Cheryl Jones, Ed Yu, and I are winding up a two-week trip that brought us to Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taipei. This was my third annual trip to East Asia and is an expression of the importance of the region to Darden and of Darden’s intent to grow in prominence there. Across the board, the reception for Darden has been excellent.: the major media, corporate recruiters, alumni chapters, prospective applicants, and chambers of commerce responded positively to our visit. This reflects the dynamism of the region: there is a great deal of business to be done here. As I heard again and again, a key constraint on growth in this region is trained business leadership. A school like Darden can make a difference here. And Darden can bring home interesting lessons—consider the following examples:

**Managing diversity. Singapore is a city-state that survives on the cusp of three cultures: Chinese, Hindu, and Malay. It hasn’t had an easy history, but neither has it dissolved into the kind of sectarian conflicts that dominate headlines today. Like the recent demilitarization in Northern Ireland, such harmony may not be very newsworthy, but it reminds us that it is possible to manage a diverse community and prosper. Managing diversity does not demand that people deny or change who they are; rather it aims to build tolerance and respect for difference. With the demographic trends ahead, major corporations can look to Singapore and East Asia for examples about managing diversity.

**Service excellence. Many of the taxi drivers in Tokyo wear white gloves on the job and maintain exceptionally clean cars. What a contrast this is to many other major cities, where a cab ride is an immersion experience of the wrong kind. It can be done: front-line employees can demonstrate pride in their work and treat customers with respect despite monotony, stress, traffic jams, anonymity, and modest pay.

**National determination and competitiveness. Seoul is a few miles from the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula. This small country has been exposed to geopolitical risk for decades and yet has risen from “emerging” to “emerged” in a short time. In fact, East Asia gives several examples of rapid development. Like elsewhere, key forces of development have been the incredible entrepreneurial drive of the private sector and a will to help the country make something of itself.

**Growth. In Hong Kong we called on a major corporation that foresees sustained expansion in its core business in excess of 40% annually. Is this a bubble? If it is, we won’t know until the bubble has passed. But many fundamental indicators suggest that the high growth in this region is driven by deep strategic forces rather than irrational deal-doing. This kind of growth is hugely stressful and needs to be managed with great care. The main problem for this company is acquiring the talent to support that growth. The exceptional expansion in this region seems likely to attract a lot of talent. Our host seemed to see that much more talent is on the way.

**Cross-border acquisition. The buzz in Taipei was about Acer’s deal to acquire Gateway. Many observers have expected Asian firms to reverse the historic trends and begin buying in North America and Europe. Like Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s laptop business, this deal reminds us of the impact of the region’s large financial reserves and low-cost manufacturing.

In all, this has been a very good trip. We have reached out to many constituencies. Darden is better known because of our travels. And we return with valuable impressions that will inform our deliberations at Darden.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 09/05/2007 07:51:36 PM