Myanmar’s first KFC restaurant has thrived since opening in Yangon in July, with people regularly seen lining up outside the shop to buy the various chicken dishes on offer.
The franchise is operated by Yoma Strategic Holdings, the Singaporean subsidiary of Myanmar conglomerate Serge Pun & Associates. Serge Pun, SPA’s founder, is known as the richest man in Myanmar.
Yoma Strategic is in charge of launching new businesses in the group. Its primary target is the country’s growing middle class, and in addition to restaurants, it is active in such areas as auto sales and inexpensive housing.
Melvyn Pun, Serge’s son and Yoma Strategic’s CEO, said the company’s philosophy is “providing services to as many consumers as possible.”
At present, the company relies heavily on property development for revenue. But it is keen to diversify, with a goal of boosting the ratio of sales from other businesses to 50% by 2020 from the current 15%. Agriculture and tourism are two other fields Yoma Strategic is considering entering.
Yoma Strategic is rare for a large Myanmar company in that it does not have close links to government. Such ties have enabled those businesses to dominate the country’s resources and infrastructure sectors, and have a virtual stranglehold on the economy.
But Yoma Strategic’s lack of connections in the halls of power offers it a key advantage: The Singapore-listed company has not been hit by the sanctions Washington has slapped on many of Myanmar’s government-linked businesses. The company’s transparency makes it an attractive target for foreign businesses looking for a local partner. Leading Japanese trading houses Mitsubishi Corp. and Sumitomo Corp. are two such companies that have forged alliances with it.
Melvyn Pun has praised the traders for investing in Myanmar’s infrastructure development from a long-term perspective, and has called for more foreign involvement in his country.
He is eager to see Myanmar flourish. “It used to be one of the most advanced economies in Asia,” Pun said. “Its citizens deserve a better and richer life.”
With the National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in the country’s Nov. 8 election, Myanmar is set to get a new leadership headed by NLD chief Aung San Suu Kyi. Even before the vote, Pun was optimistic about the country’s future. “The new administration can learn a lot from the previous government,” he said. “Steering the country won’t be so difficult.”