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Inside Asia Podcast
39 minutes | a day ago
Machines that Listen (w/ Walt Mayo)
This week on Inside Asia, we take a look at just one more way in which artificial intelligence is ingraining itself in our daily lives. With so much hype around AI, it’s hard to know what to think of it. In one moment, AI applications can appear benevolent, even helpful. And in the next, it can be intrusive. Facial recognition, for instance, can and has been used to track and screen innocent people simply going about their business. AI, you might say, wears many faces. One moment, it’s Big Brother watching your every move. The next, it’s R2D2 trying to save your life. I’m dramatizing, but you get the point. Now, apparently AI-enabled machines are learning to listen; so well, in fact, that advanced technology is able to decipher subtle tones, language variances and emotional nuances, virtually inaudible to the human ear. In so doing, it can determine the sentiment of the speaker. And that, says Walt Mayo, CEO of expert (dot) ai, can make a world of difference. Take the just concluded US Presidential race, for instance, Walt and his colleagues put their technology to the test and three weeks before the election, calculated that Joe Biden would receive 50.2% of the popular vote compared to 47.3% for Trump. It struck me as a bit of a marketing ploy at the time, and a risky one at that. Why would a tech company stick its neck out with this kind of prediction when every other major poll prior to the election had Biden trouncing Trump by at least an eight percent margin? The results are now official with Biden winning the popular vote by 51% to 47.2%. Yet, the real victor was AI. How did this relatively small tech company blow the doors off a phalanx of seasoned and highly certain professional pollsters? I asked Walt to join me in this episode to share his story and talk about the future of so-called “sentiment analysis” AI.
51 minutes | 25 days ago
Money Games: Negotiating Private Equity (w/ Weijian Shan)
When the influence of private capital exceeds that of a sovereign state, it raises an important question: Where does real power reside? Increasingly, it seems, money makes the world go round. At a time when stocks are over-valued, bond yields are flat, and property prices are inflated, private equity is where it’s at. Indeed, since the chaos of the 2008 Global Financial Crises, PE firms have only grown in size and influence. Asia has been a key beneficiary. And China – until recently – has absorbed the lion’s share of private capital. As and when US-China tensions subside, the surge is likely to continue In this week’s episode of Inside Asia, I speak to one of the PE industry giants - Weijian Shan, Chairman and CEO of PAG Group. Shan’s new book, Money Games: The Inside Story of How American Dealmakers Saved Korea’s Most Iconic Bank, is a tale on how deals get done in the convoluted world of big money and big personalities. It’s been over 20 years since Shan and his colleagues at Newbridge Capital landed in Seoul to rescue Korea First Bank, but he tells it like it happened only yesterday. The transaction is epic in both size and circumstance. But it also speaks to the central importance of developing personal trust and accountability to offset fears of xenophobia and big money exploitation. It also speaks to the enormity of PE as a vehicle for rescuing distressed businesses – a point not lost in these pandemic times.
59 minutes | a month ago
Contemplating the Future of US-China Relations (w/ Jim McGregor & Craig Allen)
In the run-up to this year’s US Presidential election, the only Asia topic that appears to loom large is China. And during these days, no self-respecting US politician can talk about this rising Superpower without saying something disparaging. Indeed, there’s hardly a businessman, legislator, or policy wonk within the Beltway who has anything positive or hopeful to say about US-China relations. Maybe that’s simply because there’s nothing to be gained politically by doing so. Americans need to blame someone for lost jobs, climate change, and a global pandemic – why not China? It’s a communist country, after all, and Americans are fond of blaming things on communists too. Remove yourself from this political quagmire and step outside of the U.S. and you get a more balanced – dare I say – sophisticated take on China, it’s role in the world, and the existential threat (if any) that it poses to a United States undergoing an identity crises. In this episode, I turn to two of the most thoughtful commentators on US-China relations. Jim McGregor and Craig Allen. Jim is Shanghai-based and a consummate China watcher, author, and a top advisor to US businesses in China. Craig is D.C.-based and President of the US-China Business Council. I had the pleasure of facilitating a hard-driving conversation between the two experts in a recent GetGlobal virtual event. In the course of this 55-minute tria-logue, we covered a lot of territory, challenged one another on some of the more popular US-centric characterizations of China, and contemplated prospects for a more constructive relationship between the two countries under a Biden administration.
