Although the full Olswang Asia founding team had only been in situ since 8 January, on the night of our official opening party on 23 February at the Landing Point, Fullerton Bay Hotel we welcomed over 160 guests that included some of Asia's top business leaders including the CEO of StarHub Entertainment, the Head of UBS Corporate Advisory and a former British Foreign Minister. Looking back on the night, the highlight was certainly feeling that the premise on which we opened the office - that there was demand for an international law firm focussed on the technology, media and telecoms sectors - had proved correct.
The press attention that followed the event was fantastic, again helping to support our argument that there was interest in, and need for, a professional services firm with our outlook. The launch party also proved to be a tipping point as over the last month, we've received 10 further instructions - roughly 50% of which are from new clients in the region. The challenge now is hiring people quickly enough!
Diversifying the law - International women's day
Beyond helping clients make business connections, Olswang has always distinguished itself by helping clients get involved in a variety of community and CR opportunities with our charity partners and other business contacts. This year my colleague Elle Todd hosted twenty women from the Media Sector in Singapore's famous China Town to celebrate International Women's Day at the inaugural Women in Media networking event.
The attendees represented women from across the media sector including Warner Bros, Fremantle Media, ESPN Star Sports, World Sports, NBC Universal, HBO, Discovery and AETN All Asia. The night was a great success with attendees relishing the opportunity to meet with like-minded women on an informal basis to extend their personal and professional networks. Elle's pro-activity in seeing a gap in the market - for a women's only media networking club - just goes to show that it really is about thinking differently and using our position as the pre-eminent media firm to bring people together.
The missing M&A market
The TMT M&A market is an enigma: according to published stats, M&A in 2011 in SE Asia (excluding Japan) accounted for 15% of the total market, or approximately $10 billion (US). Given that most of these deals are likely to have been in the sub $100 million (US) range, then that's a lot of deals but there really is not much publicity or fanfare around these overlooked and under-nourished sectors! Why is that? I think it's because commodities trading, resources and banking dominate the consciousness in SE Asia - they have been so good, and so big, for so long, that the runner on the inside track is not worth "bothering with". I suspect this will change.
As convergence brings technology, media and telecoms ever closer (telecoms networks as distribution channels), SingTel buying US mobile advertising outfit Amobee for $320 million in a vertical integration expansion play etc, then the market will only increase and develop through M&A as consolidation plays to garner market share (with a particular emphasis on monetising the tech and content savvy consumers in SE Asia).
If you couple economic growth with the presence of circa 400 million "connected" consumers, and then throw in stats like PayTV only having a 2% penetration in Indonesia, and then add in the incentives being thrown at technology, media and telecoms companies in the key jurisdictions in SE Asia (in particular Singapore's MDA, IDA, EDB and IRAS all have monetary incentives available - including direct investment arms - for local and international players, big and small) it very quickly becomes apparent why TMT companies "need" to be in SE Asia and why Singapore is a natural home for regional HQs and why it will be from here that inorganic expansion is launched.
My, and the Olswang Asia Team's job is to be more than lawyers, we need to be advisors and market makers. From Europe, South East Asia and the US our aim needs to be, and is, the promotion of, and expansion of, the TMT opportunities that exist in SE Asia and how they can be monetised by established players within the region and US/Europe.
Dizzying Vertical Access
Singapore is renowned as a business friendly city and this is particularly true in the ability and ease to network with top level CEO's and company directors. Connectivity is a business watchword as well as being a key area of our practice! And positioning ourselves as being go-to introducers in our key sectors enables CEOS, CFOs and business founders to take meetings with us with confidence, knowing that we'll always be looking for the introduction we can make for them, or suggest to them - and that attitude, and understanding that we need to make M&A happen in order to win mandates, is what has been greeted with such enthusiasm and has led to many C-suite level introductions and referrals being made into investment banks as well as corporates.
But networking doesn't just happen out of out city-centre office on Raffles Place in Singapore, it also happens 30,000 feet in the air and thousands of miles from the office. An incredible feature of living and working in Singapore is our unpredictable travel schedule. The HQs of companies may be in Singapore but their profit-making operations might also be a long way away. Although our timetable is far less demanding than that of our clients, we need to be seen to be recognising the regional demands and needs of companies in TMT and be willing to be where they need us to be.
In the last two weeks, Hong Kong, KL and Jakarta border agents have put stamps in my passport. I've held video conference calls with France, Germany, UK, US, Japan and Taiwan allowing me to understand the regional risks and rewards of doing business in SE Asia, and being able to convey them in business-relevant terms to existing clients in Europe and the US, is what we've been able to bring to the table. So, even though I'll begin my travels again after a short "break" in London across Easter I'm hoping that at some point I may see more than hotels, taxis and meeting rooms…
To end on a stronger note, for those readers who enjoy a well-balanced Old Fashioned or perhaps a more complicated and colourful drink or even if you simply miss the cocktail bars of San Francisco, New York, Paris and London, get yourself to my evening "meeting room" at 28 Hong Kong Street where Michael Callahan serves up some great evening "coffees"…just don't tell too many people…