* Four Generations: Bangkok’s Riverboat Queens Gear Up For The Property Business

This story appeared in the August 2018 issue of Forbes Asia as “Riverboat Queens.”

 

By Susan Cunningham

Supapan Pichaironarongsongkram is explaining the art of managing the tough men who operate her 90-strong fleet of ferries, commuter boats and charters that ply Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. “When you work with men, you don’t work as a woman and a man. A man will always look down on a woman. They probably don’t think I know much. I go to them as a friend or mother. I protect them. If they know that, they will trust me. They know they will never lose a job. We work through generations of trust.”

Supapan, 73, represents the third generation of women at the helm of Supatra & Chao Phraya Express Boat Group. Her grandmother started the ferry service roughly a century ago–the exact year is unknown–and when she died in 1931, Supapan’s mother took over at age 20 (see Thailand’s Supatra Dynasty – 4 Generations Of Women Running The Chao Phraya River). Today the group comprises ten companies and 600 employees, and the fourth generation is getting ready to take over. Supapan’s 32-year-old daughter, Natapree, better known as Pim, has been building the group’s advertising sales, hotel and real estate businesses for the past six years.


Supapan is petite, soft-spoken and impeccably groomed. If she hadn’t felt a sense of responsibility to carry on the family business, she would have followed a more genteel line of work, perhaps using her French degree or pursuing a career as a pianist. But, says Pim, her only child, her mother’s benign appearance is deceptive: “She works six days a week. She doesn’t have an engineering degree, but she knows all the specifications of the boats, the materials, the buoyancy required for the boats to float, the width of the river, the depth of the river. She will act like she doesn’t know much, but she knows everything. You cannot mess with her.” MORE

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* Malaysia’s Richest 2018: Anthony Tan’s Grab Hits $6B Valuation As Ride-Hailing Race Quickens

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes Asia

This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Forbes Asia as “Up for Grabs”

When Grab closed a $2.5 billion fundraising round in January, the valuation of the ride-hailing company not only rose north of $6 billion, according to Pitchbook. It also lifted cofounder Anthony Tan onto the list of Malaysia’s 50 richest. He debuts with an estimated net worth of $300 million. Led by SoftBank and Didi Chuxing, the investment was Southeast Asia’s biggest single venture-capital fundraising round ever. Other investors include Hyundai Motor and Toyota Tsusho.

Tan, 36, the startup’s chief executive, could have enjoyed a cushy ride with his family’s auto-sales business, run by his father, Tan Heng Chew, and two uncles. (Heng Chew and his brothers made the list the last five years before falling off this year.) But six years ago he teamed up with a Harvard Business School classmate, Tan Hooi Ling (no relation), to launch a taxi-hailing application in their home city of Kuala Lumpur. They first called it MyTeksi.

Myanmar and Cambodia

With eight investment rounds under its belt, Grab has branched out into services for private cars, motorcycle taxis, carpooling and goods delivery while making an ever increasing investment in mobile-software research and development. It offers transportation services in 168 cities in eight Southeast Asian countries, having added Cambodia and Myanmar in 2017. 
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* Binod Chaudhary Helps Rebuild Nepal

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes Asia

This story appears in the September 2015 issue of Forbes Asia.

After a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake rocked central Nepal on April 25, Binod K. Chaudhary and two of his sons rushed from Chitwan National Park to Kathmandu to organize relief efforts. The company’s head office was heavily damaged, but no matter. He immediately ordered that eight schools operated by one of his businesses be turned into shelters, distributing the company’s famed Wai Wai instant noodles and other food, as well as juice, water and medical supplies. He also arranged for health care workers to reach victims in the 12 districts most severely hit by the country’s worst natural disaster in 81 years.

The quake killed more than 8,600 in Nepal, displaced 450,000, triggered fatal avalanches on Mount Everest, and severely damaged centuries-old historic buildings including the palace squares of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

Since then Nepal’s first billionaire has pledged $2.5 million through his Chaudhary Foundation to restore schools and homes destroyed or damaged by the quake. The foundation will bear all the costs of building 1,000 transitional bamboo-and-plaster homes and is working with other donors to construct another 9,000. MORE

* Rocket’s Lazada And Zalora Lost $235.3 Million In 2014 But Are Moving Toward Profitability

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 12, 2015

Lazada, Southeast Asia’s largest shopping platform, and its sister apparel site, Zalora, racked up huge gains in sales and transactions in 2014 but together lost $235.3 million. The good news for those invested in the German parent company, Rocket Internet Group, is that losses as a proportion of revenues are shrinking.

