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Lessons from Asia’s Most Successful CEOs



Many people in the English speaking world are aware of the biographies and lessons of our great businesspeople—Steve Jobs, Rockefeller, Elon Musk. But many of us aren’t aware of their counterparts in Asia, which is a real shame. Asian businesses have been ascendant in recent years, surpassing even some of the West’s most successful businesses in power and influence. Who are the people leading these businesses and what do they have to teach us?

I’ve combed through the biographies of the executives of some of Asia’s most successful businesses, and compiled a few lessons to help you think like a CEO.

Process is everything


Executive to learn from: Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motors

Sakichi Toyoda was the Japanese inventor who founded the automotive company that still bears his name. The Toyota Motor company not only revolutionized the automobile industry—disrupting the American-dominated industry in the 20th Century by offering well made cars at reasonable prices—but also the ways in which businesses analyze and improve their processes.

Under Toyoda’s guidance, his company developed many sophisticated process-improvement techniques that are still used by companies today. They came up with what is now known as the “5 Whys”, where you analyze a business problem by asking “why” five times, to figure out the root cause of that problem—and not just some underlying symptom.

Many of Toyoda’s techniques have been compiled into a system called Lean Manufacturing, which has been incredibly influential not only in manufacturing but also the world of software development. This system teaches us that standardizing business processes and constantly seeking to improve them is the foundation of any successful business.

Find a strong mentor


Executive to learn from: Jack Ma, founder of AliBaba

In 1999, Jack Ma founded Alibaba, an online marketplace that serves primarily the Chinese market, which some have described as the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. He is now one of the richest men in the world, and one of the most influential citizens in China.

But astronomical success in business was never a forgone conclusion for Ma. For many years he struggled to get a job, later spending a number of years as a humble instructor of English. One of the keys to his success was the help and support he received from one of his mentors, David Morley, an Australian man who spent some time in China. Morley struck up a correspondence when Ma was 12, which improved Ma’s English skills, and even helped Ma secure his first apartment in China.

The power of an effective mentor cannot be overstated. It was integral in the life of Jack Ma, as well as many other successful business leaders. If you don’t have one, get a mentor now! And if you don’t have a mentor to guide you, you can always get a coach to help you instead.

Be biased toward action


Executive to learn from: Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani routinely comes in first place in rankings of India’s richest citizens, and is managing director of Reliance Industries Limited, one of India’s richest companies.

A turning point in Ambani’s life course came while he was studying for an MBA at Stanford’s business school. While Stanford has one of the best business programs in the world, and most people would beg, borrow, or steal to get a degree from it, Ambani dropped out before he could finish his studies. He had a good reason to. He began working for his father to build Reliance into one of the most successful companies in the world.

The lesson we can draw from this is simple. No matter how good a school is or how good a credential looks on your resume, it will never be as good as a good business opportunity and concrete experience.

Be wary of your competition—Even when you’re at the top


Executive to learn from: Robin Li, CEO of Baidu

Like Alibaba, Baidu is one of China’s most successful internet businesses. The company has a stranglehold over the internet search field in China (not unlike Google’s position in the rest of the world.) Its CEO and founder, Robin Li, is a billionaire many times over.

These facts could make anyone complacent. But not Li. In recent interviews, he’s borderline paranoid about newer, more agile startups taking Baidu’s place in China’s internet landscape. He said:

“In regard to those (startups) you think are nothing and haven’t been paying attention to, your judgment might be wrong,” Mr. Li said. “They could be growing bigger and getting closer to your core business — and they might eventually subvert you.”

Knowing who your competition is and what they can do is a fundamental task of any business leader. Li understands this perhaps better than anyone—which is why he’s at the top of his field right now.

Failure is merely a stop on the way to success

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma speaks during the "Valuing What Matters" panal discussion during the third day of the Clinton Global Initiative's 10th Annual Meeting at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on September 23, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 23: Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma speaks during the “Valuing What Matters” panal discussion during the third day of the Clinton Global Initiative’s 10th Annual Meeting at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on September 23, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Executive to learn from: Jack Ma

This last lesson comes once again from Jack Ma. His life is a study in how to overcome failures—to turn the indignation of rejection and losses into motivation to succeed.

