The Australian Leadership Retreat 2018, running from 21 to 24 June at the Gold Coast’s stunning Palaz-zo Versace Hotel, concluded four days of inspiring talks and reflections on leadership with remarkable success. Organised by ADC Forum, the Australian Davos Connection Limited, the Retreat has attracted over 160 Australian and international elites from the realms of business, academia and politics. Some of the many brilliant minds who at-tended the event included The Hon Michael Jeffery, former Governor-General of Austra-lia, The Hon Steven Ciobo, Federal Minister for Trade and Investment and The Hon Steven Marshall, Premier of South Australia.

The Retreat’s programme consisted a number of main and sub-forum discussions, as well as smaller group sessions. The main forum discussions covered 14 broad topics: Leadership and Innovation, Leadership in a disruptive age – Thinking the unthinkable, Geopolitics and Australia, Staying in the race for innovation driven growth in the 21st century, The challenge to democracy, Un-locking the potential of our regions, Turning transformational technologies into future successes, Australia’s Blindspot, Education and economic performance, AI futures – living and working after the robots take over, Rebuilding confidence in business, institu-tions and leadership, Disrupting healthcare and promoting wellbeing, Cybersecurity, and What do leaders need to do to regain trust?

The sub-forum and small group sessions cov-ered topics of: Insights into modern America and President Trump, Stories from Israel, The frontiers of technology, The journey of Mao’s Last Dancer, Conversation with Israel’s inno-vation architect, Conversation with the South Australian Premier, Leadership and deep cultural change in organisations, Learnings from over 40 years in Silicon Valley, Blockchain and the future, The global food security crisis, Resources, China, The potential of smart cities, Innovation and transformation, Beyond bit-coin – the future of blockchain technology, Mi-gration matters, New finance frontiers, Women in leadership, Cultural change in Australia, How to think about your health, Geopolitical turmoil, The new startup culture in Africa, and Climate change.

A wide range of topics and vast amount of dis-cussion and brainstorming took place within the four-day Retreat. As Mr Anton Roux, CEO of ADC Forum, said in the welcome message, “At a time of increasing fragility in the global geopolitical and economic environment, con-ventional orthodoxies are no longer adequate to realise opportunities and we are in need of fresh and bold ideas. Leaders of businesses and countries need to re-imagine how they plan and convey longer term strategic vision and build trust, without being incapacitated by fears felt in many quarters.”

ADC Forum combines a strong policy capa-bility with credibility in the business sector, the capacity to incubate ideas and opportu-nities and the delivery of outcomes within the framework of an integrated strategy. Hence, ADC is more than a think tank, and integral to its strength are its independence and openness to collaborate with other institutions and organisations, reflected in a range of national and international agree-ments and working arrangements.

It is an internationally connected commu-nity, enabling a strategic architecture for business to intersect with governments and academia across the world. It brings a unique perspective, reflecting the changing nature of Australia and the world and strate-gically positioning Australia to make a major contribution in shaping the Asian Century.
Founded in 1996 by Michael Roux and other Australian members and participants of the World Economic Forum, ADC Forum is an independent, not-for-profit organisation. For over two decades, it has brought together the nation’s foremost decision makers and thought leaders across all sectors to focus on the issues that are critical to future prosper-ity. Two years ago, ADC Forum appointed Mr Dong Zhaohui as its China representative, a decision reflecting the growing importance attached to China.

This year, Australia-China Business Circle had the honour of being invited to the exclu-sive Australian Leadership Retreat, where we listened to inspiring and remarkable ideas and stories shared by elites from all sectors and professions. As Australia marches boldly towards building an innovative economy and futuristic society, speakers at the Retreat shared their views on recent trends and de-velopments at the economic frontier where the best concepts and ideas meet capitalism. Everyone had various modern themes in mind for the forum discussions, such as big data, energy technology, Internet of Things, AI technologies, medical advancements, quantum computing, virtual reality, block-chain and smart cities. While an extensive range of topics have been covered over the four days, our report here will focus on the discussion about leadership, in the hope that it will inspire our readers to reflect on what it means to be a leader of the future.

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What kind of world do we face?

