New countries lead the way in Asia

There are a lot of countries in Asia – but most businesses tend to think only of a few when considering international expansion or investment.   Interest in China has faded as more realise how difficult it is to deal with, and outsourcing to India is drying up as wage inflation eliminates its competitiveness.   The tiger economies of Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong continue unabated.  However, those looking for new opportunities, whether it’s a matter of tapping export markets or seeking better value and quality manufacturing or outsourcing, should look elsewhere. 

The biggest “rising star” country in the last few years has been Malaysia.  The reduction in red tape has been notable, and strong action has been taken against corruption.  The government is pushing Kuala Lumpur as a regional and international financial centre (particularly for Islamic finance).  However, it’s a great country for trade from many other perspectives – good value, good infrastructure and communications, growing market and a well-educated workforce.   Like most of the countries I’m including here, it’s in the ASEAN Free Trade Area, so establishment in any one of them can open up significantly wider markets.

Philippines fell out of consideration in the 90’s for various reasons, but foreign business interest has been increasing in the last few years.  It is arguably the best country in the region for Shared Service Centres and Outsourcing, and has been taking business away from India, with its flexible workforce and excellent English language skills.  Other types of business face difficulties that can’t be overcome – it may be one country, but made up of over 7,000 islands, and plagued by typhoons on an annual basis, so economic activity is centred in just two or three locations. 

Recently, the most heavily promoted country for trade has been Indonesia.  There are many government incentives and the statistics are all encouraging, but many shy away because of security concerns. 

Vietnam’s economy continues to expand rapidly, and it’s a country worth considering as a more manageable alternative to China – although there’s still plenty of red tape.  For a number of years the pace of inward investment exceeded the availability of skilled personnel, but that issue is quickly being overcome.   Trade treaties with China and Japan, as well as other ASEAN countries, make Vietnam an attractive base.

Slightly more intrepid businesses that want to stay ahead of the curve should now be looking to neighbouring countries which are now opening up.   In my opinion, Cambodia will rival Vietnam and Malaysia within another five years, and although smaller, Laos won’t be far behind. 

The country that over the last few years has emerged from nowhere – in business terms – is Myanmar (Burma).  There have been rapid changes since 2010, five years before the new democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi came to power – and there were a lot of regional business leaders already negotiating deals there when I first visited in 2013.  It is a big country, most of the labour force work in agriculture, the infrastructure is terrible and the education level is poor, but the opportunities feel terrific. 

Other major countries in Asia have been declining as attractive business destinations.   Thailand has labour availability issues as well as a system that discourages foreign business ownership.  South Korea is a vibrant economy boasting some of the world’s leading brands, but is difficult for foreigners to penetrate, with almost all economic activity in the hands of a small number of powerful “chaebol”, and the country feels to be in gentle decline.   Sri Lanka and Bangladesh continue as important textile manufacturing centres, but rarely figure in any other international business considerations. 

Asia as a whole remains as attractive and important as ever – but it’s the emerging countries that are the most exciting.

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations

8 Do’s and Don’ts for businesspeople facing Brexit

  1. DON’T go to any seminars, conferences or events dedicated to talking about Brexit. You have better things to do with your time. I can paraphrase them all for you in one sentence – “We have no idea what is going to happen, but when we do we will have an opinion”.
  1. DON’T think that because some economic indicators are improving, Brexit has passed, the experts were wrong, we’re all still alive and it’s no big deal. It’s all still to happen…. and it could take a long long time.
  1. DO panic – or at least make plans. Business people are supposed to be permanently optimistic, but this time take a break to be a pessimist. Think what the worst scenario could be for your business, and then plan accordingly. The government won’t tell us what their plans are until it’s too late for you to take effective action.
  1. DON’T lose sleep though. At least, not over Brexit. It won’t turn out as bad as you’ve been imagining it while you made those plans.
  1. DO change any branch offices that you may have in other EU countries to subsidiaries instead. It’ll take a little time to organise and it’s better to do it now in case any new rules come in.
  1. DO discuss contingency plans for any EU staff you have in the UK and UK staff you have in the EU, before they make their own. Most politicians say that nothing will change for employees already in place, but this is a time when it’s wise not to assume anything. Your staff are your most critical asset, and they’ll be worried about this, even if they’re not saying anything to you.
  1. DON’T stop planning your international business expansion. Whatever happens, your business will make more money in the short term and be worth more in the long term if you expand your operations internationally. In the worst case scenario, you’ll have another established business base in a less volatile location. It’s short-sighted to hold back on investment – and in any case, setting up overseas doesn’t have to cost a lot.
  1. DO please ask me and my team for advice on points 4 and 5 (and possibly 2 as well!).