Over and over again, Ma faced setbacks that impeded his path to becoming one of China’s leading business men. Before attending a university in China, Ma failed the Chinese university entrance exams three times—three times! —before finally passing.

After graduating from college, Ma applied to 30 jobs and was rejected by each and every one. 30 jobs! One of the jobs included a KFC, where apparently 24 people applied and, “Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy who wasn’t,” Ma said.

Every successful person knows that failure lines the path toward victory. Every door that closes reveals another, better path forward. What truly sets apart great, successful people from the rest is in how they deal with failure. Some people when encountering failure will despair, folding like a house of cards. But others learn lessons from failure and use those lessons to become a better person. Jack Ma seemed to learn this lesson early on, which is why he has had great success in business.


“When Adam Draper does Crypto Standup, Singapore listens”



I live and work in Singapore and Santa Monica. Yes, I am blessed. However, my life has been by design, I think of what I want and so I make my life choices and make them happen in my life. Hence the bi-continent living and that comes with bi-continent and now global community living, being and ecosystems building. So I am now never surprised when one part of my world meets another.

I went to Wavemaker Partners venture capital event this evening, keen to meet Adam Draper, who is one of the many great presenters at Crypto Invest Summit, April 30- May 2 in Los Angeles.

Since I actively support leaders who are building scalable, sustainable businesses and movements for the betterment of many; of course I am learning about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. I had been keen to report on the Crypto Invest Summit as I would be back in May to LA for my PhD programme. I was in communications with the organizers. However, I am being awarded an award at the Women Economic Forum in Delhi that same week and could not be physically present.

Still I wanted to report on the event, somehow.

I wanted to listen to the speakers and support some of the speakers who are already friends and experts I rely on for greater insights on cryptocurrency. I like learning and sharing with the greater audience, I have in Asia what I am learning from the US and vice versa. So I feel I had my chance tonight to do a bit of that.

I could not help but smile as Adam Draper shed light into his world of investing in more than 85 crypto related products because he was such a breath of fresh air to the last few Blockchain and Financial conferences I have been reporting on; especially here in Asia.

He just says it like it is.

He kept stopping the audience when they said Blockchain and he said, “You know you really mean cryptocurrency.”  He hit the nail on the head because I have seen so clearly how this phrase had been said in Singapore time and again – “I am not into cryptocurrency but I believe in Blockchain.”

When he said how there was an incongruity as he sat across bankers who personally invested in cryptocurrency and when faced with an inbound of requests from their clients on the same investment; are tied by regulations and are unable to respond.

Here’s some of his best lines. If you don’t laugh or “ah-ha” the way I did, you probably just had to be there. The truth is funny because it calls out for something we all see but sometimes just do not want to admit.

There is a growing understanding of the underlying thematics that the cryptocurrency world has been experiencing as the interface between centralize; de-centralize and personal autonomy becomes more and more apparent and lines get drawn.

Adam Says:

1) The newest phenomenon is that some of the ICO founders are now just so rich from their ICOs that they really don’t need to work on the project they asked for money for.

2) For the crypto-world, money doesn’t matter anymore!
They need talent

It’s so founder friendly now.

3) What Bitcoin made us ask is “What is money?”

The next question is “What is government and governance?”

He highlighted if an entrepreneur is looking for a problem to solve., then the entrepreneur is always looking for horrible industries with poor services and high costs. So yes – Governments are those horrible industries and they need to be disrupted.

4)  Any company who comes to an investor and leads with how much ICO has raised; is a red flag. Leave immediately and go read a Harry Potter book instead.
If they are leading with value and not the problem they are solving. Beware. (read more here

5) If you are going to invest in where the brains are. It’s in crypto.

6) Philosophically, Coinbase is against ethos of what Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement is trying to do. However to do such a move from fiat to digital currency, there would need a way to do that. So Coinbase acts like a browser does for internet. One day there will be no need to cash in or out as everyone is already there on digital. Cryptocurrency is the exchange of value. His advice and we know his bias as he is invested in  Coinhako; is to hold onto an exchange for 3-5 years since onboarding of all users to the new digital currency will take some time.

