This weekend I read articles in both the AFR and The Australian newspapers highlighting key findings from a study conducted by Asialink on the Asian capability of Australia’s largest companies. The study results were described as “dire” by the AFR.

It was reported the average Asia capability score of our top ASX200 Australian boards is just 6.42 out of 30. A staggering 67% of ASX 200 board members have no experience of operating in Asia and 55% demonstrated little or no knowledge of Asian markets. While there are distinct differences from industry to industry these statistics as a whole are damming.

What hope do organisations have if their business leaders are not Asian capable and have limited understanding of Asian markets? Those who have read my blogs and articles or even read my book will know my strong views on need for organisations to have Asian capability and understanding before investing in Asian markets.

Moving beyond board member capability what about the Asian capability of management and employees in your business?

I have seen many examples where senior executives have been sent to Asia on marketing | sales trips or even expat assignments when they did not have the personal attributes or experience to succeed in Asian environments. In some cases there was an attitude “Well, this person is not working out for us in Australia, maybe they will find their way in Asia.” If they cannot make things work in Australia, what makes anyone think they will make things work in Asia?

You need your best people in Asia because you need people who are street smart, intelligent, flexible and most importantly adaptable. You need people who are flexible, experienced in business, relationship driven and can think on their feet. They must also be capable of gaining the respect of Asian business colleagues and customers.

Many years ago I lived and worked in Indonesia for almost five years before returning to Australia. Indonesia is the most complex business environment I ever had to learn and understand. It took me a full 12 months before I started to feel like I was making a meaningful contribution comfortable acting in the market and was accurately predicting what my Asian colleagues and partners were thinking.

Basically I had to do the hard yards on the ground to become Asian capable. I have many business colleagues and friends who did the same thing. Clearly it is not possible for everyone to have on the ground experience working and living in Asia. This is why it is critical that the people you send to represent your business interests in Asia are capable of adapting and embracing the business environment.

In the western business world when we make a mistake we normally see the immediate impact and reaction before we move on. If you make a mistake in Asia, it can have long-term ramifications. It can affect your relationship and business deal on a long term basis. It may even kill it. You have got to be very careful how you do business within the Asian market. It is critical that you have your best people driving your Asian business interests. In saying this it is important that our business leaders are willing and capable of seeking counsel from experienced Asian business practitioners.

In my view business in the Australian market can be considered as being rather mundane, predictable, regimented and structured. It does not have the same challenges as Asia. There are so many moving parts, challenges and unexpected events that you need to deal with in Asia. If our business leaders do not understand this what hope have our businesses got in taking advantage of the Asian opportunity?