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Asia Business Conference 2005: Adding Value in Asia, From Outsourcing To Innovation

The Asia Business Conference was held last weekend from Friday afternoon, February 18th to Saturday, February 19th at HBS. The annual conference attracted close to 700 MBA students, professionals, and executives, who are interested in where Asia is headed. This year, the theme was “Adding Value in Asia: From Outsourcing to Innovation.” The conference examined how Asia has evolved from a region that started as a low-technology outsourcing movement to provider of the most sophisticated and innovative products and services that it is today.

Over the one and a half day conference, attendees had opportunities to listen to over 70 business leaders, government officials, and scholars speak on multiple dimensions regarding Asia. The topics covered were broad, ranging from legal protection of intellectual property to high-tech and biotech industry trends in Asia. In terms of countries covered, India was for the first time represented at the conference. The successful diversity of this conference was made possible by the joint team of 100 organizers from the Asia Business Club of HBS, the Harvard Asia Law Society of Harvard Law School, and the East Asia Caucus of Kennedy School of Government. The HBS co-chairs of the conference, Fumi Katsuki (OI), Richard Lin (OH), and Ted Lin (OF), had also put tremendous effort in bringing this diversity together.

Peter Weedfald, SVP of Samsung USA, was one of the distinguished keynote speakers. He shared how Samsung focused to cope with the short product cycle of the industry: how to become the “freshest lettuce on the shelf,” quickest distribute to market, and the fastest marketer or even before the products are out.

The second keynote speaker, Phil Murtaugh, CEO of General Motors China, discussed his views on the Chinese market. As China has become GM’s second largest market and GM’s market share has grown faster than its competitors, he sees huge growth potential in the region. Speed in execution and local market knowledge have been key to GM’s success; the fact that GM also has a local design center there gives them an additional competitive advantage.

Following the keynote speeches, more than ten panels and executive round tables were held. One of the panels, ‘Multinational Corporate Investment in Asia,’ was noticeably well attended with people sitting in aisles and standing in the back of the classroom. All four speakers on the panel succeeded to overcome the challenges they faced when they brought “Western” products and business models to Asia. Paul Etchells, CEO of Coca-Cola (China) Beverages Co., Ltd., based on his experience in expanding the Coke distribution network in China, discussed the challenges of sales and distribution to every last outlet (now 1.5 million of them) and the importance of making the company’s presence felt at the point of purchase. Kiyotaka Fujii, President and CEO of SAP Japan Co., Ltd., discussed the challenges he faced in introducing the new enterprise software in Japan. He managed to educate the consumer, in a society that demands perfection, that perfection cannot be expected in the software industry and that while constantly improving, their products should be thought of as “works-in-progress” Hans Wang, VP and Head of M&A, Asia Pacific region, InBev, discussed the challenges in the M&A environment in Asia, where many firms are family-owned. Phil Leung, Partner of Bain & Company, shared his belief that people are the key to succeeding in consulting business in any local market.

The ‘Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship’ panel produced a lively exchange of diverse perspectives on the entrepreneurship process in Asia. Andrew Yan, Managing Director at the Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund, and Michael Greeley, Managing Director, IDG Ventures, were the voices for venture capitalists on the panel, speaking to the challenges of screening investments, developing companies, and operating a VC fund in the region. Yi Bo Shao, Chairman and founder of Eachnet.com (the ‘eBay of China’) and Eric Rosenblum, Chairman of Smartpay.com spoke about the challenges of fundraising and executing in China. Finally, Tomer Rothchild, former Country Manager for Bally’s Total Fitness China rounded out the panel by shedding light on the opportunities for entrepreneurship in China within the context of larger corporations.

The excitement of the on-campus discussions continued onto off-campus events, including the Fogg Art Museum cocktail party and the Valentine’s Dinner and Ball. Many speakers and attendees enjoyed interacting and exchanging ideas personally beyond the panel setting.

The organizers of Asia Business Conference 2005 would especially like to thank the corporate sponsors – most of all platinum sponsors Bain & Company, Morgan Stanley, and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker – for making this conference so successful.

February 28, 2005
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