Reminiscing St. Gallen

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Nearly three years after my attendance of the St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, I recently caught up in Tokyo with two Japanese “Leaders of Tomorrow” who were in my cohort, respectively, a management consultant and a corporate executive. (More on these young people later.)

Naturally, we spoke fondly of our time at St Gallen. Ideas at the Symposium were developed and debated in an explosive way amongst high quality speakers and passionate participants -all in an intensely short timeframe. The well-organised events provided excellent opportunities for us to conduct great discussions in plenary and small group settings. People from diverse backgrounds can (and are even encouraged to) disagree with one another publicly, constructively, and rationally, which fostered collective learning.

I joined the Symposium through the essay competition, which I entered in February 2013. My take on the 2013 theme “Rewarding Courage” is to analyse the ways to encourage moral courage in enhancing institutional governance. One such way is to establish channels of reporting and auditing for corruption within organisations -what is popularly termed “whistle blowing”. This angle of analysis eventually became rather topical as it presaged several international headliner events of mid to late 2013. The crux of my piece is simple -organisations can only be sustainable and thrive free of the infectious disease of corruption, if their individual members reflect on ethical and moral behaviour. How this can be achieved effectively is one for fervent discourse amongst scholars, managers, bureaucrats and other decision-makers. I tried to capture the gist of the arguments in a few modest words in my essay.

Some highlights: I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with other Leaders of Tomorrow to prepare a marketing team presentation on managing agricultural risks at the insurance company, Swiss Re. We were given 15-20 minutes to prepare and my team and I eventually won the event. Our secret weapon was that my co-presenter came from a farming family and knew firsthand the risks involved, and she spoke convincingly from her heart. We had the chance to present our ideas to certain directors of Swiss Re. I was also enthralled by the small group workshops, where I could ask to hear the personal thoughts of the Leaders of Today on major international issues. My interests are diverse and cover the regulation of environment, finance and social equity. And the Symposium was diverse enough to whet my curiosity. But, of course, there is room for improvement -we need more representation from the art and literary world!

To future participants: Make the most of this wonderful opportunity by sharing and growing ideas, and by meeting and making amazing friends. Please reach out broadly -every attendee has a wealth of experience and is brilliant in their own ways. I had the most interesting conversations at the least expected moment with persons far removed from my usual social contacts. Your time at the Symposium is short. So, sleep less to make the most of your time! Coming to St Gallen with a prepared mind and a charming smile is as important as a well-packed suitcase (good walking shoes are highly recommended).

Since the Symposium, the consultant has worked in Brazil and returned to Japan recently bringing back valuable cultural, life and work experiences. The corporate executive was really a star at the Symposium, representing young Asians to take center stage at a plenary address in front of world leaders in attendance. She talked about young people working in traditional Japanese corporations and the Code of the Bushido, topics she was interviewed by the Financial Times on before her debut at the Symposium. She still works at the same corporation taking on greater leadership roles, excelling even colleagues many years her senior. I truly treasure opportunities to catch up with friends abroad in person, and meetings with “Leaders of Tomorrow” are never boring.

So ist das Leben.

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