-“Confusion”, “worry” and “anxiety” are among the most frequently appearing words nowadays. We are living in an unstable age, how the world works is hard to predict, and it is a trend. Nothing is the same as before and it is a warning sign for everyone. Technological development forbids us to stay on the same spot, and the changes that are happening may affect our professions at a pace much faster than we thought. Changes that once took a decade might now take one year to happen. Hence, we need to think about the unthinkable.

Technologies:

-Every age has at least one major technology that drives the development of other technologies, such as electricity, computers and the internet. Right now, it is artificial intelligence. The application of this technology has stimulated more profound technological innovation. It has the massive potential to transform all sectors’ professions and activities. AI has led to rising concerns, as people worry that they cannot compete with computers. Therefore, to face the challenge and opportunities, we need innovative leadership.

-Automation, machine learning, robotics, AI, and as some argue artificial consciousness beyond that, will continue to replace an increasing number of jobs in the coming decades. While the technologies are both exciting and challenging, the forthcoming changes possess both a magnitude and degree of uncertainty which makes forecasting difficult and where we are frequently mismatched in confidence and understanding. From the corporate world to smart cities to the military, how do we plan for a world of AI? What are the new economic models for a world where most of the wealth will be created by intelligent machines? Can econo mies do advanced automation and artificial  intelligence and still prevent unem-ployment or massive inequality – what work will be left for humans to do?

– We’ve witnessed the disappearance of a great number of jobs in a short time. In London, British Telecom announced the cut of 13,000 middle management positions while exiting the London headquarters. Tesla has cut 8,000 jobs and increased its use of machines.

– If our reform is indeed right, digitisation will benefit nearly 10 billion people by 2050. If we’re wrong about it, society will be divided between winners and losers. There will be social turmoil and anarchy, and civilians will no longer believe that the government can enforce laws and provide security.

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Democracy:

– Liberal democracy is no longer the only game in town. The rise and re-emergence of authoritarian states, the slide in some countries from liberal to illiberal democra-cies, failed and costly attempts to export democracy, and the fragility of democracy in weaker states or states to prefer to keep democracy for domestic rather than foreign policy, have helped eschew the End of History thesis.

– In the past decades, most countries see lib-eral democracy as a channel of implement-ing their vision, and democracy rarely faced real challenges. There was an article in The Economist about the demise of democracy, which says that in 2017, 89 countries scored lower marks in the Democracy Index while only 27 made improvements. Many nations even showed trends and movements oppo-site to democracy, including Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Austria, Italy and, of course, China.

China, the EU and Globalisation:

– China’s economic development is something never seen in human history. It’s hard to imagine how a country, within 50 years, could go from the world’s largest population in poverty to its position today, with a GDP that has grown nearly 30 times. During the first Industrial Revolution, the UK spent 60 years only to double its GDP. But challenges like this should not lead us to abandon the achievements of democracy. The long peace in Europe after WWII and the reduction in global conflicts are all results of democracy that should not be overlooked.

– China is still growing at an unprecedented rate of over 10% per year, making it the second largest economy in the world. If the growth continues at the current speed, perhaps it will only be a matter of time for China to surpass the US. After all, the primary standard for superpowers looks at total GDP, not GDP per capita. Throughout our history, competition between economic superpowers has always been dangerous. In the past five centuries, there were 16 times when a newly rising power challenged the status quo, 12 out of 16 cases led to war. Now we’re facing the 17th time, will it result in war again? No one has been able to give a certain answer.

– Apart from China, the status quo is also being challenged by emerging problems with the EU, the European Project and Eurozone. The essence of the EU requires the partial abdication of sovereignty in order to avoid conflicts and to achieve co-prosperi-ty. But after Brexit and other disputes and conflicts within Europe, voices against the EU began to rise. This is the first real challenge faced by the EU in the past 50 years.

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– The third key aspect of today’s world order is globalisation. It had contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that was unprecedented. Today, as globalisation happens, international trade is growing rapidly, which is the primary factor driving China and India’s growth. Meanwhile, globalisation also draws attention to issues such as equality and social welfare. Even Donald Trump’s electoral victory is somewhat related to this. Will the current trade war initiated by Trump lead to an actual war like in the history? We cannot look at economic implications only, but a wider range of consequences.

– Migration is a major international issue, with over 200 million migrants internationally, with a strong movement from developing to developed coun-tries. As many countries grapple with the impact of refugees and migrants, migration is one of the issues in a broader discussion about population growth in Australia. Migration needs to be consid-ered not only in terms of economic impact, but also from a social perspective including the issue of societal structures and integration.

