8 Most Powerful Leadership Lessons from One of The World’s Largest Gatherings of Global Chief Executives

With 2,000 business leaders from 93 countries in attendance, YPO hosted one of the world’s largest gatherings of global Chief Executives in Cape Town 6-7 March 2019 for its annual global thought-leadership event, YPO EDGE.

This year’s theme: ‘Life of Re_.’ Ravi Naidoo, 2019 YPO EDGE Chair, described the theme perfectly when he urged attendees to live their lives in permanent beta, always reinventing themselves and never settling.

Below are some of the highlights and lessons from the EDGE attendees found to be empowering and inspiring.

“EDGE 2019 was all about the magical, inspirational and transformative power of diversity — in all its forms. Diversity of thought; diversity of experiences; diversity of perspectives; and, of course, human diversity. It felt like, suddenly, YPO’s perspective on diversity opened right up and became so broad and so appropriate for our times. I left Cape Town feeling proud to belong to a community of leaders that is now truly ahead of the curve, truly setting the pace and tone for the world around us.” – Andreas Souvaliotis, Founder & CEO, CARROT Rewards, Canada

Lemn Sissay MBE — A Light in the Darkness


Reconnect recollect rewind and reset
Restart reflect restate and reject
Rethink reform repeat reborn
Repeat reborn rethink reform

Reach out request revise re: text
Refine remind remove reflex
Resist receive reveal relieve
Relive relight relove retrieve

Reach out Reach out Reach out …

There is nothing as powerful as a well written poem. And British author and broadcaster Sissay knows how to write one that reaches deep, hooks into your heart and doesn’t let go.

Raised in British foster care, Sissay mined his troubled childhood to create award-winning art, poetry and plays. Now Chancellor of the University of Manchester, he advocates for foster children and urges you to find your own happiness in the present.

He openly and vulnerably shared his past and his life’s lessons with YPO members during his keynote, which he opened with the poem he wrote to celebrate the Life of RE_.

Presidential Message

In his address, President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, invited global leaders to become partners on building an inclusive, sustainable global economy that benefits all peoples.

“I am pleased that gathered within this hall tonight are men and women who are astute and very much aware that we all have a responsibility to work for sustainable and inclusive growth,” Ramphosa said. “Let us all work together to make the world a better place for all the people who live in it.”

Also, in attendance at the YPO EDGE in Cape Town was the President of the Republic of Rwanda, His Excellency President Paul Kagame.

“My biggest inspiration from EDGE 2019 was seeing such a dramatic shift from YPO members moving towards more socially impactful businesses. The size and scope of the organization means that we have the power to change the world and address some of the most pressing global issues within us. There has been a call to action and tangible progress has been made.” – Sunil Lalvani, Founder and CEO of Project Maji Foundation, United Arab Emirates

John Hardy — Protecting Our Planet

“When you give children a voice, they lead!”

If you build something from nothing, ask yourself: is it serving your children and grandchildren, or is it consuming their legacy? In his provoking presentation, John Hardy, founder of the Green School in Bali, challenges you to draw a new direction and help save the planet for future generations.

My biggest inspiration was John Hardy’s Green School — I was very touched by his stories and will be organizing a trip to visit and learn from them. – Shiyin Cai, CEO of Shanghai Yuchengtang Culture Development Ltd., China

Dr. Vivienne Ming — The Future of Work

“If the marginal value of human talent is what it uniquely brings to a problem, then AI won’t change that.”

Dr. Ming’s advice to EDGE attendees was to “dive in.” She suggests: “If you want to build a great company, the future of global competition will be defined by talent. And not just ubiquitous human-being-as-widget talent. It is about figuring out how each individual person will uniquely contribute to your company, how they will make a difference… Build a company that actually grows people, every single person in your company.”

“The key takeaway I brought home from EDGE was to practice resurrection. I need to anticipate the death of markets, industries, technologies that affect my businesses, to imagine their effects, and to have a “resurrection” strategy in place to address those incoming shifts.” – Margarita Herdocia, President & CEO of Renaissance Holdings, Costa Rica

Andria Zafirakou — Teacher of the World

Andria Zafirakou, winner of the USD1 million Global Teaching Prize, works at a school where 35 different languages are spoken, in a community where most immigrant children live in poverty and violence. And yet she has helped her school become one of the top 5 percent of all schools in England. Zafirakou offers lessons in creativity, relationship-building and success and how to apply those lessons in your business and in your life.

