From Lauder to China to Myanmar

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By: Lauder Alumnus Kevin McKenzie

The Lauder Institute currently offers advanced coursework in nine languages that correspond to five regional areas of the world. Soon, the Institute may need to add Burmese to the mix: The newly opened economy of Myanmar (Burma) has the potential to be the next big growth story in Asia.

Myanmar

Not so long ago, China’s emergence as an economic power convinced me and many of my classmates at Lauder to look East and learn Mandarin. Being in the Chinese track, I became aware of Myanmar early on because it had nearly become a client state of China. Its huge neighbor to the north was extracting its resources and coveting it as an overland bypass to the shipping chokepoint of the Malacca Strait.

China was ratcheting up its economy by the time I graduated from Lauder, and I entered the world of private equity to get a piece of the action. I spent years living in such places as Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Macau, keeping an eye on Myanmar even though I was immersed in Chinese ventures.

Rich in resources and wedged between China and India, Myanmar’s eventual rise seemed inevitable. When a reformist government arrived on the scene a few years ago, the historic old country’s potential to reset its international alliances and rebalance its relationship with China suddenly became realistic.

At that point, I needed some on-the-ground intelligence and headed to Mandalay, the epicenter of Myanmar-China trade. Relying on my Chinese language, I huddled there in conversation with Chinese residents and influential Burmese to assess Myanmar as a potential investment opportunity. In due course, I relocated to Singapore to get closer to the action. My investment partner and I then made our first move, creating a travel website designed to help reshape the image of Myanmar as a destination.

Here’s the point: Without my time at Lauder, I likely would not have recognized the business opportunity in Myanmar—or might have done so too late. I’m pleased to help Lauder plant its flag in this country early on. 

In partnership with Priceline, I launched MyanmarBurma.com to give others an opportunity to visit and learn about this fascinating ancient country. If I were in school today with Asia in my career sights, I probably would be thinking about learning Burmese….

Go, Lauder!

By: Lauder Alumnus Kevin McKenzie