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations

Georgia on my mind

International business expansion can bring even more successful and rapid results where there are unique opportunities.   So I’m always on the lookout for them, especially in countries that aren’t top of most people’s lists.  Last week I visited Georgia, and discovered an incredibly exciting pace of growth in a beautiful and welcoming country that exceeded all my expectations.  As soon as you step off the plane you start to see the potential.

It’s a small country with a population of just 3.5 million, and from 1921 to 1989 was part of the USSR.  Now it has reverted to proud independence, and is capitalising on its geographic position at the “crossroads of Europe”, a logical transport link between Asia and Europe.   As a result, most Foreign Direct Investment has been in infrastructure – new rail lines and motorways, and a deep water port in Anaklia on the Black Sea coast.   Now the country is starting to focus on other opportunities, and I see excellent potential for mid-range businesses – but it will be necessary to grasp them quickly.

At present, getting there can be a challenge – there are relatively few direct flights from Western Europe to the capital, Tbilisi (and none from the UK), and almost all of those arrive and depart at an unconscionable hour of the early morning.   That’s set to change over the next year, with budget airlines now negotiating access to other airports that are convenient both for the capital and the coast.  Once landed, immigration is a breeze, and it’s just the first warm welcome one receives.

In recent years Georgia has modernised rapidly, with glitzy new buildings and malls, but all the history has been retained.   The old town of Tbilisi is charming, and the remote cave monasteries fascinating – and between the two is some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.  The coastal resorts are similarly stunning.  Costs are low, the people are welcoming, summers are hot and sunny, the food is delicious – and it’s the country where wine was invented.  The potential for developing tourism, therefore, is huge, and arguably the top motive for FDI.

The country is also justifiably proud of being rated the 3rd safest in the world, and ranks highly for ease of doing business, economic freedom, lack of corruption and economic stability.   Taxation, an important consideration for most businesses, is simple and low – it claims to be the 9th lowest tax burden country in the world – and new policies from 2017 will make the system more attractive still.

I met with the Ministry of Economy, and learnt that their other priorities are energy, transport and manufacturing.  Even without the attractive government incentives, the free trade agreements with the EU, EFTA, CIS, GSP and Turkey, availability of a young educated workforce with low labour costs (average US$ 355/month) and inflation at a low 4.2% make a compelling case for considering manufacturing.

One thing there is no shortage of is water, and only 20% of the potential for hydro-electric generation has been exploited.  The value here is not just domestic, but in exports to Turkey and Russia, neighbouring countries with power deficits.

I was quickly convinced that almost every type of business should think seriously about expanding to Georgia – the time is right.

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations

My 3 enduring fundamentals of successful entrepreneurship

Technology changes, but the Art of Business doesn’t.   Methodologies come into and out of fashion, and get expressed in different ways, but the fundamentals of success are always the same.  My “Top Three” were instilled in me by one of my first employers when I was in my early twenties – and since then, I’ve validated them by reverse observation – the entrepreneurs behind every small business failure that I’ve personally witnessed since then have failed on at least two of these points.

Total commitment

This doesn’t necessarily mean working 7 days every week, but it does mean at least thinking work every day.  It’s essential to always be available – pick up every call, and answer every email, whether it’s day, night or weekend.  The best opportunities are often unexpected and come up at crazy times. Unfortunately, there are very few entrepreneurs who are both successful and lucky enough to be able to maintain that aspirational work-life balance.

Time management

Plan every day in advance to make at least a little time for everything.   If it’s quick, do it now.  Never ever let a day pass without doing at least one constructive thing to generate new sales.   Insist on quality but don’t aim for perfection – assign sufficient time to do each task well, but don’t keep polishing.  Don’t end up skimping on the next task – it could be the one that makes your fortune.

Humility

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll spend a lot of your time selling.   Potential customers don’t like hard sells and they particularly hate exaggerated claims.  You’re human and your product or service isn’t perfect – admit it.  Just aim to be the best person you can, managing the best company you can establish, selling the best product your company can make – and remember to ask everyone, especially every customer, how you could improve.

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations