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Asian Adventures

Chris Howe reports on a year spent building business in Japan and China

As we entered 2009, we knew that we had to be bold and invest in new markets and opportunities if we were to grow the business and enjoy a more sustainable future.

So with bags packed, I set off on my Asian adventure. The plan was to form a partnership in China with IWNC (I Will Not Complain), the business that was started many years ago by my old friend and travelling companion Anthony Willoughby, who is now back in Japan at the invitation of Hiro the managing director of IWNC Japan and Holdings, to act as the inspirational founder.

The partnership would mean empowering them to translate and run our programmes in the Chinese market and working with them on joint projects where our combined talents could close business that we could not do individually. IWNC would also become our Asian delivery partner for global programmes.

The team in China were welcoming but understandably cautious - was this yet another "White Guru" who would descend on the business, cause confusion, make more money for themselves than others -and then disappear into the sunset? They had been taken advantage of in the past.

Equally they were also fighting the economic challenges with the rest of us. Yes the Chinese economy was still growing at 8-9% but when that is instead of a rate of 14-15%, it feels just the same as a recession in terms of the confidence of business to invest in learning and development.

On every other trip (there have been a total of 12 this year), I would flit over to Japan to explore what we could achieve there with Anthony and his new partner in crime, Roger Brookin and their CampFire business, (http://www.campfire.me/Welcome.html) as well as working with IWNC Japan to see what if any opportunities for partnering existed there.

In the middle of the year, Hiro moved to Beijing to run the Chinese business for IWNC, together with the team he has worked tirelessly to develop the business. We are now starting to see the fruits of our joint labours as ChangeMaker products are being re-branded as IWNC and sold to major businesses in China. Equally, we have been able to develop relationships in our own right as ChangeMaker and we have some projects in China that are starting as a result of my time and presence in the market.

Chris Howe speaks at Worldly Leadership Symposium and reflects on the September conference.

Earlier this year I was asked to speak at the first Worldly Leadership Symposium, organised by the Leadership Trust, Ashridge Business School and other partners.

The objective of the initiative was to look at the topic of Leadership in the context of a rapidly changing world and the need to find sustainable solutions for business and wider society. There were no assumptions; it was not assumed that the current model was either right or wrong or indeed that there was a single unified "current model".

The speakers were drawn from all over the globe, I guess that makes sense if the topic is Worldly Leadership, and there was and still is significant debate about the meaning of "Worldly".

There were speakers who had researched and experienced leadership approaches on all continents, from all angles of diversity and my role with my Maasai MasterClass was to add the indigenous perspective.

I admit that as a chap who only got a D and 2 E's at A Level and stumbled his way to a degree, I was a bit in awe of the fact that I was surrounded by some of the leading academics in the field and that the spiritual leader of Leadership Learning, John Adair, was present, but I soon found myself participating in my typical disruptive way.

The real joy was that my own thinking was deeply challenged every 15 minutes or so and I enjoyed that rather uncomfortable feeling that I might be learning by having my assumptions laid bare.

To see an example of Chris delivering his Maasai MasterClass http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd6jyTlDWdM


In September I was lucky enough to attend the second session and it was my pleasure to accompany Emmanuel Mankura, a Maasai friend who worked with as at the IOD in 2008. After all if you want an indigenous perspective, better to go to the true source.

It was good to see that on this occasion there were more voices from the broader business and commercial community which led to some interesting clashes of view and opinion and added to the whole learning experience.

I found myself talking to some of the most amazingly humble people who had made incredible personal sacrifices to make a real difference in the world and as is common at times like that I find myself challenging myself to ask "exactly what value I am adding to the planet?" A scary question that I can never answer to my total satisfaction.

There was a highly amusing moment when one of the business speakers said "The fact is that there are only two real economic models Capitalism and Communism; and the latter has been proven to be a failure!"

I could not resist but to ask if he thought that the last two years of financial chaos were proof positive that Capitalism was a profound success!

As I continue to listen to economic and business pundits trying to forecast "When life will return to normal and Western Economies will once again start growing" I have to admit that I am starting to ask myself "Is continuing growth an option?".

We live on a planet with finite resources and an ever growing population, perhaps we may have to get used to unstable economies from now on.

After all if your economy depends on people buying products that they don't actually NEED, with money that they do not have and cannot really afford to borrow, surely one must ask if that is a sustainable economy or just the combination of some pretty ineffective habits!