​In their own words: Chinese executives discuss the AGSM leadership program

AGSM hosted two groups of executives from the large Chinese company HNA for a 10-day “Business of the Future” leadership program in Sydney. Most of the program was held at the AGSM Building in UNSW’s Kensington campus, although the more than 70 HNA employees also had an overnight stay at Nan Tien Temple, near Wollongong, 70 kilometres south of Sydney.

We asked five HNA executives, most of whom are employed at HNA Airport Group and Haikou Meilan International Airport, what they thought of the program and the challenges they face in a fast-changing aviation environment.

What will HNA gain by sending its executives to Sydney?

Sophia Huang, HDR, Human Resources Department of Haikou Meilan International Airport: “The main purpose of sending the two groups to Sydney is part of our process of internationalisation. The airport and HNA Group face big challenges of how to integrate into the international culture and gain management skills. Through this program, we hope to not only gain industry insights, management skills and knowledge but more understanding of cultural differences.”

How would you describe the differences between Chinese- and Western-style leadership?

Chen Ying, Deputy General Manager, Operations: “The Chinese management culture is based more on the Confucian way of thinking. It focuses on team building and networking, and is very inclusive. The Western management style is based on individualism, logic, principles and legitimacy. However, the Chinese people are quick learners! Through this training we have experienced the difference while integrating with the Faculty and the local people. We feel we will benefit a lot.”

What unique business challenges do you face at HNA, specifically at Haikou Airport?

Chen Ying: “The biggest challenge at the airport is integrating HNA’s future business model. To develop it as a hub airport is a big step, as is differentiating it from two other local airports. Within the region there are other big point-to-point airports. Our challenge is how we position ourselves in the marketplace.”

Sophia Huang: “We have other challenges, too. How to understand differences within the domestic market and take advantage of the national ‘one belt, one road’ policy. Another is our international expansion. We are going to acquire more international airports, so we need to better understand the differences in social, economic, cultural and regulation policies between countries. It’s a big challenge for the airport and [HNA’s] Modern Logistics Group.”

What do you think has been the most interesting part of the program?

Robert Gno, Manager, Ecological-Innovation Department: “Through the 10 days of learning at AGSM, we have received a huge amount of information. We learned how to integrate all of this information, how to connect all the models and frameworks, how to classify different types of information and gather them up to become a whole system. We have learned how to reorganise our resources by using models and frameworks, and think about our weaknesses and strengths. It’s been a good learning experience in general.”

Li Qian, Assistant General Manager, Operations: “Another meaningful part of the program was visiting Nan Tien Temple. We have visited Buddhist temples many times in China but this was the first time we have visited a temple in a Western culture. Nan Tien Temple shows how a Chinese culture can be localised and inclusive; we learned some of the little things the temple has done to immerse in this Australian culture.”

Kai Zhang, Deputy General Manager, Ecological-Innovation Department, Changan Modern Logistics: “Back in my department in China, I didn’t know how to handle some situations. So I raised them with the teachers and we discussed and exchanged our ideas. Many times the teachers mentioned some things that gave me a ‘aha’ moment and I found a solution.”

Sophia Huang: “The interactions between the presenters and the participants have been really meaningful and interesting.”

Have you discovered something in the program that surprised you?

Kai Zhang: “Most people here are from the airport department and I’m from Modern Logistics. The day before the classes, I was chatting with the professors and was talking about my background. The other day I found they added a slide that was suitable for me. That’s very agile of the professors, and I feel very satisfied because they are taking care of me - personally. That was very surprising for me.”

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