DBS: Driving growth in Asian banking

Over the past decade Singapore-based DBS Group has grown to become one of the biggest names in Asian banking.

With an emphasis on its understanding of Asian values and culture throughout its business, today DBS is South-East Asia’s largest bank by assets and one of an emerging group of Asian corporations expanding outside their home markets as they pursue global growth.

Despite a challenging operating environment, DBS has seen steady growth in earnings over the past three years, recording a record net profit in 2012.

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS, who shared lessons based on his experience driving growth in the Asian banking industry. (Watch the interview here: part one and part two)

After 27 years with Citibank, Piyush took over the helm at DBS in 2009, embarking on a mission to build a more efficient and effective multinational bank, making better use of its vast deposit base, building market share in key arenas and innovating new products and services. As CEO of an Asian multinational with nearly 30 years of experience in Western MNCs, Piyush is driving growth with a unique blend of Asian and Western management practices.

I typically see Asian companies taking on practices that come from the West. Here, I’d like to highlight some of the approaches and practices that the West might want to learn from the East. Taken together, we can concoct an excellent blend of Asian and Western practices for growth.

governments
dbsremix280Governments in Asia are often large investors in Asian multinationals. Perhaps this makes it more natural for Asian multinationals to think about governments as key stakeholders in their business. Western MNCs growing in Asia benefit by understanding the role that governments in Asia play in business.

It’s not surprising that one of the skill sets in high demand these days is government affairs. Leaders in Western MNCs will benefit by proactively engaging with these key stakeholders and clearly understanding their priorities for their nation. Maintaining a healthy balance between shareholders and other key stakeholders makes for a good blend of East and West.

global
Whenever I speak to the CEO or a top level leader in an Asian multinational, I’m struck by how much they think about the uniqueness of nations – in terms of culture and market characteristics. In his interview, Piyush spoke not only of differences in regulatory frameworks but also in demand characteristics. Many Western multinationals view strategy as a process that begins at the top and is then cascaded down to markets where adaptation is clearly needed.

While Asian multinationals have clarity of direction in terms of the top leader, they also are more likely to start with an appreciation of market differences. Any leader will say that strategy is iterative and requires both. The perfect blend of East and West is giving a country-level view a stronger voice in shaping global strategy – then providing clear direction to execute.

innovation
Face it: leaders in the West love processes and metrics. In his interview, Piyush spoke of innovation at DBS. His focus was squarely on people and culture. He spoke of ambassadors acting to encourage innovation across the organisation, and he spoke of cultural initiatives that blend Asian and Western characteristics to define new ways of behaving.

Western leaders who seek to drive innovation can benefit by looking at how they engage people in the journey and how they make innovation become a way of life. A clever balance of formal innovation processes and metrics combined with great focus on the power of individual and team involvement in the innovation journey is critical.

performance
counter280 Growth requires that the organisation and the people who comprise it are doing the right things and doing them well. From the West we’ve learned many practices for managing individual performance. But creating and sustaining growth requires collaboration across team members and more importantly, collaboration across different parts of the business.

Too much focus on individual performance can undermine this. In his interview, Piyush describes “a blend between teamwork/harmony and individual enterprise” as a critical ingredient for driving growth. Leaders anywhere can benefit from seeking this balance. Leaders everywhere can learn from this.

I encourage growth leaders everywhere to explore the extent to which they’ve discovered the right blend of Asian and Western practices for their businesses.

To get started, ask yourself if you’ve found the right balance between the following:

  • Delivering benefits our shareholders AND our other key stakeholders care about?
  • Allowing markets to shape global strategies AND effectively driving global strategies down?
  • Putting in place processes, tools and metrics to drive innovation AND inspiring people and shaping the culture of the organisation to nurture and celebrate innovation?
  • Encouraging teamwork and harmony AND individual results?
  • Author Profile

    Alison Eyring is the CEO of consultancy Organisation Solutions and an adjunct professor at NUS Business School teaching in the MBA programme. She is the founder of the CEO Roundtable for Driving Growth in Emerging Markets.

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