52 minutes | 2 months ago
The Economics of Corporate Purpose (w/ Bob Quinn & Anjan Thakor)
2020 has been a headline year, dominated by news of a global pandemic, US elections, Brexit and China’s rise to power. On the business front, Corporate Purpose has emerged as the theme of the year. It comes on the back of an August 2019 statement released by the US-based Business Roundtable, calling into question the primacy of shareholders. For the past 50 years, corporations have operating on the principle that the only responsibility of business is to generate profits for its shareholders. With the world in such a muddle, that core idea is coming into question. If issues like climate change, inequality, and social justice aren’t addressed, there’s growing concern that societies everywhere will come face-to-face with collapse. Corporations – so say pundits – are best positioned to make a difference. Helping companies make that shift so that purpose and profits might co-exist is the work of my two guests this episode. Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor are US-based professors. Together, they wrote a book entitled: The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counter-intuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose Driven Organization. I spoke with them by phone recently. We touched on the traditional employer-employee contract, the new operating paradigm, and what it takes to bring a purpose agenda to life.
40 minutes | 2 months ago
Japan and the Problem and Promise of Automation
If the world has a problem, technology will solve it. That’s the stance taken by many technologists and industrialists who trust that human innovation – when put to the test - will prevail. It’s the “human” part of the equation, however, that is increasingly in question. In Japan, for instance, where a demographic decline in working age citizens demands automation in order to fill the gap, Covid-19 has given the country further reason to invest in AI, robotics, and machine-learning wherever possible. Elsewhere in the world, where Covid has left millions unemployed, there’s rising concern that companies will pass on human employees in deference to machines. Observing Japan to see how it’s robotic revolution takes hold and impacts people could serve as a bellwether for policy-makers elsewhere. Governments are desperate to rekindle economic growth after Covid’s devastating effects. This means encouraging corporate recovery, while reducing unemployment. In certain sectors – primarily industrial – the two may prove mutually exclusive. To help us understand what’s at stake, I contacted the author of the McKinsey article, Maya Horii. She’s a Partner in McKinsey’s Tokyo office and advisor to both public agencies and private enterprise. We discussed Japan’s unique set of circumstances, its declining workforce, poor productivity, and prospects for displacing human workers with machine-based alternatives.
43 minutes | 2 months ago
Digital Currencies and the China Question (w/ Zennon Kapron)
After living in the shadow of Western-style development for the greater part of the last 200 years, China is in the throes of crafting it’s own vision of what it means to be a modern economic power. That doesn’t always sit well with other countries – and particularly the U.S. – a nation grown accustom to it’s hard-won hegemony. China’s demonstration of its new-found strength is showing up in dozens of ways. Militarily, as in its testing of its territorial rights with India and in the South China Sea. Politically, as reflected in its imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong. And diplomatically, squaring off – as it were – with the US over issues relating to trade and technology transfer. The country is also investing in a series of longer-term strategies to ensure it’s economic and political rebound, in some cases, thinking well ahead of the curve, and ahead of other nations like the US, the UK, and Japan – all mired in their own set of domestic issues. In this week’s episode, we tackle China’a quest to deploy one of the world’s first comprehensive digital currencies. DCEP as the chosen acronym for China’s so-called Digital Currency Electronic Payment platform now under development and primed for piloting. What are digital currencies and why is China so enthusiastically pushing to convert its currency from a cash to a digital equivalent. Here to break it down for us on this episode of Inside Asia is Zennon Kapron, Founder and Director of Kapronasia, a fintech boutique strategy and research firm.
