Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
June 5, 2019

East Meets West Coast: Insights from our Silicon Valley Technology Road Trip

For as much as technology has made it possible to connect with people virtually, there is no replacement for sitting face to face and learning from each other. With this in mind, our Asia Pacific Technology, Media & Telecommunications team recently spent a week on the U.S. West Coast meeting with a number of large and emerging technology companies, as well as private equity and venture capital funds active in the technology space. Our objective was to get a glimpse into the latest and greatest developments in Silicon Valley and throughout the West Coast, and exchange firsthand insights and perspectives on the Asia Pacific market and leadership. Here are some key takeaways from our conversation about overarching market trends — and what they mean for leaders:

The Asia Pacific enterprise market is complex: Consider the country, not the continent  
At a macro-level, Asia Pacific remains a tricky and somewhat challenging region for West Coast-based technology companies. Overall, there was shared desire to see most markets in Asia Pacific (other than Japan and Australia) move from the current “lowest price” mentality to focus on value-generation potential instead, especially in the B2B context. However, with Asia Pacific being a large and diverse region, country-specific nuances must always be considered.

Click on each country for more details.


As a market, Japan operates with a high degree of self-sufficiency, having built its own complex ecosystem of system integrators and value-added resellers. Yet, the market remains attractive for U.S. technology companies due to its size and maturity.

Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) are arguably easier markets to operate in, as they tend to behave like the U.S. or Western European ones. However, while in the past ANZ benefited from being the initial port of call (often becoming the hub) for MNCs expanding into Asia, these hubs have now largely moved to Singapore or Hong Kong because of the relative geographical isolation of ANZ from the rest of Asia. Given these dynamics, there is a natural capping of the potential of ANZ in the eyes of technology companies and investors.


While China was always complex from an IP standpoint, the go-to-market economics and complexity coupled with recent trade disputes have made it significantly harder for U.S. companies to succeed there from a commercial standpoint. This is perhaps reflected in a majority of the technology companies not being able to generate profits from their China operations today, causing a sense of frustration.


India continues to be a complex market whose potential has been emerging for quite some time. Outside of the five to six largest conglomerates, few Indian companies view and invest in technology as a strategic differentiator, adopting a more short-term and cost-driven approach to technology today. The underdeveloped enterprise channel structure also presents further challenge.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia (SEA) remains a bright spot for most companies with ambitions to grow in Asia Pacific. Singapore has largely replaced ANZ and Hong Kong as the Asia Pacific hub for a majority of TMT companies – driven by attractive government incentives, geographical centricity relative to other Asia-Pacific countries, and a rich and diverse talent pool consisting of both Asian-born executives (many with experience studying and working in the West), as well as Western expatriates who have made a long-term commitment to Singapore and the region.

Companies in the region have also invested significantly in hiring chief digital officers and chief data officers, who are further driving adoption of cutting-edge technologies. Among the emerging economies in SEA, Indonesia is seen as increasingly attractive given the rise of a more politically stable and transparent government, a vibrant digital ecosystem spawned by a large, growing middle class, and rapid adoption of social media and smartphones. This evolution has also given birth to a number of ambitious and fast-growing local conglomerates that are eager to spread their wings not just regionally but also globally – creating an attractive target category for technology companies.

Untapped market potential driving experimentation
In contrast to the enterprise markets, companies continue to be more optimistic and bullish about the consumer markets in Asia Pacific – their potential stemming from a fast-growing, young and ambitious population. At the same time, most companies believe that despite technology adoption not being an issue, they are still far from realizing the revenue potential of the market. To solve for this, companies continue to experiment with different go-to-market and organizational models, including having the strategic markets report directly into global (as opposed to regional) headquarters to ensure adequate focus on them. 

