“Quit your job. Buy a ticket. Fall in Love. Never return.” You’ll have no doubt seen someone post this on LinkedIn next to a photo of a ‘traveller’. And what an idealistic statement it is. For some, it’s an ideal they are now living.
I recently caught up with Chloe Williamson from Aquila, to hear about her story: Quitting her job, moving to Myanmar and starting a recruitment business in a country where diversity, beauty and a growing infrastructure is providing the perfect setting for a very original recruitment story.
Chloe was working with a global recruitment company in Hong Kong in what you might call a ‘typical recruitment role’ in a competitive market. Myanmar was a place she had heard of, predominantly through her partners parents, and it was gaining more coverage in the local news.
It’s hard not to gain inspiration by seeing photos and videos on Myanmar. The dramatic natural beauty of the country shines through every photo offering a brief insight into life.
Armed with only an idea, and a desire for change, Chloe quit her job. Bought a ticket. Fell in love (with Myanmar) and never returned!
It feels perverse to suggest the end of 2013 as a long time ago. However talking in the context of Myanmar’s development it’s not far from the truth. Since this date, there’s been a lot of change, specifically in Yangon.
There was nobody offering executive search capabilities in 2013. The internet coverage was 2%. Mobile phone penetration was 7%. A mobile sim card was $250 and would seldom work as advertised.
Now, recruitment is becoming a big industry, tied into the huge infrastructure boom. Internet penetration is now close to 60% and 4G has hit Yangon. By the end of 2018, it’s possible the entire country will be covered by the internet.
The juxtaposition between the tradition and culture of the countryside, with business hubs such as Yangon is becoming more blurred as multinational conglomerates flood in and help this stunning nation reach the next level of its development.
The boom suggested above is as apparent in the recruitment market as it is anywhere in Myanmar. If your ear is to the ground, you’ll know about the new telecoms licences, the building of huge apartment blocks and hotels and banking licences. All of which need staffing.
It’s a candidate driven market with every single company desperate for great people. Finding them is another issue. Needless to say solid ‘management of expectations’ is needed in all corners.
Just by the nature of the country, the gap of information is vast, and the emergence of social media is providing new and improved methods for filling roles. If you’re going to be successful, you’ll have to think as laterally as knocking on someone’s door – rather than that trusty LinkedIn inMail you’ve honed so well.
Contracting is certainly not in vogue in Myanmar.
Driven by a desire for stability and regular paycheques, permanent employment equals 99% of all placements made. Much in the same way as more mature Asian markets like Singapore, education around contract employment may swing the balance, but it’s likely to favour perm for a long time yet.
Chambers of commerce are incredibly useful, with networking events creating great opportunities to mingle. The largest and most active chambers being the Australian, American, French and British.
Working between themselves and with the UMFCCI (Myanmar chamber of commerce) they provide a real business community with access to prominent local businessmen and organised assistance for newcomers and existing residents.
Promoting a sense of togetherness, the help is something Chloe couldn’t have succeeded without. At their first networking event, Aquila had been promised enough work to keep them going for well over 12 months.
There are two sides of the story to business culture in Myanmar. Local and International. Aquila deal with both, but it’s not always easy.
Local: The local companies are massive and offer typically blue collar services in construction, timber, mining etc. Normally these are family run businesses with the children taking director level roles. With no competition these companies flourished. Times, as they say, are changing.
With the introduction of international players, the landscape is evolving. While some acknowledge the change and adapt, those who resist and are starting to see a decline in revenue from business interests.
International: Foreign companies are keen to partner native businesses. Max Myanmar Group’s partnership with Novotel offers a great example of partnerships done well.
There are 180 new branches of Aya Bank opening in the next year, which is Max Myanmar’s retail banking arm. Showing that if you combine international expertise and local knowledge, success will follow.
What does working with local businesses teach you? A lot.
From culture to religion to local customs. Whether it’s the polite way to address people, remembering to take your shoes off before entering a room or not referring to Myanmar as Burma (this is a big no no).
There are over 100 minor ethnicities all of whom have different dialects, militaries and traditions. For the most part Burmese is the language spoken which is another example of how assistance with translation is critical.