Adam met with many banks and government bodies on his trip to Singapore – I hope they got his truths.

I ended the night by thanking Adam for making me laugh. He reminded me of how much I miss LA.

Want more of this?

If you are in LA on April 30 – May 2.



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Callum Connects

Adrian Reid, Founder of Enlightened Stock Trading



Adrian Reid escaped the rat race and became a knowledgeable trader. He now shares his trading knowledge and empowers others to take control of their stocks.

What’s your story?
After working 12-16 hour days in the corporate world for many years I had a moment of realisation on the 1 hour bus ride to work. It was here at this moment in time, I realised that I felt trapped, desperate and isolated. Trapped in a job I hated, and a life I had not designed. I had long been interested in investing, but I made the decision at that point to become the best trader I could possibly be and escape the rat race.
My dream was to be free; free of the 9 to 5, the commute, the stress and the exhaustion. I threw myself into my stock trading research and study and emerged 3 months later with the trading rules that would ultimately buy me my freedom. I am now retired from the corporate world, I trade full time and share my knowledge with other aspiring traders through my online education program which puts them in control and empowers them to take control and accountability for their trading results.

What excites you most about your industry?
So many people are trapped in jobs they don’t like or are feeling immense financial pressure in their life. Trading education is typically done extremely badly today because of the conflicts of interest in the industry. Fund managers want to hold onto your money forever; brokers want you to trade more frequently; forex brokers want you to use more leverage. Why? Because that is how they make their money.
By teaching traders how to develop and test their own stock trading systems I am able to empower them to find trading rules which fit their own personality, objectives and lifestyle. This is the only way for new traders to be successful. This process transforms people’s financial future, their relationship with money and wealth and gives them hope. I love that!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I recently spent 3 years living in Singapore which I absolutely loved. This put me in a good position to observe the other Asian markets. As a stock trader I am interested in many markets and economies around the world, however the Asian markets have some of the best potential for trading profits. I have traded stocks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have developed trading systems that work in many other Asian markets as well.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favourite city is Singapore. After living in Singapore for 3 years my family fell in love with the city. Life is great in Singapore for the whole family and the pro-business and investing policies of the government make it a wonderful place to build your financial future as well.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
On a personal front: Find something you love, throw all your energy and passion into it.
On the wealth front: Spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Take control of your finances and always accept 100% responsibility for your investment decisions.

Who inspires you?
My wife Stephanie inspires me. Her commitment to everything she does, her compassion, her insights into people and her ability to uplift those around her, make me want to be a better person.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
No matter what we think we know, there will always be a different perspective that can change our opinion. In my own trading, I continually find that the truths I cling to are not absolute and they can be misleading if held onto dogmatically. Striking a balance between taking a stance and knowing when to change that stance based on new information is critical in all areas of life.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more action earlier on. My fear of mistakes (which still limits me on occasions, like most people) has always proven to be baseless. Playing small to avoid the embarrassment or pain of mistakes is very limiting and I would have taken more action earlier, if I had my time again.

How do you unwind?
To unwind I like to read, meditate, run and ride my mountain bike in the forest.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I just love the small island resort at Batu Batu. It is beautiful, isolated, quiet and surrounded by clean water, full of sealife. After a week at the resort I felt like a different person.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book teaches the art of clear and structured communication. My time working as a business strategy consultant gave me a great appreciation for the importance of communication in business. Clear and effective communication can solve a myriad of challenges in your business and professional life, and as a strong communicator your employment prospects, business relationships, team performance and family life are all dramatically improved.

Shameless plug for your business:
Enlightened Stock Trading ( is the only stock market trading education business that empowers you, as an individual trader. It shows you how to design and test your own unique stock trading system that fits YOUR Personality, Objectives and Lifestyle. We have no conflicts of interest and we are focused on teaching you how to trade stocks profitably in a way that fits your life.
After working through the Enlightened Stock Trader Certification Program you will find yourself confident and empowered with your own battle tested trading system and trading plan to guide you through the markets.

How can people connect with you?
Email me directly at [email protected] or through my Facebook Page (

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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