Asia Pacific-based companies setting up shop on the West Coast 
The last few years have shown an increasing number of Asia Pacific- headquartered companies, both large and small, setting up technology hubs on the U.S. West Coast, with emerging technology companies now following the lead of large ones that have traditionally done this. A logical move given that U.S. represents the largest market for these companies, we also see a growing trend toward hiring senior, specialized technology leaders on the West Coast and creating “innovation labs,” additionally enabling the hiring of world-class technology leaders, including those not interested in relocating to Asia Pacific. 

Time to reengineer engineering approaches for Asia Pacific 
There is an increasing realization that a Silicon Valley-centric, one-size-fits-all engineering approach will not be able to address the diversity of markets in Asia Pacific. Seeing the importance of having product and engineering teams close to the ground — particularly given the dynamism and rapid pace of change in these markets — some global technology companies have set up engineering hubs in Singapore, leveraging the growing pool of junior technical talent. At the same time, due to the relative youth of the digital ecosystem in Singapore, senior product and engineering executives who have proven track records in building product at scale often need to be imported from Western markets. We find senior executives are relatively more open to moving to Singapore (in comparison to other countries in Asia Pacific) given its quality of life for the expatriate population. 

Changing perceptions on “the next Silicon Valley”
While Bangalore has enjoyed the reputation of being seen as the next Silicon Valley for some years now and continues to be the startup capital of India, some larger U.S. companies have recently shrunk their investments in building and growing engineering teams there. The key reasons cited include a declining cost advantage and talent challenges. The most important of which is managing and leveraging a qualified, yet largely perceived as an order-taking, execution-focused, mid-level talent pool who are constantly looking for higher titles and compensation, and willing to move companies frequently for these. These companies take the more traditional approach of leveraging their Bangalore operations for sustenance engineering and execution aspects. On the other hand, some other technology companies have adopted the more aggressive “mini HQ” approach to India, housing all functions as well as global roles at their India centers (often the only such setup outside the U.S.), enabling attraction of higher quality senior talent.

So what do these trends mean from a leadership and talent perspective? 
Based on our discussions with leaders and our work with clients across these regions, here are some of our recommendations on how to deal with these shifting dynamics:
  • Think locally versus globally about structures and leadership. Taking into account the unique opportunities, challenges and talent profile in each market is key to building the most suitable organizational structures, as well as for hiring and retaining the best leadership. Further, while parachuting in expats from HQ to drive regional operations might be convenient in the short term, proactive efforts to develop local leaders from within the region (including by exposing them to roles at HQ) is essential to driving sustainability and enabling greater cultural alignment between the HQ and the region. Regular talent reviews for identifying and developing the future leadership/succession bench is critical to this process.
  • Be open — but deliberate — about bringing on talent from outside the industry. With a large pool of high-quality general management talent residing outside the industry, hiring from beyond the traditional hunting grounds can help bring fresh thinking and perspectives to drive change and transformation. However, it is critical to be focused on identifying not only the skills that the leader could cross-fertilize from his/her industry, but also on evaluating his/her personal agility to make the shift successfully. There are a number of fundamentals that can help predict executive potential for such shifts, which we assess for as part of our Executive Intelligence™ methodology, including: critical and conceptual thinking, interpersonal and social awareness, and self-evaluation and adjustment. We also assess for culture agility, as research has found that the people with the best chance of success didn’t fit the culture perfectly — they were more adaptable.
  • Challenge engineering talent stereotypes. An ever-increasing number of “unicorns” coming out of China and India have proven that the technology talent there can create and innovate, and not just execute — as assumed by more traditional offshoring models. However, to fully leverage and strengthen these abilities, companies need to create structures and cultures that drive innovation at their development centers. Our research on organization cultures shows learning and collaboration to be key pillars of innovation. Ultimately, such a culture also becomes the company’s employer brand and plays a key role in attracting engineering superstars.

Ultimately, despite varying viewpoints, few global companies can afford to discount the Asia Pacific region today given its market potential. At the same time, future success requires not only that U.S.-based technology companies start thinking differently to try newer approaches in Asia Pacific, but also, that leaders in Asia Pacific drive greater focus on disruption, innovation and value creation.