China's HNA Group recently sent more than 70 of its executives from HNA Airport Group and HNA Modern Logistics to Sydney for a 10-day "Business of the Future" leadership program – a collaboration between AGSM and the UNSW School of Aviation. 

The program aimed to give HNA's China-based executives greater knowledge and skills in global aviation theory and practice, and help them develop a better understanding of leadership styles and business operations in Western cultures. Two groups took part in the program, which was based at the AGSM Building in UNSW's Kensington campus: emerging leaders from 28 September to 8 October 8 and senior executives from 10 – 20 October.

AGSM's Executive Director for Executive Education, Frank Kennedy, said the collaboration proved the value of bringing together academic teaching and contemporary research with essential industry insights. "It combined the capabilities of the University, research, thought leadership, evidence and collaboration globally with the practice of business," Kennedy said. "The more we interact with industry, the more we refresh our thinking and the greater our value."

The program's success, he said, reinforced AGSM's position as a pioneer in executive education and UNSW's reputation as a leading STEM university.

One of the program directors, Dr Ian Douglas, who is Senior Lecturer in Aviation Management at UNSW, said he was able to offer HNA executives a range of global industry perspectives. "I have a background operationally in airlines, as a consultant and regulator, and as an academic," he said. "I bring a range of industry-specific skills and put the leadership training into context."

The other program director, AGSM Fellow in International Business Dr Jane Qiu, said AGSM provides a vital link for Chinese companies with limited leadership and operational experience outside their own country. "We're like a bridge between Chinese companies and Western companies when it comes to management knowledge and practice," she said.

The intensive program covered aviation industry insights, marketing, strategic thinking, customer-centric experiences, agile strategies and adaptive leadership. HNA staff formed teams around project topics, such as "mergers and acquisitions" and "branding and marketing", and presented their results to program organisers and fellow delegates.

The program included theoretical sessions on airport business models, growth, innovation and leadership, and included analysis of practical case studies, such as how Sydney BridgeClimb managed to turn a significant piece of infrastructure – the Sydney Harbour Bridge – into a customer-focused "destination".

The HNA executives also visited Nan Tien Temple, near Wollongong, for engaging sessions on creativity and innovation, with a focus on cross-cultural communication.

Having started with a regional airline on Hainan Island, HNA Group now has operations in many business sectors including hospitality, tourism, real estate, finance, logistics, shipbuilding, media and entertainment. It operates 16 airports, controls or owns shares in 19 airlines and has a fleet of more than 1250 aircraft, and plans to grow its Modern 

Logistics operations dramatically over the next five years.

Kennedy said the leadership program was a crucial step in HNA's expansion plans. "Integration is a big issue," Kennedy said. "They don't want to destroy the culture of the businesses they acquire. They realise if they do that, then they erode the value of what they've acquired."

Acting AGSM Director Professor Clinton Free said the relationship with UNSW Aviation was crucial to the program's success. "AGSM is uniquely placed to shape inclusive, ethical and sustainable leadership in enterprise and society through integration of UNSW's disciplines with AGSM's adaptive leadership," Free said. "HNA is a great example of AGSM supporting global growth through the appreciation and leverage of diversity rather than the imposition of a dominant culture across multiple regions."