4 minutes | 2 months ago
US Voter Turnout and Americans Abroad
This is Steve Stine from Inside Asia. Just 45 days from today Americans will go to the polls and cast a vote for the next president of the United States. By all counts, this is proving one of the most essential electoral decisions in modern US history. The outcome will fundamentally change the course of America and the reverberations will be felt throughout the world. As Inside Asia listeners, I’m asking one of two things of you: If you’re an American living abroad, please register and vote. If you’re not a US citizen, reach out to your American friends and colleagues and ask them if they plan to vote. If they say “no” or “not sure,” please share with them the following. According to a 2018 Pew Research survey, only 55.7 percent of eligible US voters are registered to vote. By world standards, that’s shockingly low. Among the 32 OECD countries that support free and open elections, the US ranks 26th in terms of voter turnout. Rather than explore any number of socio-political reasons as to why this might be the case, let’s focus on what’s at stake. As a nation, the US – for better or for worse – has imprinted its political, cultural and economic DNA on the world. It’s shaped our current brand of global Capitalism by virtue of its strength, money, and ingenuity. Whether we like it or not, a half-century of US foreign policy has imposed itself on the current world order. Some might disagree, but I’d say the results are mixed at best. Economically, many might be better off today than they were decades ago, but social, political, and environmental strife persist, unabated. As Inside Asia listeners are well aware, the geopolitical balance is shifting. It’s a frustrating moment for a superpower in the throes of change and whether you agree with US leadership efforts or not, it’s impacting the way the world sees the country. While the days of US hegemony are fading, there’s still an important role to be played by a nation that’s left such an indelible imprint. It is, therefore, the responsibility - if not the obligation - of every American – at home and abroad - to exercise his or her inalienable right to vote. This is not a partisan plea. But rather a call to participate in mapping a future for a country at the crossroads. To my fellow American expats and to all those who support a role for America in the world, please don’t miss this chance to leave your mark on history. It’s not too late. Registering and voting from abroad is simple. Not sure how? Here’s a message from votefromabroad.org. For more information, visit www.votefromabroad.org. And as always, we thank you for listening.
33 minutes | 2 months ago
The Future of Food (w/ Isabelle Decitre)
My guest this week is Isabelle Decitre, CEO of Singapore-based ID Capital. She’s a future-of-food advocate, an investor, and convener of food innovators. For many, there’s nothing more all-consuming and enticing than the topic of food. In these maddening times, food offers comfort, conjures up memories, and nurtures the body. Unfortunately, food all over the world, is not what it once was. Whether in pursuit of economic profit, or in a bid to deliver greater variety at lower prices, mass manufactured food has its benefits and its drawbacks. Walk through the aisles of any major grocery shopping chain anywhere in the world and you’re inundated with choice. Variety, you might say, is the hallmark of the world’s leading food and beverage companies. So what’s the problem, you ask? In a word: nutrition. In recent decades, global eating habits have shifted dramatically, enticed by the manufactured tastes and low price points of thousands of sugary, salty, and artificially conjured food products. The health impact is apparent. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are modern day ailments that plague populations the world over, perpetuated by our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Millions of products compete each day for a piece of the consumer pallet. It’s big business with big health and wellness consequences. Listen to the full conversation by visiting us as www.insideasiapodcast.com. As always, we thank you for listening.
33 minutes | 3 months ago
Mindfulness Inc. (w/ Davina Ho)
My guest this week is Davina Ho, Co-Founder and Chief Well-Being Officer at Hasiko, a Singapore-based advisory and training organization. She says that pre-Covid, stress levels in the workplace were on the rise. The global pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. So much so, she argues, that it’s time for employers to get involved. Davina says “mindfulness” is a solution for our times. It’s been six months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, and for many – if not all – some aspect of our social, professional, or personal lives have changed – maybe forever! As a species, we’re impressively adaptable. Through war, famine, and natural disaster, we’ve proven ourselves capable of rallying and coming together in times of need. This time around, however, coming together – at least physically – only exacerbates the problem. So it is, in relative isolation, we are all looking for new ways to cope. Many of the tried and true ways of dealing with stress and anxiety are no longer available to us, whether that’s an after-work visit to the local bar to mingle with friends, a night at at the movies, or dining out at your favorite restaurant. Going to the gym or the yoga study poses its own set of risks and challenges. So what’s left? How does one manage stress, stay fit, healthy, and focused on the task at hand?