What makes a good teacher?

  1. Relationships: Connect to your colleagues, know what it takes to be able to know what their world is like and to bring them on board.
  2. Show passion for your subject: Share your vision constantly.
  3. Creativity: Encourage it at any stage, age and in any job.

Here’s Zafirakou’s advice to leaders.

Cal Fussman — Heart, Head and Soul

“Do you aim your first question at the heart?” Cal Fussman asked YPO members. With decades of experience interviewing the world’s most extraordinary individuals, the Esquir writer challenged YPO members to take a new look at our businesses through storytelling and connection.

In the age of the information tornado, ask yourself: How is your business going to get your message across? The answer is storytelling. “It’s the story that grips, it’s the story that endures, it’s the story that sells, it’s the story that’s the tool for leadership, it’s the story that changes the game. It’s the story!”

Takeaways from Fussman:

  1. Empower others to tell stories: The energy of storytelling will transform into deep connections.
  2. Listening is disruption: When you listen to stories of others, you learn in an impactful way.
  3. Use storytelling as a single thread within your company: If your story can’t be transmitted within your own company due to silos, how would you effectively tell it to the world?

Watch Fussman tell his own great stories about interviewing leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and Mohammed Ali.

Anna Inyoung Kim — Putting Down Roots

“For me as a mother of a 21-year-old, the most inspirational session was listening to Anna Inyoung Kim. A Korean girl moving to Africa and doing what she can to create impact and fair trade across the coffee industry through global connections, was the highlight of the day. I went up to her afterwards and told her that I hope one day my daughters would do something so relevant and incredible that helped so many!” – Sima Ved, Vice Chairperson, Apparel Group, United Arab Emirates

Watch her story and judge for yourself.

Ronni Khan — Nourishing Passion

Social impact and social responsibility are critical to many business leaders working to create impact throughout the world. OzHarvest Founder Ronni Khan’s address spoke to those embracing social impact and inspired those looking to be more involved.

Khan calls herself an “accidental activist.” Her remarkable story — as she tells it with her unique personal flair — Kahn recollects on the building of her movement to feed the hungry and her company, Australia’s leading food rescue organization that provided 100 million meals in 15 years to the hungry. Peace, in Kahn’s mind, starts with reducing the number of people who are starving.

“Being a change-maker ruffles many feathers,” says Khan. And it seems she is just fine with that.

Watch Kahn’s amazing story.

“Whist having been a member of YPO since 1991 and serving in numerous champion roles, this was my first EDGE. My most exciting personal takeaway was in this year’s message that business is a force for good, that purpose and social impact are becoming the focal point of focus for leaders. This shift highlights for me that businesses like LifeBook will be respected not just for their financial success but for driving impact and purpose in our members’ lives.” – Roy Moëd, Founder, LifeBook, United Kingdom

Temple of RE_ — The Power of Networking

“Although EDGE always features exciting talks and disruptive ideas, the most exciting part for me this year was the Temple of Re_. I loved how champions converted a small park space into an inviting place for networking, late night munchies, alchemic discussions, and fun surprises. It made me rethink the use of spaces and the best way to facilitate networking. It was where I had some of my memorable interactions. I am aiming to recreate something similar in Pakistan, with the influence of our own culture, of course!” – Tara Dawood, President at Dawood Global Foundation & First Dawood Group, Pakistan

There isn’t such a thing as a new ‘normal’ anymore.

In that spirit, we are leaving you with these words of wisdom from Ravi Naidoo: “Be unreasonable.”

You can find more talks from YPO EDGE on the YPO YouTube channel.

Ekaterina Walter is a globally recognized business and marketing innovator, international speaker, and author of three bestselling business books. She has been consistently recognized by the industry and her peers for her innovative thinking and her thought leadership has been featured on CNBC, ABC, NBC, FOX News, Forbes, Fast Company, TechCrunch, CNN, WSJ, Inc., Huffington Post, and others. Ekaterina is a Content Director at YPO.