Global business leaders and distinguished alumni from the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (TIAA) gathered in Penang over 4-6 October 2018 for their Fall 2018 Conference to discuss, learn and engage with experts on the topic of Sustainability in Business: The Next Asian Revolution. The occasion was particularly meaningful as it was jointly organized with Arizona State University (ASU) and involved the active involvement of the senior leadership and faculty members from both institutions.
Over several days, participants gathered at a series of uniquely Penang venues for conference to listen to a diverse array of speakers exploring Asian perspectives on the global debate around sustainability. The panel and plenary speakers highlighted factors impacting Asian development and provided engaging and refreshingly personal viewpoints on the role business and policymakers can play in helping to nurture a shift towards sustainability at all levels.
For many of the participants this was a first visit to Penang. Naturally, amidst the formal sessions, there were opportunities aplenty to enjoy the uniquely Penang fusion of East and West and old world charm. Khoo Kongsi, the historic Chinese clanhouse, undoubtedly one of the most distinctive sites within George Town’s UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Area, was the venue for the welcome reception on 4 October 2018. Mr Chow Kon Yeow, the Chief Minister of Penang was also present to offer a warm Penang welcome to the over 120 participants who had journeyed here from the United States and throughout Asia to attend.
Dr. Rick Shangraw, the CEO of ASU Enterprise Partners the fundraising organization for ASU Foundation and related entities, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, the Dean and Director-General of the Thunderbird School for Global Management, Doug Deardorf, TIAA Board Chairman, and Mr. Harry Cockrell, TIAA Board Member, Founder and Managing Director of the Pacific Tiger Group (PTG) also took to the stage to address the lively gathering which was a reunion for many Thunderbird alumni attending.
The beautifully restored 1930s U.A.B Building which serves as the Penang office of Khazanah Nasional, the sovereign wealth fund of the Malaysian Government, was the venue for the following day’s sessions which was a panel discussion on Corporate Sustainability moderated by Patricia Dwyer, Founder and Director at The Purpose Business. Patricia also serves on the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Environment and was previously global head of CSR & Sustainability for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts.
Panelists were Dr Huaying Zhang, Head of PACS Institute (Public Affairs Communication & Sustainability Institute) of Coca-Cola Greater China & Korea Business Unit, Mr. Stephen Olson, Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation and Visiting Scholar, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Mr. Mark Devadason, Founder and Principal, Azabu Management Services.
Distinguished plenary speakers were Mr. Vivek Pathak, Chief Credit Officer at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, a Distinguished Fellow of Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong, and Chief Adviser to the China Banking Regulatory Commission.
The lunchtime keynote was delivered by Mr. Bob Theleen, a pioneer investor and investment banker in China. He is the founder and CEO of ChinaVest, Ltd. Headquartered in Shanghai, one of the premier Merchant Banks in China. Founded in 1982 as one of China’s first institutionally-funded venture capital funds, ChinaVest has invested more over US$500 million in more than 50 companies in China.
The afternoon featured an historic signing ceremony signalling the launch of the first-ever non-state-owned Executive Education programme to be offered to Chinese middle managers, which will be delivered by the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
The celebratory mood continued with a glittering night of fine dining and entertainment at Suffolk House which is a stunning example of an Anglo-Indian garden house and Malaysia’s only surviving Georgian Mansion. Originally built in the early 1800s, Suffolk House served as the home of successive British Governors for decades before eventually falling into disuse. A Herculean restoration effort led by the Penang Heritage Trust eventually returned the House to it is former glory, for which it received the 2008 Award of Distinction in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.
On the final day of the conference, The Habitat Penang Hill, the word class rainforest discovery centre was the venue for the final Panel on Sustainability & Nature moderated by Dr Meg Lowman. Dr Meg, is Lindsay Chair in Botany, Califorinia Academy of Sciences and Science Advisor to The Habitat Penang Hill. Malaysia Finance Minister, Mr Lim Guan Eng, was a surprise guest of honour, also joined the gathering and providing an insightful keynote and entertaining address. The panelists for this session included Dato’ Sri Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the former mayor of George Town, joined the conference from Kenya where she now serves as the Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Other speakers were Kiat W. Tan, the Founding CEO of Gardens by the Bay Singapore, Bjorn Low, Co Founder, The Edible Garden City, Singapore and Dr Chris Boone, Dean and Professor, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University.
After the panel session, participants explored The Habitat’s nature trail and iconic treetop and canopy walks together with knowledgeable naturalists and subject specialists. The evening continued with hawker stalls and buffet stations at Curtis Crest serving up the regional flavors of Malaysia to the mesmerizing rhythms of a traditional Gamelan orchestra.