CEDA member profile: Asialink Business



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Mukund Narayanamurti,
Chief Executive Officer, Asialink Business

Can you tell us a bit about Asialink Business?

As Australia’s National Centre for Asia Capability, our mission is to create an Asia capable workforce. We support organisations in all sectors of the economy to develop the skills, knowledge and networks needed to achieve growth in Asia. We work with organisations of all sizes - from small business to large corporates, government, education, and public institutions – and across all levels of the workforce. As a national organisation, we have representatives in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and our reach covers all states and territories. We also spend considerable time on the ground in Asia.

Over the last five years, over 50,000 executives have participated in our training programs and events and accessed our research and information resources online.

We are an innovative partnership between the Commonwealth Government (Department of Industry, Innovation and Science), the University of Melbourne, and the Myer Foundation.

What does your role involve? What does an average day look like for you?

There is no ‘typical’ day for me. As the CEO Asialink Business, I lead our national team and provide strategic direction to fulfil our mission and vision. I focus strongly on ensuring we deliver impact, continue to achieve our mandate, and create opportunities for the clients, stakeholders and communities we serve. Leading a national team, in addition to big picture thinking, I also have to be very hands-on and across the smaller details. So on an average day, I can easily go from presenting at a major public forum, to leading a hands-on brainstorming session with my team back in the office to scope out a new project, to addressing essential organisational systems, process and stakeholder related matters. There is a great mix of intellectually stimulating, strategically important, and operational tasks that makes every day exciting.

How has Asialink Business changed since you first became involved?

I’m very proud of how Asialink Business has grown over the past five years. From our ‘startup’ days in 2013, we have established a national reach, developed and refined a world-class suite of information products, executive training, thought leadership, and advisory service offerings. We have partnered with and earned support from leading organisations in all sectors, helping thousands of Australian organisations expand into new international markets.

Over the past five years, through ongoing awareness raising and outreach, we have helped to lift the level of understanding about Asia business opportunities considerably. More and more organisations are now aware of the growth potential offered by Asian markets. But the next challenge is related to ensuring these organisations are motivated and supported to translate awareness into engagement that can deliver financial outcomes. For instance, our latest research, sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), found that more than 80% of surveyed Australian small and medium sized businesses had Asia on their radar, but most were failing to generate significant revenue from Asian markets.

How have you seen Australia’s relationship with Asia change during your time as CEO?

Many Asian economies are undergoing exciting, dynamic and challenging transformations, which makes it very timely for Australia to strengthen and diversify its relationships with these markets. This is particularly the case with the emerging Asian economies. For example, over the next fifteen years, no single market will offer more growth opportunities for Australian business than India. By 2035, India’s five largest cities will have individual economies of comparable size to middle income countries today. Last year, we welcomed the release of the India Economic Strategy to 2035, a landmark national plan to transform Australia’s economic partnership with India. Yet while awareness of India is growing, doing business there can be challenging, and so we are working to support Australian organisations to develop deep and long-term partnerships and India-capabilities. 

Vietnam, which is experiencing one of the region’s strongest growth rates, is another good example. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit in August has helped put the spotlight on the unique opportunities for Australia, including in emerging technologies, education and training, agtech, green energy, health and tourism.

Of course, Asia is not a homogenous region and our relationship with each country and market is distinct. China, Japan, South Korea, and the ASEAN states all continue to represent priority markets for Australian businesses. I would very much like to see our economic engagement with these countries evolve from purely trading and inbound investment relationships to also being recipients of Australian capital.

What have been some of the highlights of your time at Asialink Business both personally and for the organisation ?

At the organisational level, a real highlight has been the opportunity to build on the diverse history of our parent organisation, Asialink, and draw on Asialink’s 30-year legacy as Australia's leading centre for the promotion of the public understanding of Asia and of Australia's role in the region. Another highlight has been our impact on adjusting the national compass and shaping national debate, through our thought leadership agenda. For instance, our 2017 report, Match Fit: Shaping Asia capable leaders, put the spotlight on the urgent need to build Asia capabilities in Australia’s largest public and private companies, and sparked a national call to action.

At a personal level, the opportunity to establish the National Centre for Asia Capability and build a highly motivated national team that constantly aspires to deliver national impact has been a real highlight for me. Developing world-class products and services has been deeply fulfilling but it is the delivery of these products and services to ten major sectors across all states and territories that has been the greatest highlight. This was achieved from a standing start. Collins Street, George Street and Barton do not solely represent Australia’s interests to me anymore. Asialink Business has enabled me to connect deeply with our national workforce across every corner of this country. I feel connected to our national identity.

What is your ambition for Asialink Business over the next five years?

My vision is for Asialink Business to be the leading centre of excellence for Asia capabilities. We are working to become the pre-eminent organisation educating the workforce on the peoples, cultures and systems of Asia – not just in Australia, but globally.

One of the ways we are putting this ambition into practice is through our current focus on building Asia capabilities in rural and remote Australia. For instance, this year, we partnered with local organisations along Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road to help local tourism operators understand how to better cater to the region’s rising number of Chinese visitors. We are also focusing on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in regional Queensland and NSW and supporting them to tap into growth opportunities with Asia.

Why is Asialink Business a CEDA member?

CEDA and Asialink Business have a strong and natural synergy. We share a common commitment to securing Australia’s ongoing economic prosperity.

What have you been some of the highlights of your involvement with CEDA?

A highlight was the opportunity to participate in the Economic and Political Overview event in February this year. I spoke on Asia’s growth story and the trade outlook for 2019. It was a terrific opportunity to engage with world class speakers and reflect on the big picture political and economic developments that would shape the year ahead.

Another highlight was our recent support for CEDA’s event to launch Western Australia’s new Asia strategy. Achieving an Asia capable Australia requires leadership at all levels of government, and the states have a key role to play. Western Australia has strong prospects to diversify its links with Asia, especially in international education, agribusiness, and tourism, as it continues to diversify and complement its strong mining sector. This event was a great opportunity to congratulate our WA colleagues on their vision and commitment and explore some of the many practical opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.