What’s lacking in today’s leadership?

– As more stories of corporate failures take up our daily news headlines, trust and confidence for busi-ness and institutions continue to diminish. People think today’s leaders have lost their way. It is paramount for leaders in business, institutions and politics to consider how to rebuild trust to survive and adapt to the fast-changing future.

– There have been many cases globally that led to the public’s loss of confidence in leadership. Some recent examples include India’s two-year ban of PwC’s auditing services and the strategic failure and crisis of KPMG in South Africa. In Australia, we have the Royal Commission into misconduct in the financial services sector. Financial companies were supposed to provide services to the best interest of the clients, but over the past years we keep hearing scandals of misleading and deceptive conduct.

– Australian companies often display a ‘short-ter-mism’, meaning that they prioritise immediate returns for shareholders, some would argue it is a cultural thing. If we look at global giants such as Google and Tesla, they did not become successful overnight, in fact they invested in long-term proj-ects, which led them to success. Therefore, change in regulations can only fix part of the problem, but it is important to educate managers and directors about how to make the right governance decisions, while considering shareholder interests. This type of leadership education is extremely important, but its implementation remains a question.

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– Another problem is the lack of trust between generations. Recent research revealed that the ma-jority of Millennials believe businesses sometimes behave unethically for profits, and their conduct have profound implications for the wider society. The younger generation has become deeply unhap-py about the phenomenon and in the future, this discontent will have a negative impact on business.

– And the ‘trust’ here refers to the kind of de-cision-making that acts in the other person’s interest, at least as much as your own interest. Ultimately, companies’ decisions should be based on considerations for the public’s interest. The purpose of capitalism is not leading the money to capitalists, but to ultimately lead it to the public.

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-We seem to have forgotten that the purpose of building the initial social institutions was to create greater values of the common good. People feel betrayed by institutions when the promised ben-efits are not delivered. Possible solutions to this issue include increased regulations on surveillance and increased transparency. When trust is missing, increased transparency will help reduce society’s doubt. However, how to engage business and insti-tutions in transparency is another challenge, as our current level of transparency is low. Regulations alone cannot solve the entire problem. We should find ways to stimulate competition and make customers the priority for businesses.

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Leadership and the Rebuilding Ethics and Courage

– Mutual values are critical to holding society together. Virtues such as integrity, honesty and trust are key to binding society together and are something worthwhile to believe in. It’s counting on all of us to ensure that message gets through.

– When businesses try to regain the public’s trust, it is important to be authentic and advocate the real values they believe in. Leaders should never build a hypocritical image.

– Ethical conduct of companies affect shareholders as well. A company once earned billions of profit over several years but has paid the equivalent amount in fines and compensation. Therefore, the purpose and values of a business is something worthy of attention for shareholders as well. When a company makes a wrong decision, it not only negatively affect society, but also creates signifi-cant loss for shareholders.

– Today we need leadership and reform more than ever. Successful leaders not only lead nations, but also solve problems effectively and work with a vision and courage. It is equally important to have leaders of knowledge. For example, economist John Maynard Keynes contributed to the solution to the post-war economic depression with his theories. When he represented Britain at the peace talks in Paris, Keynes opposed the suggested policy responses, which he predicted as disastrous. After the talks he wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace. This is the leadership of knowledge, which requires the courage to tell other leaders when they are wrong.

– Now is the time to develop forethought and strong leadership. It is a time to turn AI technologies into a positive tool to improve human life, a time to make sure the reshaping of the world order will be smooth and not lead to war, a time to re-iterate democratic and humanist values in the 21st centu-ry. To achieve this, we need not only technological innovation, but also cooperation from all domains. The interconnected relations between nations, governments and international corporations rede-fine capitalism as an “ethical market economy”. It is an arduous task ahead of us, which cannot be outsourced or postponed. It all depends on us.

Towards the end, the organiser encouraged every-one to think from human’s original perspective. The talk was addressed by Ms Susan Moy-lan-Coombs, indigenous leader and grand-daugh-ter of prominent Australian public servant H.
C. Coombs: We live in a fast-paced, noisy and fragmented world. We’re looking for something different from what we do daily, and it has become a norm. Who are we? Who will we become? Will we remember who we really are? Why are we here?