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Cultivate Thought Leadership: Lessons from Blackstone CEO on Global Leadership in the New Normal

On Thursday, January 21, the online dialogue between Mr. Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Blackstone, and Professor Hongbin Cai, Dean of HKU Business School, attracted over 500 attendees from around the world. As an event kicking-off the School’s 20th Anniversary celebration, the dialogue between two masterminds perfectly aligns with the School’s commitment to engaging globally impactful academic and business leaders in cultivating thought leadership and inspiring our young leaders. During the event, the two speakers discussed insightful topics ranging from management skills to global economic prospects.

Everyone makes mistakes but one must seriously address and reform system-wide problems to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. “Mistakes sometimes help you reform and change what you are doing, allowing your organisation to leapfrog to the next level,” said Mr. Schwarzman. It is exactly because of deep reforms, Blackstone has managed to ascend to its current position. To act more proactively, Mr. Schwarzman also analyses problems of other companies and finds out solutions, enabling Blackstone to dodge avoidable traps. This habit is also conducive to business negotiations as he could better understand the needs of his clients.

Managing a global team of 3,000 employees in 24 cities across the world can be a tricky business. Mr. Schwarzman’s believed that leaders are responsible for cultivating a coherent corporate culture to prevent infighting. If talented individuals could gain job satisfaction and feel comfortable in team work, any odd or aggressive behaviours should be repelled. From a more macroscopic view, Mr. Schwarzman observed that technological advancements in recent years have brought relentless waves of market disruptions. A good leader must recognise these changes, humbly learn from stakeholders and lead the company to become the market disruptor. When asked whether the business world would be held more accountable to the society, Mr. Schwarzman agreed. He believed that organisations at any scale are inevitably affected by regional social and political issues, therefore it is necessary to operate sustainably.

When talked about one of the most heated topics, i.e. the clash between the US and China, Mr. Schwarzman said in the past four years, in particular, has undoubtedly caused serious shocks to global political and economic landscape. He believed that with the Biden administration taking the helm, discussions between the two superpowers would be conducted in a different tone. He also believed that academics could provide westerners with context and cultural explanations, bridging China closer to the world. “The world does not understand China enough,” said Professor Cai. He believed that scholars in HKU could be in the vanguard of fostering the integration between China and the world.

As a concluding remark, Mr. Schwarzman praised Hong Kong for having a critical mass of talents, good systems and wise financial management. He sees a bright future ahead of our city.

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