63 floors, 3 countries, one latte...Welcome to Singapore
Singapore is a very different but fantastic place to live. Just two days after my arrival, a contact suggested meeting to have a catch-up and see how we could work together in SE Asia. When I arrived at the address he gave me, I was directed to the 63rd floor of a building in the heart of the CBD (Central Business District - in Singapore you learn to love the acronym...that or not understand anyone). I sat in what amounted to a pitch to the CFO of an MNC (MultiNational Corporation - I did warn you) sipping a latte and trying to concentrate whilst trying fully to assimilate the fact that two days after getting off the plane from wintry Heathrow, I had a view of three countries, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia! Any lingering doubts about the wisdom of upping sticks to SE Asia to set up the Corporate team in Olswang's newest office were well and truly dispelled by the combination of the view and my first Asian instruction.
The weather. A cliché but truly unique for someone from the temperate climes of SE England! As I was leaving a meeting close to my office in the CBD, I was told to take an umbrella - not having brought one with me did rather mark me out as a Singapore novice but still.. I thought this was rather strange as it was clear, blue, sunny skies, but took one anyway. The walk between my office and the meeting was only 10 minutes (again I was marked out by the decision to walk - 100% humidity and 31 degrees plus a suit jacket do not make for happy sartorial bedfellows), but within 5 minutes it began to rain. And I mean end of the world rain. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and both carry an umbrella and take a taxi between meetings. Some may view this as undue precaution but the Singaporeans don't and they know best!
You can forget six degrees of separation, in the expat and local communities, everyone is just one step away from everyone else here. One piece of advice I've been given on a number of occasions is that everyone you've met is a "super person, very successful"...happily, so far that generally proves to be true! It is usual to devote the initial few minutes of a meeting with a new contact working out who that contact in common is - and then you find yourself being cross-introduced so you always leave a meeting with another lead/introduction to follow up on. Phenomenal on both the personal and professional aspects to life which are, it's fair to say, separated by a much finer line than in London or even New York where I've also worked.
Leaving aside the anecdotal for a moment, one of the biggest differences to Europe and the US is that the economy has continued to grow here; they haven't seen an economic down turn and have in fact watched the economy expand considerably between 2007 and 2011 - last year's growth in GDP of almost 5% was a drop of almost 9% on the previous year but is still growth! As a result, transactional activity is flourishing in a way I've not seen for a long time. This is, in part helped by the appetite for risk: people and companies "living" in Singapore have a lot of disposable cash thanks to a low tax rate and so many favourable years of growth - they have the money to spend and they want to find ways to invest it.
There is an unusual coming together of circumstances at the moment which mean Asia's gaze is turning slightly towards Europe - traditionally the vast majority of investment deals and M&A which utilised Asian capital was done "in region". No cross-border, cross-culture security or risk for buyers/lenders here! However, and happily for my clients and European businesses looking to tap into the vast Asia market, thanks to the weakness of the Euro and Sterling, assets are looking cheap and the attractiveness of strategic buys, investment deals or joint ventures with established European brands and market-expertise are becoming so viable as to be very interesting to cash rich, but perhaps experience-lacking, SE Asian TMT businesses. Coming the other way, there has been a convergence boom in SE Asia with significant growth in a number of key areas including: mobile banking; mobile and tablet technology; content distribution mechanics, smart tvs and cloud computing - there are companies here grabbing market share in the key opportunity geographies (beyond BRIC...) of Indonesia and Philippines (as well as Malaysia, Vietnam etc) who are likely to be targets for more established European and US players in TMT who want to spend their cash where the greatest rewards lie. SE Asia.
From an Olswang point of view, we've had a blistering start to life out in Asia and the TMT focus is really resounding with existing clients such as Microsoft, eBay, Tune Hotels, Vodafone and with the local community such as ST Telemedia, HBO, CASBAA, Axiata, and new clients who are approaching us because we understand their sectors. In short we've got significant investment/M&A deals on the go, large-scale industry outsourcing deals, regulatory telecoms advisory work and bespoke dispute resolution advisory work. Busy times for the initial team of four partners.
The most pleasing thing however is that at the end of my first two months here, we've referred work and introductions back to our European offices, and sent opportunities to clients (in my view we need to give our clients reasons to get out here too and the currency for that is deals), we have a pipeline stretching out to the summer, we're making our first few hires to meet client demand, we're known in market and we're enjoying life in an "Olswang" way.