Everyone knows that I love to travel. Life on the road is exhilarating and educational. After too much time in airports, hotels and taxis, however, it can be tough to tell whether you're coming or going. Companies in transition can certainly understand the feeling. As many revered financial service and wealth brands work toward visions for the future, they strive to retain the values and structure that have defined the brand. Success depends on how closely strategy and tactics can be aligned with corporate vision to create a clear path forward. In Asia, they seem to have understood this phenomena earlier than us Americans. Read on.
If this is difficult to achieve at a corporate level, you can imagine the obstacles to implementation on a truly global scale. When I was contacted by the prestigious Hong Kong Trade & Development Council and invited to cover the inaugural "Belt & Road Summit," I was intrigued. I was familiar with the "One Country, Two Systems" approach that delineated the two governments yet leverages China's efforts to integrate manufacturing capacity with the professional and financial services capabilities of Hong Kong. This event was dedicated to exploring how to reinvigorate centuries old trading routes through a series of modern infrastructure enhancements. "The New Silk Road," initiative represents a global "brand" transition, as China has shed its identity as a low-cost manufacturing center as it aspires to become an even greater world power. My own son is looking forward to a junior year of college study abroad in Shanghai to learn global business. And move over, French and Spanish, as Mandarin is quickly becoming one of the new global languages.
This was truly a world event, with keynote speeches, panel sessions and workshops all devoted to address this ambitious initiative, aimed at jump starting an entire population by stimulation regional growth and collaboration. As I arrived, I was immediately impressed with the number and stature of participants and attendees, as well as the extensive media presences at the event. I was surrounded by global luminaries and leaders from the realms of banking and finance, professional services, infrastructure development, cross-border investment, logistics and maritime, as well as top government officials representing these areas. While each brought a unique perspective to the Belt and Road program, the unifying theme was cross-sector connectivity. Blazing fast Internet connections, bullet trains and new highways and shipping lanes are all emblematic of a cultural mindset that is bridging cultures. This is powering the new Silk Road at a speed faster than light.
As with the "Old" Silk Road, the most important aspects exchanged may be cultural. For those not familiar with the history or able to access Google, the Old Silk Road was actually a web of interconnected pathways that facilitated the Chinese silk trade. The societal influence was perhaps as significant as the economic impact, as trade flourished between India, Persia, Europe, Arabia and Africa. These same regions are in play today, as China pursues pipeline, telecommunications and infrastructure projects from South America to Antarctica. No word on progress with penguins, but elsewhere, the influence has been profound. As part of this initiative, the Chinese Government as unveiled extensive funding for projects in these areas at a time when "the world is awash with excess capacity and ample liquidity," according to one panelist at the event.
More importantly, what took centuries and a Great Wall to build ages ago might be accomplished almost overnight in the information age. Xenophobic fears are possibly overstated and probably, unmerited. The Old Silk Road lasted hundreds of years because it was built and dependent on partnership across societies. The New Silk Road, too, is a monumental opportunity for collaboration. What looks like a tangled web from afar is actually a vibrant and pervasive communications, industrial, transportation and energy network that will help to power a truly global economy. What's more is that there is ample opportunity for global firms to participate in a variety of ways in this new/old world initiative!
The most important bridge that will be built through infrastructure investment might be within Chinese borders. The "New Silk Road" is creating stronger ties between the powerful private equity, and professional services sectors in Hong Kong. A stronger union between these once divided territories is creating the physical infrastructure, network connectivity and global relationships needed to leverage Hong Kong's strengths as a center of global banking In Asia. But, it's not limited to Hong Kong - global funders and firms with relevant expertise can can jump in to this massive multi-year plan.
The Belt & Road Summit itself just the launching pad for investors, project owners, service provider and government officials to connect and exchange ideas, creating additional opportunities for cross border investment. For participants, audience members and this reporter, it was a chance to better understand China's direction and aspirations for the future as they relate to its history.
For us in the United States, it is a chance to make the world a more connected place by seizing opportunities to participate in this undertaking. It's a chance to become a citizen of the world. 64% of wealthy Americans have never left the US and traveled abroad. On this trip, I was lucky enough to bring my own college-aged sons for their first trip to Asia. Judging by their excitement and wonder at the innovative milieu, I know that it won't be their last.
I am always excited and energized by each of my trips to Hong Kong, but this one in particular was truly thrilling. I guess history does repeat itself but this time via the Belt And Road initiative, it will be at warp speed. Hop on the bullet train before it passes you by...