Once the ribbon is cut in a new market, how do you build success? After nearly two decades, the U.S. officially lifted economic sanctions against Myanmar by executive order in October. John G. Rice, Vice Chairman of GE and President and CEO of GE Global Growth Organization, describes why the company moved to boost infrastructure as soon as the ban on some investments began to ease.
When it comes to investing in a new country, a lot of people take interest in what we do. We are a big company and a start-up investor at the same time. We see around the corners, plant seeds and nurture investments with a big picture in mind. One of the most interesting parts of my job is being there from the outset, deciding where and when to invest, and then “nurturing” the start-up.
We approach new markets, and any opportunity for that matter, with a practical mindset – how can we provide useful and affordable infrastructure solutions that can improve the quality of life in that country. The decision point for GE engaging and investing in a new country is getting clear insight on a country’s development plan and market factors that will support those goals. The reemergence of Myanmar, after more than 50 years of being closed off to the world, provided this opportunity and brought forward a clear agenda focused on infrastructure such as electricity, aviation and healthcare to increase the standard of living and drive economic development for Myanmar. With nearly 55 million people in the country and less than one third of households with access to electricity, GE was ready to help.
Some people criticized us for not waiting until all the political issues had been sorted out. We felt it was important for people in Myanmar to see – quickly – that democracy would deliver a better living standard. Since that starts with basic infrastructure, it was right for GE to be in early.
Knowing the national agenda sounds basic, but translating that into opportunities and practical steps that lead to progress requires strong leadership. The first thing we do is find and appoint the right leader who understands both the local mindset and our corporate culture. When a market like Myanmar is opening to the international system, you need strong leadership on-the-ground with the right relationships and the right integrity. That leader also needs the ability to mobilize and sell within the company to draw the resources and support behind commercial opportunities.
Like any start-up, we start lean in new markets with trusted leadership who have GE values and a small team that can work across all areas of business and get the right input and resources from those businesses. We have a concept called “GE Store” that cuts across teams to drive this kind of synergy. Our small team in Myanmar can go after multi-industry opportunities and tap into capabilities outside the country when we need scale and expertise. Today, GE provides more than 500MW of power in Myanmar and will add an additional 600MW by 2018, including a gas turbine that will power Yangon, the country’s commercial hub. We provided financing for 12 aircrafts to Myanmar National Airlines, allowing them to start flights that connect Myanmar to more cities across Asia. We have also provided over 2,000 medical devices to 40 hospitals to improve people’s access to better healthcare, many of whom are women and children in critical conditions.
When we invest, we do it for the long-term. We plant seeds, but we don’t expect them to bloom right away. Often you need to tackle bottle necks to market development, whether that relates to talent building, skills training or to your supply chain. Since we opened our Myanmar office in 2013, we have invested time and resources to train local engineers and health professionals. We’re also using Crotonville, our leadership training center, to build the country’s leadership base through the Myanmar Leadership Program, which includes leaders from the public and private sectors.
I’m excited by Myanmar, four years into our journey and the impact we are making. I’m also excited by Laos, where we’re just getting started. Establishing an office in a new market is an important step, but the real pride comes when the focus and teamwork starts to pay off, and people are seeing the benefits that go with better infrastructure and an improved standard of living.
(Top photo credit: Bagan, Myanmar, is an archaeological zone of more than 2,000 ancient pagodas built in the 11th century. Getty Images.)
This piece first appeared in LinkedIn.
John G. Rice is Vice Chairman of GE and President and CEO of GE Global Growth Organization.
All views expressed are those of the author.