Specifically if you’re dealing with a rare language from the mountains, such as Lisu – which two of Chloe’s employees speak. A language that is now spoken by very few people.
Business Development is all about networking. When Chloe attended her first event, people were delighted to hear she was in recruitment and business came in at an incredible rate. There’s not a business in Myanmar that’s not hiring. Offering a trusted, internationally practiced recruitment service is music to the ears of most companies.
Those that view the typical ‘one months salary’ recruitment fee as too high, will often be seen a few months down the line when they’re unsuccessful with the lower cost agencies.
There isn’t one particular CBD per se although most businesses will have a base near Golden Valley.
Downtown, uptown and midtown Yangon is where most activity is seen. Downtown specifically becomes teeming with traffic throughout the day making travel in and out difficult.
Up until recently the lack of office space was limiting growth, however there are creative solutions. Unilever are just one of the businesses who have converted residential buddings into business premises.
Power outages are very frequent so a private generator to eradicate these blackouts is a must-have!
Dress is incredibly important in Myanmar. Local companies are super traditional, with some companies even having uniforms. The male and female longyi is favoured in very traditional fabrics and every ethnicity in Myanmar has their own fabric. White cream will often be seen on faces, which serves as protection from the searing heat and a skin balm.
For business dress, suit trousers and shirts are customary. Though with the heat, you’ll be excused for not wearing your jacket!
If you’re a foreigner in Myanmar, you have to leave the country and return every 70 days. Luckily there are an abundance of options for travel. India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand border the country and slightly further afield is Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore to name a few.
Weather can be tough. Over the months of December, January and February it’s 25 degrees and blue skies. That doesn’t last long however. With April comes the new year, the 40 degree heat and Thingyan, a two week religious festival, where the streets become party central and water canons soak everyone in sight.
Working is prohibited during this time, and Aquila have previously been notified they need to stop working, and join in the fun.
This celebratory sogginess is ominous for the future months of May to September when monsoon season rolls into town.
Housing in Myanmar is very expensive and often not readily available. There often just isn’t the housing people need and expect with intermittent telephony and electrical services. It can be difficult for foreigners to adjust and rent is very high. You may be paying up to $5000 per month and still have to pump your own water.
With investment into the region such as the Shangri-La apartment block, the housing is improving, however like anywhere in the world this will take some time to affect the current situation.
Within Yangon there’s not too much free outside space, but you don’t have to go far to find greenery and the many parks and lakes that dot the city. People work very hard in the week to enable free time at the weekend. Whether you go to a hotel pool, to a lake or simply explore the incredible local architecture.
Pop up restaurants and bars are rife in Yangon specifically. The last few years, since the boom, has seen more diverse cuisine on offer in the city than ever before. In comparison to other parts of the continent, going out for drinks and dinner is incredibly affordable and a very high standard.
Rent is by far the most expensive outlay in Yangon. For a one or two bedroom apartment you’ll pay $1000 pcm. To rent a house in Yangon is c.$3000 – $10000 pcm, where a serviced apartment could be $4000 pcm.
Everything else however is massively cheap. Even if you go to the smartest place in town to eat, you’ll only pay $10 for pizza and $4 for wine. Domestic travel is also cheap. There are some amazing places to see and generally it’s half the price of places such as Singapore or Bangkok.
Tax is generally very high which does deter some people from setting up in the region. Income tax is 25% with commercial VAT at 5% and corporate tax up to 35%.
It’s pretty straightforward to get a visa for Myanmar whether business or travel. After a few visits you can be granted up to 12 months. You do still need to leave the country every 70 days, but this provides a perfect opportunity to to see the region.
Chloe and Aquila’s story on Myanmar is the perfect example of why recruitment is such a great industry. As Chloe has found, there are vast opportunities to take advantage of, if you have the desire and the will to explore them.
Aquila are always on the lookout for new partners, and the move has changed Chloe’s life.
Now, more than ever, there are parts of the world just waiting to be explored. With the right application, there’s no need to save your money for months and put your career on hold with a backpacking sabbatical.
Whether you find inspiration from Myanmar, or a path more travelled, you can capitalise on your own experience in the recruitment industry. You could find a move into the unknown that will change your life too!
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