After a several year absence, the Southeast Asia GIP returned to the Wharton GIP lineup. Kris Suebjaklap and I were excited to welcome the group led by Amy Miller and Professor Anthony Landry to a part of the world we had lived and worked in. Our group of 35 met up in Jakarta (Indonesia) before spending New Year’s in Bali and then moving on to visits in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore. In each of these cities (except Bali, which was all play), we visited three to four local companies, and had the opportunity to meet with senior leaders and learn about their businesses.
In moving from Indonesia to Malaysia and then to Singapore, we had the opportunity to witness countries in various stages of economic development. We observed Indonesia beginning to take advantage of its huge labor pool and abundant natural resources while grappling with challenges that face many developing countries – trying to build up the institutions and legal system necessary for growth, integration with the world economy and rapid urban population growth. Malaysia has successfully diversified its economy away from an overreliance on agriculture and oil, but is now trying to grow as a provider of value-added services and knowledge and product creation for the larger Asian and world markets. Singapore is a developed economy and the hub of a lot of Southeast Asian economic activity but is constantly looking for ways to remain innovative and competitive, especially in light of being a small country. We saw these themes in action over and over as we walked the streets of the different cities and heard from company leaders. Interestingly, the macroeconomic data Professor Landry presented in his group lectures tell a very similar story – one got a fairly insightful picture of each economy purely from the data, even prior to having visited.
Another recurring theme was the huge amount of promise and opportunity in the cities we visited. The fourth largest country in the world, Indonesia has been growing quickly and is one of the few Southeast Asian countries that is large enough to be its own market. The CEO of GE Indonesia discussed some of his ideas for product development for the local market as well as for Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, we heard about how the national oil company Petronas and the company that manages Malaysia’s airports were taking on projects and investments in Canada, Turkey and India. Singaporean companies have to think globally from day one (due to the small size of the local market), and we got a glimpse into the operations of the excellent Singapore Airlines and Temasek (the Singaporean government investment company). Many of these companies are poised to become market leaders in the region and in the world (if they are not already), and the company visits provided a window into that process. As an organizer, tt was rewarding to observe several participants who had not previously been to Southeast Asia begin to see it as a region they would be excited to work in. It was also fun to see how impressed the group was with how modern Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in particular are – the level of development came as a surprise to many.
Finally, we got to experience the power and generosity of the Wharton alumni network. As a coordinator, I experienced their willingness to provide suggestions on places to visit, put us in touch with the owners and CEOs of some of the most important companies in the region, and share their experiences and advice. Wharton alumni hosted meals for us in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, and welcomed us warmly to the cities they live and work in. I gained a deeper appreciation for just how expansive and well connected the Wharton network is, and how deeply-rooted and influential our alumni are in the development and administration of these countries.
The entire trip was a lot of fun; we learned a lot and got to experience the different cities and get a taste of the local culture and, eat amazing food! I appreciated the opportunity to get to know my classmates more closely, and share a region of the world I care about with the GIP group. I’m thankful for a wonderful group, safe travels, good weather, and great company visits. Here’s to hoping the Southeast Asia GIP keeps going for many years.