Sometimes, success is about being at the right place at the right time. That was the case for Paul Wilson, an ’94 IBEAR MBA graduate from the USC Marshall School of Business and the managing director of Four Rivers—a Myanmar-based consulting company building businesses in Myanmar, Russia, India, Iraq and the UAE. Using his MBA and military background, Wilson has had the unique opportunity to influence the emerging Myanmar economy.
Brief Bio: Paul Wilson
Wilson has spent the past two decades in Asia—Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand—and has spent over 15 years in Myanmar. He has worked for such prestigious companies as Microsoft, Accenture, and Lucent Technologies, cultivating an extensive network of trusted local business partners. Wilson also worked with the Myanmar government and business leaders across a range of industries and sectors.
Wilson is considered a pioneer in Myanmar’s telecommunications industry. In the late 1990s, he co-founded a company that partnered with the government to provide mobile communications services. He then left Myanmar and returned in early 2012, when he founded Myanmar Capital Advisors, a consulting firm specializing in the Myanmar market.
Currently, Wilson is the Managing Director of Four Rivers, a U.S.-owned business with offices in Yangon and New York. Their goal is to invest in Myanmar’s future by deploying capital in the real estate sector.
USC Marshall Interview
Recently, Wilson sat down with Richard Drobnick, the Director of the USC IBEAR MBA program, to talk about his experience in Myanmar. You can listen to the full interview here.
The first topic of discussion was Wilson’s transition from the military into the complex business environment in Southeast Asia. For Wilson, there were many commonalities between the two experiences.
He reported that he felt that his classroom environment at USC Marshall was very rich in terms of engagement with different cultures. And while those cultures were different from what he experienced in the military, he found that both contexts shared a “degree of empathy that’s required to get people’s collaboration, trust, and desire to work in alignment to achieve a goal,” he said in the interview.
Wilson also stated that that “the same attributes and personal skills” that he had acquired in the military were very relevant to developing trust and confidence in his classmates. He then took those same traits into the business environment in Southeast Asia.
As for his experience with Four Rivers and working in Myanmar, Wilson indicated that he had one objective: “to help multi-nationals or foreigners successfully navigate a somewhat complex and opaque business environment in Myanmar.”
Wilson moved to Myanmar in 2012, and it was perfect timing. Many outlets were publishing articles expounding on the business growth and opportunities available there. Because it was Wilson’s second time in Myanmar, he was already familiar with the country and had contacts and friendships there to help him in his business.
Still, it was Wilson’s business experience that helped him succeed the most in Myanmar.
“I realized that there were three things that I had acquired as competencies during my business career,” Wilson explained. “One: I knew how to engage the government; I knew how to either sell to the government or play an advisory role. Two: I knew how to sell and to do business development. Three: I knew how to work with local business partners: how to evaluate them, how to conduct due diligence, and how to make recommendations. Those three competencies are really industry neutral. They can cut across any sector.”
Using those traits, Wilson carefully vetted clients and started with short consulting engagements to ensure that everything went smoothly. His business then quickly grew. However, there have been challenges to working in Myanmar.
“The country has so much going for it. It has a population of 55 million. It’s situated between China and India and Southeast Asia. It has a coastline that is longer than Vietnam. It is rich in natural resources such as offshore gas and onshore oil, jade, and more,” said Wilson. “The challenge that the Myanmar government has is putting laws and regulatory frameworks into place to attract foreign investment.”
Considering the fact that U.S. sanctions against Myanmar were only lifted in October 2016, there’s still a good deal of potential, and Myanmar is ready to take advantage of the opportunities.
“Across the board, whether you’re a local company or a poorer ethnic community, U.S. companies are looked at with a higher degree of confidence,” Wilson said. “There is a perception that U.S. companies will do the right thing in regards to the environment, labor, teaching governance and accounting, and basic business principles that will strengthen the local economy.”
So, according to Wilson, now is the perfect time to be a do business in Myanmar.
About USC Marshall IBEAR
The IBEAR MBA program is a one-year accelerated International MBA for mid-career professionals. The average class size is 56 students, and the average MBA student has around ten years of experience. The program starts every July and ends the following July. Alumni can be found in 60 countries around the world.