan was a car company in trouble, facing numerous challenges: including a steep mountain of debt, shrinking market share, high costs, overcapacity, outdated models, and a declining brand. Through a series of successfully executed strategic plans, Ghosn led one of the most amazing turnarounds in the history of the global automotive industry.

Today, Nissan (which maintains a strategic global alliance with Renault, for which Ghosn also serves as chief executive) is operating from a position of strength and has ambitious growth plans, especially in emerging global markets.

In addition, under Ghosn, Nissan has become one of the world’s most environmentally conscious automakers, introducing the Nissan LEAF, the world’s first mass-market zero emission electric vehicle, and rolling out several environmentally friendly initiatives.

Nissan’s ability to look confidently to the future under Ghosn is on display in the Nissan Power 88 business plan, which was announced in June 2011 and is intended to accelerate the company’s growth across new markets and segments. Through the Power 88 strategy Nissan is taking a leadership position in innovation by introducing 66 new vehicles in six years covering 92 percent of all markets and segments, and more than 90 new, advanced technologies. Nissan also will continue its emphasis on “sustainable mobility,” through the production and sales of zero-emission vehicles and low-emission technologies, and further promote “mobility for all” through the introduction of dedicated new cars and light commercial vehicles developed for entry-level segments and emerging markets. “Nissan Power 88 is the roadmap for our company’s profitable growth,” Ghosn says.

Perhaps the best example of Ghosn’s strong leadership came in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011. Under his direction, Nissan contributed to the recovery effort by providing emergency cash assistance, and also provided vehicles, supplies, and humanitarian aid. In addition, the company began efforts almost immediately to rebuild its damaged factories and restore them to full capacity within a month after the disaster—efforts that showed Nissan’s commitment to the community, its employees, and its customers.

The information he shared with the Asia Business Leader Award selection committee, as part of the awards process, helps to illuminate what makes this remarkable executive one of Asia’s—and the world’s—best.

Strategy and Execution

Ghosn’s ability to drive successful execution can be attributed to his widely regarded reputation for setting high performance expectations and ensuring that they are achieved. Each strategic plan has clear lead/lag measures that are rolled down from the top of the organization, and he keeps his senior team focused on a small number of key metrics. Also, he stresses the importance of attaining buy-in on key strategies. He personally does “road shows” to talk to senior managers/employees throughout Nissan’s global operations and leverages Nissan’s internal web site as an active communication vehicle.

“Strategic goals just don’t appear on day one,” Ghosn says. “Before they are ever announced, key internal leaders and other stakeholders are aware of and help craft many of the elements of the strategy. So, by the time the strategy is introduced, there is already considerable buy-in.”

Involving All Levels

The introduction of 66 new vehicles over a six-year period under the Nissan Power 88 plan demonstrates the company’s ability to innovate. While Ghosn ultimately is the one responsible for driving innovation, he understands that the executive suite isn’t—and can’t be—the sole source of innovation.

“Ideas do not just come from leaders at the top. They come from employees at all levels.”

Developing Strong Talent

Under Ghosn, Nissan developed a competency model that serves as the basis for numerous HR systems, including recruiting, development, succession, and performance management. The organization also implemented leadership development programs for leaders at all levels, from executives down to frontline leaders, with what he calls “a rich and active curriculum” combining basic leadership skills with the development required for success in each employee’s organizational function (manufacturing, marketing, engineering, etc.) One such program, the Global Organizational Leadership Development program is featured in “Driving Connections.”

Blue Citizenship

“More than a manufacturer of cars, we see ourselves first and foremost as a citizen of the earth,” says Ghosn. “We call this way of thinking ‘Blue Citizenship.’”

Nissan conducts a variety of activities under the Blue Citizenship banner, all tied to the company’s desire to pre- serve “the blue Earth” and to be a corporate citizen that coexists in harmony with the Earth and the people who inhabit it. These activities, which are supported through the Nissan Power 88 plan, range from actions on global issues such as the conservation of the environment; proactively giving back to the communities where employees live and work, and where the company sells its products; promoting diversity within Nissan as an intrinsic strength to meet the diverse needs of customers; making personal mobility available to as many people as possible; and focusing on “real-world safety,” with a goal of significantly reducing accident fatality rates.

Nissan’s response to the earthquake and tsunami crisis was an excellent example of Blue Citizenship in action. In addition to working quickly to bring its factories back online, Ghosn says that the company made more than 100 vehicles available to support recovery efforts, and also contributed 150 million yen to relief efforts and also matched employee donations—netting more than 450 million yen total.

These efforts not only made Nissan a shining example of what organizations can and should do when faced with a humanitarian crisis, but underscored why Ghosn is such an admired business leader both in Asia and around the world.