29 minutes | 3 months ago
US vs. China: A Tale of Two Systems (w/ Clay Chandler)
My guest this week is Clay Chandler, Executive Editor for Fortune here in Asia. Based out of Hong Kong, he’s a long-serving member of the region’s journalistic community, holding stints with The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Time Inc. At Fortune, he’s created a niche in delivering nuanced tales, offering up an Asia perspective to challenge more populist US-centric views. US and China, it seems, are caught in a downwardly spiralling political maelstrom and there is no end in sight. While the short-term implications appear rather petty, the longer-term issues could prove severe. Not just for the two countries, but for the world at large. It speaks to the essential nature of the two Superpowers. They set the tone for what comes next economically. Diplomatic squabbling isn’t helping, particularly in a time of pandemic when greater inter-reliance, not less, could make all the difference. Which country comes out on top may have less to do with politics and more to do with which nation gets it’s economy back on track first. Through this lens, China would appear to have the upper hand. It’s economy is rebounding. And as my guest this week explains, it has much to do with China’s relative success in bringing Covid to heel.
53 minutes | 4 months ago
The New Nature Economy (w/ Fraser Thompson)
My guest this week is Fraser Thompson, Founder and Managing Director of AlphaBeta, a Singapore-based consulting firm specializing in strategy and economics. Fraser and his colleagues teamed up with the World Economic Forum to highlight sector-specific ways in which business might profit, while enhancing bio-diversity and reducing the impact of climate change. He joins me in this episode to explain how they arrived at these figures and what it will take to deliver on it. According to the report, investment in nature-friendly initiatives has the potential to generate $10.1 trillion in recurring annual revenues and up to 395 million jobs by 2030. To pull it off, we need new levels of corporate and government coordination to target the right opportunities and incentivize the right players.
32 minutes | 4 months ago
US Voters and the World: Don’t Know and Don’t Care (w/ Steve Okun)
On this week’s episode of Inside Asia I’m in conversation with Steve Okun, political pundit and senior advisor with McClarty Associates. For years now, and with each new US political cycle, Steve steps up to offer an outside-in view of how things are shaping up. Understanding how politics shape Asia commerce is his forte. Every four years, US presidential elections role around and Americans are asked to pick a candidate who best represents their needs and ideals. Bread basked issues like jobs, the economy, and healthcare top the list. Foreign Policy? Well, it barely ranks. In most cases, it doesn’t even make the top 10. It should not, therefore, come as a surprise that as the US enters this political season, America’s engagement with Asia won’t receive so much as a mention. The only exception, of course, is China. Every politician needs a bogey-man, and this time round, it’s the Middle Kingdom, or as, no doubt, it will be characterized in political ads and stump speeches as “the red threat rising in the East.” It’s the kind of rhetoric that politicians like to bandy about. It’s good for public morale, they might argue, but it has little bearing on the outcome of an election. So why do it?
50 minutes | 4 months ago
Building the Imagination Muscle (w/Tony Estrella)
These days, we busy ourselves 24/7 with emails, text messsges, spreadsheets and reports. Human contact is becoming obsolete, and Covid-19 and its social distancing requirements makes Zoom calls the last step in severing us from our friends and work colleagues. What’s left? The imagination, apparently. I’m talking about the science of day-dreaming. Momentary opportunities to give your brain a break, and in so doing, restoring the capacity to create in new and unexpected ways. You think I’m dreaming? I’m not. Neuroscience holds the proof and here to assist me in understanding what that entails is Tony Estrella. Inside Asialisteners may recall a conversation we had a year ago, when we discussed the Science of Sleep. [Listen here: http://www.insideasiapodcast.com/sleep-science/] In this episode, we take it one step further, drawing the connection between sleep as an essential function and dreaming as the creative output. Embrace dreaming as a practice of sorts, and the results could prove spectacular. Somewhere along the way, we stopped listening to our dreams. For centuries, images conjured in our unconscious state informed our biggest decisions. Indigenous people even to this day describe the dream state as a gateway to the divine. Science put an end to that. For centuries dreams were discounted as nothing more than nighttime nonsense. Breakthoughs in neuroscience say that was a mistake. Time to get it back!
