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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | editor, Hong Kong

Deloitte China Southern Region Managing Partner shares key takeaways for leaders during the pandemic

Edward Au is back as one of our judges in the HKB Management Excellence Awards 2020.

Deloitte China Southern Region Managing Partner Edward Au is responsible for Deloitte China's offices in Southern China, with a focus on the development of the practice in the Greater Bay Area. He has been a partner of Deloitte China since 2003, with extensive experience in auditing multinational corporations, public companies and enterprises in Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, and the Chinese Mainland.

As Southern Region Managing Partner, Edward drives service and practice transformation, fosters talent development and advances the firm’s presence across the region. He was co-leader of the firm’s National Public Offering Group and has led various debt and equity offering engagements in Hong Kong, the US, and Singapore. He is one of the firm’s spokespeople on IPOs and a frequent speaker at external seminars.

Edward is back as one of our esteemed judges—this time for the highly anticipated HKB Management Excellence Awards 2020, which honours the city's most outstanding business leaders.

Which particular markets or sectors are your focus? Can you share your work experience or any backstory that has contributed to your professional career?

After graduating from university with a degree in accounting, I began my career at Deloitte China and was admitted to the partnership 10 years later. Most of my career has been focused on auditing, in particular assisting multinationals and local enterprises to go public in Hong Kong and the US. My dedication to initial public offering (IPO) work has enabled me to work with not only diverse clientele from various industries in Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, and the Chinese Mainland, but also other professional intermediaries, including investment bankers and corporate finance lawyers.

These days, I spend a substantial amount of time setting the firm's strategy and advancing our businesses in Southern China. After taking up the role of Deloitte China's Southern Region Managing Partner this April, my responsibilities have expanded beyond audit and IPO services to all other service lines, with a focus on driving practice transformation and talent development. I head over 5,000 partners and professionals across the region, providing audit and assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services.

What can leaders learn from the crisis? For those whose companies and industries have been badly hit, what do owners need to consider on the road to recovery?

Resilient leadership will be crucial to achieving growth after the pandemic. Business leaders must shift organisational mindsets, navigate uncertainties, and invest in building trust in order to recover and thrive. Whilst initial goals were to ensure employee safety and operational continuity, as the world gradually reopens, the focus of leadership needs to be expanded to embrace a return to a market-facing posture. The key takeaway is that leaders should envision the destination in terms of desired stakeholder outcomes, not internal processes, to propel toward recovery and continue to thrive.

The consumer and travel sectors are amongst the industries worst hit by the disruption and shutdowns caused by COVID-19 so far. Although it remains uncertain how long the pandemic will last, business leaders in these sectors have to keep up with rapid changes in customer behaviors and brand preferences. The crisis has not only accelerated digitisation within companies, but also opened up new opportunities for innovation to create new products, services, or markets by designing around constraints. Moreover, companies may find opportunities for cross-industry collaboration that did not exist before the pandemic.

How can management support employees and stakeholders during these tough times?

Every company is different, but what remains true is that business leaders need to support employees' mental and physical wellbeing, as well as address the challenges and concerns of stakeholders—especially during tough times. Employees are every company's most valuable asset, so it is important to put your people first and recognise we all need flexibility and support to adjust to the new normal. To do so, companies can adopt flexible working solutions and embrace technologies that enable virtual collaboration and continuous business operations, whilst adjusting schedules to accommodate team member, client, and family obligations.

As virtual meetings could not completely replace face-to-face meetings, it is equally important for management to reach out to employees physically to the extent possible, in order to maintain a personal touch and understand people's concerns, thereby devising solutions to support them during these unprecedented times.

At the same time, leaders must quickly mobilise support for clients in the face of the pandemic’s myriad challenges, providing guidance on issues such as supply chain changes, workforce strategies, business continuity and financial management, technology and digital solutions. Companies also need to demonstrate corporate responsibility by providing support and relief to communities in need through donations and collaboration with charities. 

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