CNBC Asia Business Leaders Award
Dr. Pailin Chuchottaworn, President & CEO, PTT

Dr. Pailin Chuchottaworn, President & CEO, PTT
Dr. Pailin Chuchottaworn,
President & CEO, PTT

Dr. Pailin Chuchottaworn understands what it means to be a true talent champion. He proved it as president of IRPC, Asia’s first integrated petrochemical business, and he’s continued to reinforce it since becoming president and CEO of PTT, IRPC’s parent company and the national energy company of Thailand. After being named to the top spot at PTT in 2011, Dr. Pailin not only demonstrated his deep commitment to talent but also to people when Thailand was hit by devastating flooding.

During his tenure at IRPC, Dr. Pailin led a dramatic turn-around, guided by a comprehensive and integrated strategy that he formulated along with IRPC’s senior executives. The strategy called for the restructuring of the organization’s business into four core areas and set in motion projects aimed at increasing production efficiency, enhancing asset utilization, developing environmentally friendly products, and expanding production of high-profit products.

Dr. Pailin drove strategy execution with an eye toward change management and a strong emphasis on innovation. But he also led with an especially strong focus on IRPC’s talent. He put forth the vision that “every person has the potential to grow and rise to the highest possible position depending on his or her competency or intention,” made talent a major priority in discussions among the organization’s senior team, personally delivered courses for mid-level leaders, and served as a mentor to three executive vice presidents.

In addition, he also championed the creation of a formal and systematic process for identifying, assessing, and developing executive talent. Using the assessment data gathered as part of this process, IRPC implemented a highly successful development program, constructed as a “learning journey,” for 29 vice presidents.

His efforts paid off. In addition to measurable improvements attributable to the development programs, IRPC swung from a loss of 18 billion baht in 2008 to a strong position of profitability beginning in 2009.

Defined by Crisis 

When Dr. Pailin moved to the role of CEO of PTT (IRPC’s parent company and largest shareholder), he brought with him his strong track record and exceptional leadership ability, as well as his emphasis on talent.

“One of the first things I announced to our management team was that I am the owner of the human resource work of PTT,” Dr. Pailin recalls. “I declared my intention to make PTT a Fortune Global 100 company on the strength of our people.” The DDI associates working with PTT on its talent initiatives readily agree that Dr. Pailin backs up these words with action.

But while he set about demonstrating his commitment to PTT’s talent, his first months on the job proved to be defined by a major crisis: the worst flooding to hit Thailand in 50 years.

Under Dr. Pailin’s leadership, PTT took the lead in alerting both the government and the public to the severity of the flooding and also became involved in meeting the challenges presented by the crisis.

“Literally, we were the first to alert the government that there would be a big disaster coming,” he says.

PTT’s headquarters was used as an emergency management center, and during the critical first days of the flooding Dr. Pailin directed the company to devote its full resources to addressing the crisis.

Sixty-five of Thailand’s 77 provinces experienced flooding, and more than 800 people were killed. By the time the waters had subsided, 12.8 million people had been affect- ed, including about half of PTT’s workforce.

“Our first priority was to ensure security for the whole country, and the second was to do what we could to help those who were affected,” Dr. Pailin says.

PTT was at the forefront in working to restore power to stricken areas. Employees, meanwhile, volunteered for rescue teams and participated in various aid initiatives, including distributing food and supplies.

Commitment on Display 

PTT’s focus was not only on providing assistance, but also on helping Thailand recover. The company enacted a recovery plan to address basic needs including sanitation, public health, and habitation. Among the projects initiated under the plan were restoring of temples, schools, and public parks; dispatching mobile clinic units; the repair of electrical appliances; car and agricultural engine inspection and reparation; and improving the quality of floodwater. PTT also made significant monetary contributions to multiple relief funds.

“Our people united and met the crisis,” he says. “The commitment of our people was on display, showing the public the strength of our beliefs, our values, and the quality of our people. We stand together in a time of crisis.”

Dr. Pailin acknowledges that PTT’s highly visible efforts to do the right thing during the flood crisis helped improve the organization’s public image which, as a highly profitable energy company, had been traditionally negative.

But behind all that PTT did during the flood relief and recovery efforts was the strength of a leader who understands the importance of his role, and the responsibility that comes with it. With the floods now in the past, Dr. Pailin is pleased to be able to focus on initiatives such as PTT’s university that it created to develop “first-class managers and leaders within PTT.” He also is personally involved in launching an academy, which will educate leaders from other companies on energy and conservation, and establishing a leading public engineering and technology research institute for Thailand.

“A leader is one who commits to lead the organization to its goals,” Dr. Pailin says. “And it’s a commitment of a lifetime. I know that some leaders see a leadership role as reward for their hard work. But I feel that becoming a leader is just the beginning of the hard work.”


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