35 minutes | 4 months ago
Finding Resiliency in Emerging Asia (w/ James Crabtree)
My guest this week is James Crabtree, an Associate Professor at the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy and a frequent commentator across news outlets here and abroad. In a recent Foreign Policy article entitled “The End of Emerging Markets,” James outlined many of his concerns as efforts are made to weather the Covid storm. In this episode, we visit the developing markets of South and Southeast Asia. Well, maybe “visit” isn’t the right word. Most emerging markets in this part of the world remain locked down. This, in contrast to China, Europe and North America where re-opening is the theme of the day. It’s a balancing act between containing Covid and resuscitating economies on life-support. It’s laudable that markets in this region are airing on the side of safeguarding the health and safety of its citizens. But its equally concerning - because in emerging markets at least - poor economic performance can quickly lead to political unrest.
35 minutes | 5 months ago
Solar’s New Shine (w/ Gavin Adda)
This week my guest is Gavin Adda, CEO of Total Solar Asia. He is one of the true-borns who embraced solar and its potential nearly 15 years ago. This week, we take a look at the burgeoning solar industry. To be frank, it’s been a slog in many parts of Asia, where the appetite and economics for solar have long struggled to add up. Only Japan, some might say, has proven the exception. Change, according to Gavin, has finally come, thanks in large part to a dose of good old fashioned economics. Few people have battled as hard as Gavin to see this renewable source of energy begin to take its rightful place. Through a series of executive roles at Samsung, REC and Cleantech Solar, he arrived at Total, the French energy giant. His mission: to spread the word that solar is not only good for the earth, it’s good for the corporate bottomline.
37 minutes | 5 months ago
Purpose Incorporated (w/ John Wood)
My guest this week is John Wood, Founder of Room-to-Read, one of the world’s most successful education and gender equality non-profits. He wasn’t always in the business of building and filling libraries in the poorest parts of the world. For years prior, he served as a senior executive with Microsoft. Then came his great awakening. I won’t spoil it for you. Our conversation takes you back to the beginning, and it’s quite a tale. He’s a four-term member of the Clinton Global Initiative Advisory Board, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and a book author. His latest: Purpose Incorporated: Turning Cause Into Your Competitive Advantage. It’s a user friendly guide on how to steer an organization towards a world where purpose and profit co-exist. John’s backstory is powerful. But it’s his thinking about the future that holds the greatest appeal. This is a story about possibilities. And at a time when the world is spinning from pandemics and economic displacement, John’s words of encouragement and their practical application are well received.
34 minutes | 5 months ago
Mega-City Madness? (w/ Daniel Moss)
My guest this week is Daniel Moss, Bloomberg’s Asia Economy columnist based here in Singapore. In this week’s conversation, we contemplate the risks vs. rewards of urban living. We’re talking about mega-cities – defined as urban centers with a population of 10 million or more. What took hundreds of years in Europe has taken only decades in Asia, and the region for that – plain and simple – is economic growth and opportunity. For billions of Asians the city means jobs, new wealth, and opportunity. Unfortunately, the dream hasn’t panned out for many - one in three to be exact. By some estimates, over a billion urban-dwelling Asians live in slums and abject poverty. The only reason they stay is because their rural options are even worse. That fact alone should be enough to point the finger at governments. In this region, cities have received the lion’s share of resource and investment. It’s where you can find the best infrastructure, the best wireless coverage, the most jobs, and if can afford it, the best housing. Rural communities, on the other hand, have been left to their own devices. For many, even basic electricity and indoor plumbing remains a distant dream. Some attempts – albeit few – have been made by governments to right this wrong. Although, if truth be told, investment in outlying communities probably has more to do with political expediency than economic altruism. I ask Daniel to share with us his thoughts on Asian urbanization and how Covid-19 might encourage a re-think.
