Stepping Into Asia For the First Time

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By Richard Goddard – Managing Partner, Singapore –

Over the last couple of decades, Asia’s influence and increasingly critical role in the global economy has captured boardroom discussions from early stage ventures to global powerhouse organizations across the technology ecosystem.  Originally driven by outsourced manufacturing into lower cost locations such as China, Asia’s influence has triggered investment and revenues which have fed into many domestic economies across the entire Asia-Pacific region.  Innovation and services have followed and today we are witnessing an explosion of technological innovation with very low barriers of entry.  Technology incubators have popped up in all major cities, Jakarta, Bangkok, and Singapore to name a few, helping “domestic” companies launch and scale in the region.  Technology itself has invaded every facet of our lives and as personal incomes have increased, so has the appetite for the latest technologies.  All in all, Asia is hungry for technology, from innovators to manufacturers to consumers.  With flatter growth markets in Europe and the U.S. (albeit both demonstrating tremendous levels of technological innovation and entrepreneurialism) there is no doubt that Asia is a melting pot of opportunity both as an integral part of the global supply chain as well as a region of 4.3 billion consumers.  It’s a region that represents tremendous future growth.

There is no “One Size Fits All” approach
In this day and age every company should be developing a launch plan into Asia.  There are many strategies for market entry.  A few I’ve seen are:

–          Launch testing (i.e. alpha,beta,pilot) to evaluate where and how the market responds to products/services
–          Entering on the back of leveraged global customer relationships
–          Creating reseller/partner networks/joint ventures to lessen risk exposure while entering a diverse geography
–          Selecting local investment partners (i.e. EDBI in Singapore) as part of an FDI program serving mutual interests

The list is almost endless as Asia is a complex cocktail of opportunities and threats across a myriad of developed, developing and emerging economies and markets.  The size and diversity of Asia means that often an organization looking at Asia for the first time will be distracted by the sheer scale of opportunity along with the levels of investment potentially required to succeed.  At this stage its important have clear expectations and maintain an open mind regarding the means to achieve a successful launch into Asia.

The first person on the ground
Having spent 22 years helping global technology clients launch and scale their businesses in Europe and Asia, I always advise my clients to cleanse themselves of any preconceived idea of the individual they perceive to be as their “first person on the ground.”  My advice is to utilize the search process as a “discovery” mechanism in which you partner with a search consultant who understands, and has access to, your industry as well as the talent pools across the region.  Build a strong business partnership and treat the consultant as your business partner.  Kick ideas around, seek opinions, test thoughts, challenge the norm and use the consultant as an extension of your own organization.  Below are some initial starting points.

–          Be clear on what you expect to achieve with this first hire
–          Map out the talent pool and do not be limited by geography, nationality or language
–          Narrow the talent pool through a comprehensive selection process
–          Have the shortlisted candidates present their business plans which they will ultimately take ownership and accountability for
–          Harness all the input from the search process to help tweak your strategy in the region and equip your appointed candidate with valuable market knowledge

Talent sits everywhere, from major hubs like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai to less obvious locations across the globe. I recently appointed an exceptionally talented senior executive to lead a regional organization of over 5000 employees and he was at the time living in semi-retirement and playing golf in Thailand! 

Stepping into Asia for the first time can be an enriching process.  By engaging closely in the search process, you can test your expectations, strategies and tactics with the prospective candidate pool.  The process can give you insight on your competition and why a company may succeed or fail.  It can uncover challenges and opportunities which may have not been identified previously.  It is also a direct and impactful marketing exercise.  You are selling the opportunity to key players in your target industry by saying, “We are coming, we have something very exciting to build out here, and we are presenting you with the opportunity to be a part of this success.”  Use your search partner as the moderator of this process and as “The Closer” of the relationship with your target candidate.  The closer the partnership, the greater the outcome.