A Myanmar Success Story

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MYANMAR’S re-engagement with the world inspired investment banker Aye Thiha to leave New York and return home in 2011. His own business has flourished since and he still sees new opportunities flowing in.

“My family coerced me to return and after eight years. I thought I was done with being an investment banker,” said the 35-year-old businessman.
Aye Thiha worked at UBS Securities (New York) after graduating with a master’s degree in economics from New York University in 2004. Born in Thailand while his mother – a UN staff – was stationed in Bangkok, he went to an international school in Bangkok before pursuing his studies in finance and economics at Boston College and a master’s in finance from the London School of Economics.
His first job here was to assist Tata Power’s bid to build a coal-fired power plant. But it was his connections in Thailand that cleared the path for the business today.
In 2013, he established Express Food Group Myanmar, a joint venture with RMA Group which is the franchisee for The Pizza Company and Swensen’s in Myanmar, on the referral from Minor Group’s founder William Heinecke. Today, the company he serves as a director has four pizza outlets and four ice-cream parlours. The plan is to open between four and six outlets per year.
“Myanmar was closed for over 50 years and it wanted something fresh, including US food that they can taste,” Aye Thiha said.

Finding the right partner
A friend from his school days introduced him to Sittichai Leeswadtrakul, chief executive officer of Bangkok-based Millcon Steel. Both participated in an event held by YPO, the global platform for chief executives, in the United Kingdom.
Together, they founded a trading company called Millcon Thiha in 2014 to distribute construction materials and power equipment. It is an extension of Thiha Group, established shortly before that by Aye Thiha for the distribution of electrical equipment to the government sector.
The next venture was Millcon Thiha GEL, a steel pipe factory in Thilawa which officially commenced operations on November 22. Aye Thiha now serves as the president of this company.
Aye Thiha admitted that the food and steel industries rarely share similarities. “The key is |to find partners with proven records in their respective industries. I’m ready to partner with them in whatever ventures,” he explained.
It is this philosophy that encourages him to explore the possibility of a new venture, to erect a 30-megawatt power plant. A hot-rolled steel mill is also on the horizon, to serve brisk domestic demand.
The group’s future will lie in construction materials, electrical equipment and power plants, which now demands huge attention and spending. Aye Thiha wants to be more selective in future food businesses, to welcome only lucrative brands.
“Everything carries a risk. Nothing is a success on day one. But it helps if you have capable partners and do business with ethics and disciplines,” he noted. “There are always troubles, but what matters is how to deal with them.”
Aye Thiha foresees unlimited potential in Myanmar’s economy due to abundant human and natural resources.
He praised the government led by the National League of Democracy for its efforts in tackling corruption and easing regulatory constraints. In a culture where only one boss can say what is right or wrong, the rules are being drafted to facilitate businesses.
“True, the economy is apparently stalling, but late 2017 or 2018 the pace will be quickened,” he said.
More ease in doing business will draw foreign businesses. With this, Aye Thiha admitted that Myanmar has no choice but to welcome them, particularly in sectors that the nation is lagging behind such as technology.
He also noted that foreign businesses should pay attention on training, to change workers’ mindsets.
“No longer can they take only orders and come up with no initiatives. Now, they can’t devise their own actions even if we let them,” he said.
As chairman of American Chamber of Commerce Myanmar’s Government Affairs Committee, he has recently welcomed more approaches and expects a number of American companies to invest in Myanmar after economic sanctions are lifted.
“I see a possibility that I may welcome an American partner for the next Thiha Group’s venture,” he said.

 

Source: The Nation
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