30 minutes | 6 months ago
Hong Kong Doth Protest (w/ Mark Clifford)
This week I’m in conversation with Mark Clifford, a long-time resident of Hong Kong, a former journalist and Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post, and for the past 13 years, Executive Director of the Asia Business Council. In our conversation we look to Hong Kong. It’s been 23 years since the handover of the former British colony to to the People’s Republic of China. In that time, economic prosperity has grown, but so has political disharmony. In years past, public protests – sometimes in the millions – have provided Hong Kong residents with the means to make their voices heard. With the exception of pro-democracy marches in December 2005, the first of five promised decades of guaranteed autonomy went relatively well. Hong Kong had its issues like any other major metropolitan center, but China – for the most part – behaved, leaving Hong Kong to do what Hong Kong does best – make money. Maybe it was the jarring of the global economic crises in 2008 or repeated failed promises by Beijing to allow universal suffrage, but by 2010, tensions mounted. For nearly every year since then, the people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets, tongue-lashing China for it’s sometimes subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – infringements on Hong Kong’s sovereignty. Security laws have been cause for the largest protests. One year ago, an estimated two million people turned out when the Hong Kong legislature – at Beijing’s behest – tried to push through a controversial bill allowing criminal extradition to China. Two million Hong Kong Chinese can’t be wrong. They’ve lived on the edge of the world’s most powerful communist country and many are all too familiar with how the mainland bends the law to support its own ends. So what does this all mean for Hong Kong’s economy and the companies vested in its future? Listen to my conversation with Mark and find out.
36 minutes | 6 months ago
Media Madness (w/ Vivek Couto)
This week I’m in conversation with Vivek Couto, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Media Partners Asia, a market research and consulting firm catering to the telecom, media and entertainment industry. According to Vivek, total minutes spent viewing online video in Southeast Asia jumped 60% in the first quarter of the year. Most of that new viewership occurred via smartphones, which suggests that video streaming is a private affair. Gone are the days when families circled up around the TV set to watch their favorite drama or gameshow. That’s a problem for content providers and advertisers who rely on programming reach. While programming choice is great for consumers, it makes the economics of the media industry ever more difficult. Even before the Covid crises, pay-TV operators were feeling the pinch. Billions of dollars have been deployed by licensed operators from Singapore to Seoul. They’ve spent handsomely on fiber optics networks, satellite links, and customer care and billing services just to keep their customers happy. Then along came the disrupters, those so-called over-the-top or OTT providers that charge a low monthly fee for all the streaming video you can consume. You know the ones I’m talking about: Netflix, Hulu, HBO-Now. Add to these a new tier of regional or single-market providers, and the market is flush in quick and cheap subscription choices. How the industry is struggling to adjust is the subject of my conversation.
50 minutes | 6 months ago
Purpose-Driven Investing (w/ Munib Madni)
After Covid-19, one of the biggest subjects occupying academia and boardrooms is Conscious Capitalism. You’re either deeply familiar with the term, or you’re not. If you’re not, climb aboard. Capitalism as we know it is about to undergo a major transformation. For the better part of a year now, the topic has been coming up in conversations with CEOs, investors and thought-leaders, who say the old paradigm of operating solely in the interest of shareholders is done and dusted. The new paradigm is more inclusive. That means accommodating and protecting the interests of a broader group of stakeholders, including employees, the environment, and society at large. Some cynics say it’s already too late. Optimists, on the other hand, believe that through consensus building, re-allocation of resources, and top-down leadership, it is not only possible, but probable. Evidence abounds showing that corporations can be both profit- and purpose-driven. Up this week, the asset management industry. As buyers and sellers of corporate assets, they are the proverbial gate-keepers of corporate financial performance. With $80 trillion under management worldwide, there’s power at play. Fortunes have been made and lost on the decisions laid down by asset managers. For the longest time, financial performance has remained the central barometer for all buy and sell decisions. This too must change. Enter a new breed of asset manager. Those that believe that the best corporations are those that do well by doing good. In this week’s episode, I speak to one such individual. Munib Madni spent 13-1/2 years with Morgan Stanley before he saw the light, resigned, then re-emerged as CEO of his own asset management firm, Panarchy Partners. In this conversation with Munib, we talk about the evolution of the industry, the forces now shaping a new kind of investing, and the emergence of corporations, poised to make a difference.
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