The Future of Business in Myanmar
HQ Asia speaks to Serge Pun, Founder and Chairman of Serge Pun & Associates Limited, to gain valuable insights on the future of Myanmar, and what it takes to be a successful emerging Asian leader.
Serge Pun, a notable business leader in the field of real estate investments, now leads a conglomerate which houses 40 operating companies in various industries in Myanmar. Pun has portrayed exemplary leadership as the executive chairman for Yoma Strategic Holdings, which was listed in the main board of Singapore Stock Exchange in 2006.
What does the future of business look like in Myanmar?
Very optimistic. With the new government in office, they strive towards pro-business goals and economic growth. Most importantly, the government made it very clear to prioritise clean, transparent and good governance. This is vital to the business climate, especially in emerging economies, because they face the growth of ills (corruption, cronyism) that could worsen as the economy progresses. If these issues aren’t addressed, they will have a huge price to pay in the future, which could include impacts on good governance, corruption incidences, and even environmental problems. The damage done to the nation would be difficult to restore, and a big challenge for anyone who would take that first step.
For the Burmese government to put anti-corruption, transparency and good governance at the top of their agenda, and then to demonstrate changes in the short term after being elected into office shows a very positive outlook for Myanmar.
What do you see as the responsibilities of large enterprises in developing countries?
Large enterprises of every country have the responsibility to take the lead in good governance. They are the ones who set the standards, and the way of business. If they adhere to good governance and policies, including anti-corruption, anti-bribery or good corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices, they will create a climate, an example for the smaller enterprises to model after. At the same time, the large headcount of these corporations will influence the employees who are also members of the society. This influences the society in their expectation of the business practices within the country. These two aspects of large enterprises really show the extent of impact they have in the country.
What is the infrastructure progress in Myanmar? How does your company contribute?
Infrastructure is a big challenge for Myanmar, and a lot of focus needs to be placed in continued improvement. This includes broad-based infrastructure like transport, communication, human capacities, finances and the ecosystem at large. As a company, we work hard in building a good foundation for the infrastructure.
We do our best to overcome the limited resources and capacity we currently have access to. As part of our CSR initiatives, we provide training for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially for those located in the rural areas (secondary and third tier cities in Myanmar). In this training, we educate them on business practices, and ensure that the concept of corruption is left out of normal business practices.
From this training, we advocate and educate them on the benefits of good governance.
How do you see the Yangon Stock Exchange affecting the business landscape in Myanmar?
Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) has a huge role to play in the Myanmar economy. They have the ability to raise capital for companies, and help local companies reach out to foreign investments. There are many possibilities of how the YSX can help these companies and I think they’ve started off on the right foot. However, YSX has only been around for several months, so it’s probably unfair to take an overly critical look at it.
I hope that over the next 12 months, more companies will join the listing. At the same time, I hope that we have a strong regulatory body to oversee the growth of the stock exchange, and this regulatory body also needs to have an active security industry that will help secure the capital market and educate the investors.
We’d like to ask you about your management style. Could you walk us through a few of the major points in your leadership journey?
I don’t think I have that great a track record. We have so many business leaders who have done so much better in many other ways, including young business leaders in the technology fields and in disruptive economies.
For my leadership journey, it was important to have the capacity to withstand a lot of pressure. Businesses can become very successful very quickly, but the test lies in whether they could build their business to cope with the growth, and this is when most of the entrepreneurs fail.
Perseverance and self-belief will help you in locking down your path. For instance, taking the economy of Myanmar for example — I have been in Myanmar since 1991, which was 25 years ago. Over the course of 25 years, many entrepreneurs started and ended their businesses in Myanmar, one of the early frontiers in emerging markets. Looking back today, they probably regretted giving up then. The ability to stay on course, particularly when the odds are against you, is very important.
How do you ensure that Yoma and its holdings conduct ethical business?
You start from the top with policies addressing corruption, bribery and good governance. These are issues that many leaders pay lip service to, but it remains a question of whether they put their words into action. This question is especially pertinent because of the price business leaders have to pay for good governance, because the cost of committing to intolerance towards bribery and corruption is very high.
It will cost you business deals, extra overheads, and even valuable human capital, which means letting go of very smart people who could make money but are non-believers of good business practices. One will probably be shaken when faced with these downsides. To still conduct ethical business at this point is to really believe in it — to take a stand against participating in corrupt acts or deeds. If the top leaders in any company have that level of belief, the company has a good chance of staying ethical.
Corruption is like a cancer cell. If you do not get rid of the cancer cell, it will keep growing. Corruption will eventually destroy the fabric of society when it becomes the norm, just like how cancer cells break down your body.
At that point, you have to succumb to it, whether you like it or not. Corruption is an illness that is negative and damaging to the country. It is important to realise the significance of this issue. Only when you realise it in that way, the question becomes: will you then take the proper measures?
What advice will you give to emerging Asian leaders interested in taking on a regional or global role?
Keep doing what you think you are good at and stay on course. Don’t waver. Persevere. You need perseverance, persistency, courage to move forward and hard work. I don’t think that you can be successful without hard work and diligence. If you succeed that way, it is only temporary, as you may have succeeded by a fluke. I have not seen anyone who becomes successful without working hard, save for inheritance, which was a success by your ancestors. Hard work guarantees progress.