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IMA Asia CEO Dialogues - Issue 4 - Spring 2015

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  • ISSUE 4SPRING 2015

    With the support of

    The Productivity Issue

    Southcos people-centric turnaround

    Is your company ready for the digital world?

    Big data and your property portfolio Ajit Melarkode

    Rackspace where culture

    eats strategy for breakfast

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  • Editor: Richard MartinContributing Editor: Mark MichelsonPublisher: Jerry McLeanContributor: Shannon [email protected] 2015 IMA Asia

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    DEAR READER,Welcome to our fourth issue of CEO Dialogues. The last six months have seen some wild swings in oil prices, currencies as well as billionaire-minting stock markets. While on the political front we have been watching closely how Indonesia and India are faring with recently installed governments in place.

    But the one constant our members face is the challenge of delivering the best corporate results in the face of complex conditions. We hope that you will find some insight and even some inspiration in this issue.

    OUR UPCOMING OVERNIGHT EVENTSTwice a year we bring Asia Pacific leaders together for an overnight strategic discussion session. If you havent been to one yet or are returning, then mark Shanghai on October 21 and 22 in your diary. Well be emailing you with more in the coming months.

    IN THIS ISSUEEach of the four articles in this issue tackle the thorny problem of how to boost productivity and get the most from your firms resources. You will find a spectrum of illuminating cases from the traditional but often hard to master people-centric, cultural approaches, to the cutting edge and decidedly more hi tech data-centric, digitally disruptive method.

    In our cover story, CEO Dialogues spoke with the inspirational Ajit Melarkode, vice president and managing director of Rackspace APAC. He reveals the steps he took to build a strong culture that delivers his companys unique brand of Fanatical Support and the laser focus he brought to bear on a regional strategy.

    Mike Zhang, managing director of Southco Asia Pacific, also found results were not far behind his initiatives to take a people-centric approach. Looking to not only return to pre GFC levels of growth but to build a sustainable organisation to support it going forward, he took a three-step approach that led to meeting and exceeding his goals.

    Identifying the prevailing trend affecting businesses today, EY asks businesses to consider: Are they ready for the digital world? The firm makes the important distinction that digital disruption is at its heart consumer driven, and sees digital technology as merely an enabler. The speed of change in the digital realm, to upload consumer preferences, will mean companies need to prepare for a continuous cycle of disruption.

    And in a similar vein, JLL urges companies to consider the benefits a new world of data and analytics can bring to strategic real estate portfolio planning. With a wealth of data at their fingertips, the global real estate services firm shares how bringing business teams and real estate planning to the table together can deliver productivity boosting results.

    Lastly, you will find some key numbers and charts to keep you abreast of ASEAN trade trends.

    So, enjoy the read. CEO Dialogues will be with you again later this year as we prepare for our Shanghai Overnight in October. We hope to see all of you there.


    Richard MartinManaging [email protected]








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    IMA AsIA CEO DIAlOguEs Spring 2015

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    IMA AsIA CEO DIAlOguEs Spring 2015

    where culture eats strategy for breakfast racksPace

    Ajit Melarkode

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    IMA AsIA CEO DIAlOguEs Spring 2015

    BEFORE COMING TO Hong Kong two years ago to head up Rackspaces APAC division, Ajit Melarkode heard a lot of advice. He was cautioned to be culturally extra sensitive with employees and customers alike, and to think about individual cultural strategies for each country in APAC.

    But Melarkode wasnt worried. Ive found that people are people everywhere, he said.

    From the outset Melarkode knew the only way to succeed would be to bring the beating heart of Rackspace to the fore to deliver Fanatical Support, the companys trademarked brand of services. He also knew that, to deliver exceptional support, he would have to cultivate an engaged workplace, so that employees or Rackers, would want to go the extra mile for their customers, and for one another.

    As our Chairman, Graham Weston says, What we all want is to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission, added Melarkode.

    Fanatical suPPortRackspace is ranked as the leading managed cloud service provider globally. Its approach differs from the big cloud providers, which essentially rent out access to raw IT infrastructure and expect the customers to fi gure out how to make it work.

    The San Antonio-based company has a client roster that includes Dominos Pizza, Under Armour and Tinder. In APAC, the fi rm lists clients such as the online retailer, the worlds largest online matrimonial service,, and Australian sportswear designer, Rip Curl.

    Fanatical Support is not only about solving customers IT problems and providing mission critical hosting, according to Melarkode, it is an attitude and culture that permeates the company. In traditional companies, Customer Service is a department while Rackspace creates an environment where it permeates the whole company.

    altituDe = attituDe + aPtituDeWhen you walk into the Rackspace offi ce in Hong Kong, the companys vibrant culture is immediately visible - open plan format, ags for Rackers to hang above their desks and Nerf guns, which can be fi red at anyone including Melarkode. The overall soundscape can be best described as noisy and engaged.

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    IMA AsIA CEO DIAlOguEs Spring 2015

    Rackspace hires for attitude and aptitude, as well as for technical skills.

    The company is known for its exacting standards and selectivity, making on average one job offer for every 25 applicants in APAC.

    It means we may spend months interviewing candidates when it could theoretically be days, he says. We will always go for picking the number one candidate rather than settling for anything less.

    hoW to Make a racker Getting employees to deliver Fanatical Support requires more than just picking the right candidates. It also involves an inordinate amount of training: at least three months for every new hire and a standard on-boarding programme called Rookie-O which everyone attends, whether it be a director or an intern.

    We spend a lot on training, Melarkode says. The soft stuff about serving customers, treating each other right, how we lead teams is hard. You cant cut and paste it. We obviously have a company strategy and thats important, but we believe that culture eats strategy for breakfast. For example, Rackers never work off a preset script and are trained as well as empowered to fi nd the right solutions for given situations.

    To gain this level of commitment from employees involves something in return. Citing the in uence of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, Rackspace culture actively encourages constructive dissent and peer-to-peer accountability.

    Given that the education system in most Asian countries discourages anything resembling constructive dissent, it would seem that this non-hierarchical approach would be near impossible to achieve.

    living By an oPen Book Melarkode admits it was a challenge at fi rst to create a safe environment for being open. It took 6 months. But once the open exchange of ideas started, there was no going back. The key, he says, is to lead by example, as when he lets his staff see him openly pose pointed questions to the executive leadership from the US.

    Transparency is another central element. The company practices an open book policy, whereby each month the companys strategy and fi nancials

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  • 4IMA AsIA CEO DIAlOguEs Spring 2015

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    are shared with the entire office. Rackers are given the chance to openly challenge and question Melarkodes decisions an experience he says I inordinately enjoy.

    After the meeting, every person in the office, led by Melarkode, chips in to return the 50-plus chairs back to where they belong. Its a small example of the servant leadership Melarkode works hard to deliver. We all roll up our sleeves, he says.

    We like to say thank you When it comes to rewarding employees for exceptional service, the company excels. It offers monthly paid vacations for top performers, whether

    which countries would most help Rackspace drive long-term growth and profitability.

    His second decision was to whittle down the companys focus from many countries in APAC, to five. After a year of listening to clients and looking at the numbers, he whittled down the list again, going after three major regions: Greater China, India and ANZ.

    Im often asked, says Melarkode, are you in so-and-so country? We have customers we value in 20+ countries in the region, but we choose to focus our sales and marketing effort