In July 2017, I attended the 2nd Annual Asian Australian Leadership Summit 2017. As with any conferences, I always share my thoughts and learnings. Here’s my personal views on value, key learnings, and what it means to New Zealand.


The conference was easily the most expensive one in my life at AUD$2,400 for two days. When I initially shared with my network circle, 9 out of 10 said “What? That’s crazy!”

So, was it worth it?

Absolutely yes!

And here’s how I see the value. There were about 20 speakers and panellists over the two days, and I connected with 11 of them whom I regard as my potential future mentor, business advisor, and maybe even friends.

If I divide $2,400 by 11, that’s $218 of “networking fee” per contact. Not only that, I connected with many like-minded participants as well.

Connecting with someone coldly via LinkedIn vs connecting with someone in person will result in very different relationship dynamics. Many of the contacts at the conference are not usually easily accessible under one roof, what more for someone like me who is based in New Zealand.

Just for comparison sake, I recently attended large scale half day conference with over 500 people and high profile speakers. However, the connections made were very “touch and go”, and the quality of the speakers’ content was not on point. And it was free.

So thank you to Liquid Learning for organising this – I got a lot out of the conference, and quite possibly the best conference value that I’ve ever attended.

I highly recommend any aspiring leaders, regardless of your race, culture or ethnicity, to attend next year’s conference for self-discovery and how to work, lead, and inspire an ethnically diverse workforce.



The speakers line up were just amazing. Here are some of the nuggets.


There was no short of world-class research and publications being shared. Here are my top favourites:

1.      Missing out: The business case for customer diversity by Deloitte

2.      The six signature traits of inclusive leadership by Deloitte

3.      Why Diversity Matters by McKinsey

4.      Inclusion Starts with I (YouTube video) by Accenture




Australia is generally a few years ahead of New Zealand in many ways. It’s a good thing because we can avoid the mistakes and shortcut our way to achieve something even better.

The summit has led me to think about the key gaps in New Zealand:

1.      Public sector:

  • It’s important to acknowledge the first Kiwis and Treaty of Waitangi.
  • As New Zealand becomes more ethnically diverse and with more than 1 out of 4 Kiwis born overseas according to 2013 Census, it’s time to start the conversation to define New Zealand values, develop a multicultural policy, and educate the public.
  • We need to educate at an early age starting from primary school on diversity and build an appreciation of people from different backgrounds.

2.      Private sector:

  • Surprisingly, conversations at senior leadership table are still very much on gender diversity and very white. Many executives’ common feedback is “We need to get gender diversity right first before we move on to ethnic diversity”. How I interpret that is “White man and white women first, the rests later”.
  • As McKinsey points out in January 2015: 15% outperformance based on gender diversity vs 35% outperformance based on ethnic diversity.
  • When senior leadership are not waking up to the changing demography of the labour force, then it’s likely they will not be waking up to the new opportunities that the customer diversity brings.
  • Equipping our emerging young leaders with the right tools and training, such as overseas postings, cultural intelligence and cultural awareness training.
  • Do more beyond cultural celebrations, by deeply understanding various ethnic leaders’ values, motivation, and aspiration.

3.      Community sector:

  • Community groups usually have a purpose of creating social cohesion, inclusiveness, and well-being.
  • For ethnic based communities, there is a need to start including ethnic diversity at the committee level to ensure cross-cultural understanding and collaboration, eg for Indian associations, make sure there are Chinese and Maori representatives.
  • For social purpose based communities, there is a need to start developing their young members on community leadership that transcends ethnic groupings, eg for child bullying community group, assign a young leader on a project that is surrounded by an ethnically diverse working group, and mentored by a community leader.




As I reflect my learnings from Australia, I pondered on the landscape of Asian leadership in New Zealand, and whether we need to term it by ethnicity or race? As the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said “race based politics will never work” which led to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. It doesn’t take much to look at how the prosperity and social cohesion of both countries differ today.

So, does race based leadership work?

Being an Asian myself, I felt a sense of pride and belonging when I first came across the term Asian leadership. But as I grow to develop and lead larger teams which included pakehas (Maori term for a white New Zealander) and other non-Asian team members, I started to cringe at that term.

I personally feel that the moment we start to categorise someone by race or ethnicity, we’ve already lost half the battle before we even begin because of unconscious bias that’s been built into our DNA as part of our basic human survival instinct.

Perhaps a better term should be “Multicultural Leadership” or “International Leadership” where it’s more inclusive and inviting rather than exclusive and distancing.

Share your thoughts here .



Eric Chuah was the Head of Migrant Banking for ANZ and the founder of Cultural Connections, which is a multicultural think tank working with government agencies, community groups, and private sector to help migrant community groups to flourish together with business in New Zealand.