University of Southern California

Asia/Pacific Business Outlook Conference 2013
Experts offer on-the-ground perspective on changes and opportunities to sell-out crowd
April 30, 2013 • by News at Marshall

With new leadership in China, ongoing market and political reforms in Myanmar attracting the likes of Google’s Eric Schmidt and India’s reported “gold rush,” the Asia/Pacific region continues to represents sizable opportunities for U.S. businesses. But success hinges on understanding the business, political and social landscape of each country. Senior commercial officers (SCOs) from 17 American embassies and consulates in Asia, Latin America and Russia were on hand at the sold-out USC Marshall School of Business “Asia/Pacific Business Outlook Conference” (APBO), April 8-9, to offer invaluable on-the-ground perspective to 400 participants looking to enter or expand their business in the region. The conference, organized by Marshall’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce, offered 60 concurrent sessions, four keynote presentations and 450 private appointments with SCOs for participants to obtain personalized advice regarding their business plans in the 17 APBO economies.

Dean James G. Ellis opened the conference, now in its 26th year, by outlining the school’s continued international focus.

“We were global before being global was cool,” said Ellis, referencing both APBO and the International Business Education and Research MBA Program (IBEAR), in its 35th year, before introducing Richard Drobnick, director of CIBER and creator of APBO.

Ronnie Chan, chairman of Hung Lung Properties in Hong Kong, Marshall ’76 alumnus and member of USC’s Board of Trustees since 1995, gave the first of the conference’s keynote presentations. He spoke about China, where his company is investing $11 billion to develop mixed-use commercial properties, and described its biggest danger as potential social unrest.

“But the thing is,” Chan said, “what if social unrest does not happen? China may be in trouble one of these days, but you never know when it’s going to happen. And if it doesn’t happen for the next five, seven, 10 years, can anyone afford to miss this kind of high growth opportunity?”

Looking forward, Chan predicted two economic engines, China and the United States, for the global economy. He thought that the United States would recover from the current downturn very well, and may once again become a manufacturing center of the world, as a result of new technologies like 3D printing, robotics and material sciences.

Sidney Rittenberg, president of Rittenberg & Associates Inc., spoke about the impact of the recent election of President Xi Jinping and the likely direction in which he will take China. “Xi is going to press forward vigorously with economic reform in place of political reform,” Rittenberg said, describing how he will help open up capital for the private sector, the fastest-growing segment of the Chinese economy. “Xi will try to transition China’s growth from State Owned Enterprises to growth financed by private capital markets.”

William Zarit, senior commercial officer, U.S. Embassy, Beijing, outlined several areas for growth in the country. With a steadily aging population and low birth rate, China is in need of elder-care services, particularly health care. Given the protests and concerns surrounding pollution in China, he said that there will be a huge market for environmental technology and clean energy sources, with a projected $473 billion to be spent on clean energy projects by 2015.

According to Paul Wilson, IBEAR ’94, Myanmar represents some of the most visible market opportunities, following the easing of U.S. sanctions, as a result of democratic reforms in the once-isolated, militarily-run nation.

“Myanmar is a risky place, but now is the right time to be considering it,” said Wilson, during a panel discussion moderated by Joseph Nunes, associate professor of marketing, that also featured Michael McGee, senior commercial officer, U.S. Embassy, Bangkok, and Judy Benn, executive director, American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (Bangkok).Benn outlined several promising sectors for business development. “The population of Myanmar is about 60 million people. Fifty percent are under the age of 25. Cell phone service is only at four percent of the population, and only one percent have access to Internet. There is huge potential there,” she continued, “with great opportunities in telecommunications and infrastructure. They need roads. They need airports. They need ports. They need electricity. Only 25 percent of people have access to electricity on a regular basis. There are opportunities in, health care and education. These have been listed as priorities of the Myanmar government.”

But along with such opportunities, the panelists agreed, are considerable challenges: high real estate and land prices, lack of infrastructure and trained professionals, potential ethnic and religious violence and the need to carefully choose local partners to ensure that they have not been involved in human rights abuse or narcotics trade. (A U.S. Treasury Department “Watch List” has a tally of 107 entities or individuals with whom to avoid doing business.).

Both Wilson and McGee said the 2015 elections in Myanmar are key. They will serve as a milestone as to whether the reform process achieved buy-in or not, which, in turn, will impact the business landscape accordingly.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.