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Firms are urged to set sights on Asian prospects

SCOTTISH business must wake up to the Asian century, one of the world's leading business consultants has said in Edinburgh.

Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Company, told business leaders at the Asia Scotland Institute last night that Scotland should follow the example of its fund management industry and hunt the huge opportunities in Asia.

Mr Barton leads McKinsey's work on "the future of capitalism, long-term value-creation and the role of business leadership in society", he is an adviser to the Canadian prime minister, the Asia Development Bank and the China Development Bank among others, and he was McKinsey's Shanghai-based Asia chairman from 2004 to 2009.

"We are in the Asian century," Mr Barton said. "It is not about 25 years or 50 years ahead it is now, it represents huge opportunities for businesses here." He said tourism, education and agri-food could follow the lead of asset management in focusing resources on Asia.

"We have got some of the best educational institutions here in Scotland, there is a demand from China, India, Indonesia - three million people with university qualifications would love to come to universities in the UK, Canada and Australia."

Mr Barton said Asian companies were models to follow.

"They invest more than their western peers, they are more nimble and agile, they have new management approaches."

Chinese multinational computer group Lenovo for instance would have a far higher proportion of employees from other emerging market backgrounds in the higher echelons of their business.

"They are more local, they make decisions faster and understand more about what is happening."

He went on: "Samsung think about their business in a 60-year timeframe, not one of five years and certainly not one quarter. That gives them advantages in terms of the type of investments they want to make, and staying power."

On the rise of Asia, Mr Barton said: "I think by 2030 economic power will be firmly in that part of the world - in many ways we are just going back to history."

On the opportunities for smaller companies, Mr Barton cited the example of big German companies which "take suppliers with them when they go into China", trade missions and roadshows where more could be done, and city pairings.

"Some of the cities in China are bigger than many countries," Mr Barton said. "Chicago has identified 15 to 20 cities they think are important and it uses them as a channel for SMEs rather than the whole mass which is too big."

Mr Barton co-led a task force on Inclusive Capitalism, sponsored by a London-based think tank, which focused on the creation of both social and economic value. He commented: "I actually believe we need to go back to Adam Smith, who said the duty of the entrepreneur is to take care of the society in which he operates." Multinationals which set out to minimise payment of taxes or ignore employment conditions in their global supply chains would lose their consumer franchise, Mr Barton said. "I think companies are going to have to be much more careful, and think about their licence to operate."

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