Innovation & Technology,Social Responsibility

How Business Talents Embrace an Innovative and Sustainable Future

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Business leaders from different industries share their insights on how innovation, sustainability, and talents are shaping the future business world at CUHK Business School’s alumni forum

Human life and business are at a crossroads as the new era of AI technology and rapid climate change brought existential questions to the forefront.

The explosive use of the new AI tool ChatGPT since late 2022 has raised such questions as whether it will benefit our work and life or become a threat to us. Additionally, people around the world are experiencing more frequent extreme weather events this year, such as wildfires in North America and Europe, as well as rainstorms and floods in China and Africa. In the face of these climate challenges, sustainability is an issue that needs to be addressed more urgently than ever.

In light of these trends and transformations, business talents are facing both opportunities and challenges. They need to decide where to invest their time and energy to sustain their professional growth in the coming years. To shed light on this topic, four business leaders shared their observations and thoughts on innovation, talents, and sustainability in the present and future business world at a panel discussion. The panel discussion was moderated by Kalok Chan, Wei Lun Professor of Finance and Chairman of the Department of Finance at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, and was held as part of the School’s Global Alumni Forum 2023.

Adapting to a Changing World

To kick off the event, Prof. Chan invited panel speakers to share the latest business trends in their sectors.

Dr. Paul Sin (MBA 2002), Director of Technology & Transformation of New World Development Company Limited, discussed the influence of AI on the workforce.

Dr. Paul Sin (MBA 2002), Director of Technology & Transformation of New World Development Company Limited, discussed the influence of AI on the workforce. While acknowledging the concerns about AI technology replacing workers, Dr. Sin believes that more talents will be needed even with technological advancements. He compared the AI revolution to the digital era ushered in by computers, in which the demand for talents actually increased.

Dr. Sin raised the hot issue that businesses are increasingly concerned about: data privacy and tightened regulations. These trends have made people more cautious about adopting new technologies. In addition, he said, companies are finding it difficult to secure innovation funding due to the sluggish economy. This has put pressure on them to demonstrate solid returns on investment in innovations that are highly relevant to people’s needs.

“The world has changed significantly due to innovation and sustainability [issues], and we need to adapt to it,” said Ms. Loretta Fong (PACC 1993), President of Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Ms. Fong highlighted the significant impacts of innovations, such as the Metaverse and blockchain, on accounting and auditing professionals, urging them to consider how to navigate these emerging challenges. She mentioned a new principle called “double materiality,” which requires companies to disclose information that not only affects their financial value but also encompasses their environmental and social impacts. This increased scope of responsibility has called for talents with different skill sets.

“We need every type of talent today in our sector, including IT professionals and environmentalists,” she said.

Ms. Susanna Wong (IBBA 1992), a seasoned retail industry executive and the former CEO of Yata Limited, shared her opinion on innovation in retail industry.

Growing Awareness of Sustainability

Ms. Susanna Wong (IBBA 1992), a seasoned retail industry executive and the former CEO of Yata Limited, said innovation is not a new concept in the labour-intensive retail industry. Over the years, new technologies were adopted to reduce reliance on manpower and enhance consumer insights. However, she noted that the term “sustainability” had gained significant traction in the retail industry in recent years.

Ms. Wong acknowledged that some may criticise retailers for promoting unnecessary consumption and wasteful spending. Yet, retailers are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability, and are making a concerted effort to contribute in their own way.

“One of the challenges faced by senior management in this industry is ensuring that the staff understands the importance of sustainability,” she said.

As more and more people have realised the importance of a low-carbon economy, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment is becoming increasingly popular. Mr. Frank Tsui, Managing Director and Head of ESG Investment of Value Partners Group, shared his observations in this field.

“There is a high level of advancement in terms of sophistications in all aspects of ESG in the last few years,” he said, adding that advanced AI technology and algorithms have been applied to assess a company’s ESG data.

When it comes to the selection criteria for ESG companies, Mr. Tsui explained that there is a standardised list to evaluate a company’s performance in ESG. However, he emphasised that engaging with companies is still the most valuable approach to measuring performance. Direct engagement allows investors to validate whether a company’s actions genuinely align with the information they disclose.

Mr. Frank Tsui, Managing Director and Head of ESG Investment of Value Partners Group, shared his observations in sustainability.

In terms of sustainability and ESG development in Hong Kong, Mr. Tsui noted that the city is still in its initial stage, but there would be significant growth in the future “because we are starting from scratch.”

Mr. Tsui observed a substantial increase in the quality of talents compared with previous years. He highlighted how much more specific job candidates are when addressing ESG topics at interviews. They would engage in comprehensive discussions of biodiversity and materiality impacts in financial analysis, rather than just touching on environmental topics in a vague way.

At the same time, Mr. Tsui said, sustainability practices within the asset management field have advanced significantly. Both asset owners and managers now prioritise detailed ESG criteria in their investments.

The Irreplaceability of Human Judgement

The impact of AI on talent acquisition and the overall job market is a question that business leaders must consider. In the next part of the panel discussion, Prof. Chan invited speakers to share their ideas about how AI technology affects their business and how talents can better prepare for the future business world.

“I am pretty sure that many individuals ought to be concerned about the future,” says Ms. Fong. She cited a recent study stating that AI could replace 95 percent of accountants. Undoubtedly, new technology introduced in the accounting and auditing process could improve efficiency and free people from tedious work such as vouching. “But, after all, AI cannot replace judgement,” she said. “I still believe that this is the most valuable [quality of] auditors.”

Ms. Loretta Fong (PACC 1993), President of Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, emphasised the importance of human judgement.

While many business graduates are contemplating the idea of acquiring programming or coding skills to alleviate their anxiety in a highly digitalised world, Dr. Sin suggested that it is more important for business students to focus on understanding what new technologies can actually do rather than making speculations based on media coverage.

“You need to combine [innovative technologies with] your business knowledge. [It’s important to] understand the limitations of such innovations,” said Dr. Sin. “[Only] then can you create value.”

Continuing on the subject of innovation, Ms. Wong offered a fresh perspective, suggesting that innovation should not be limited to technological advancements. “Don’t look at innovation as technology innovation only; innovation [can be] any ideas or improvements in your process to make things better,” she said.

The widespread use of AI technology, the urgency of addressing climate challenges, and the importance of sustainability are rapidly transforming the business landscape. Business talents must navigate these changes, invest in the right areas, and adapt to ever-evolving circumstances to grow professionally and contribute to a more sustainable future of our planet.