Rocket, which has stakes in 141 internet companies throughout the world, released its 2014 results last week. It listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on October 2, 2014.

Lazada Losses and Revenues Double

Lazada’s six general merchandise sites operate in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Lazada’s net revenue was US $154.3 million last year, more than double 2013 results of $75.5 million. Yet the company’s net operating losses (EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) were $152.5 million, also more than double the 2013 figure of $67 million.

(Most figures in Rocket’s annual report were in euros; Lazada’s results were reported in US dollars.).

For online retailers, however, a key metric is growth in Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV)–the sales value of products sold. In the case of an unprofitable company like Lazada, another metric is the share of losses relative to GMV and whether that share, the negative margin, is narrowing year on year. By that measure, Lazada is moving in the right direction. MORE

* Rocket Internet – First Mover In Asia?

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | Oct 5, 2014

At the end of Rocket Internet’s disappointing first day of trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange last week, co-founder and CEO Oliver Samwer looked weary but, as usual, kept on-message, telling CNBC that “most [Rocket sites] are market leaders in their sectors.”

When he announced the IPO last month, Samwer told a press conference, “I do not have growth, competition or margin as my key problems. Why? Because I’m the first mover in most of my markets.”

Rocket may well be a dull duplicator of others’ innovative ideas, so the subtext goes, but it is boldly pioneering in markets where the grateful natives are just discovering this internet thing. One could easily get the impression from coverage in the western media that there is no e-commerce or online retailing in developing countries from Asia to Latin America to Africa.

World’s Largest Internet Platform?

Where exactly is Rocket the first mover? And how does the investor and digital startup factory intend to become the “biggest consumer internet group outside of the US and China,” “the Alibaba of non-US and non-China countries” or, most recently, “the world’s largest internet platform outside the United States and China”? MORE

* Malaysia’s Patrick Grove Aims To Go Global With Iflix Video-On-Demand

By Susan Cunningham0228_asia-cover-mar_175x226.jpg smallest
Forbes Asia

(This story appears in the March 2017 issue of Forbes Asia).

Patrick Y-Kin Grove is leaning against the pool table in Catcha Group’s headquarters in the Mid Valley mall-lands of Kuala Lumpur. The Internet pioneer has started company after company, but today he’s doing something different–he’s plugging a local tailor shop. “I’ve worn a suit twice in the past five years,” he jokes in his raspy voice as staffers look on. “To get married … and divorced.”

He was getting an award at a gala dinner that night, but he had left his only suit at his second home in Singapore. A call to the tailor produced an offer: Tape a promotional video for the shop and a bespoke suit would be his for free. So here he was, being asked by a cameraman to describe himself. “I’m proudly from Southeast Asia,” Grove says. “I split my life into two halves: before 24 years old and everything after–when I became an entrepreneur.” And his life goal? “I want to create a great company that goes global and disrupts an entire industry.”


The company is two-year-old Iflix. The industry is subscription video-on-demand. Grove is targeting developing countries, and Iflix, part of his Catcha Group, is now operating in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere. Iflix offers unlimited viewing of 20,000 hours’ worth of movies and television shows, available any time of day, for a monthly fee roughly equal to the price of a pirated DVD. That’s usually between $2 and $3, depending on the country. The content comes from more than 100 studios and distributors, including Disney, Paramount, the BBC and Media Prima, and MORE

* As Myanmar looks to develop, a value-added revolution is needed in the countryside

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima News
24 September 2016

Agriculture must be at the forefront of Myanmar’s anti-poverty strategies not only because nearly 70% of Myanmar’s population live in rural areas: of the total number of poor people, 84% reside in the countryside. More than half the workforce is employed in agriculture, yet the majority of farmers own less than 10 acres of planting land and lack access to electricity and clean drinking water.

These stark statistics from UNDP highlight what could arguably be termed the elephant in the room – the need to upgrade Myanmar’s agricultural sector but ideally in a sustainable way.

Backbreaking rice planting in Myanmar - by Hong Sar for Mizzima

Planting rice in Bago State, Myanmar.  Credit: Hong Sar/Mizzima

One man understands the challenges particularly well. Tin Htut Oo, an agricultural economist, retired as director-general of agricultural planning in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) in 2009. He is today CEO of Agribusiness and Rural Development Consultants and chairman of the Agriculture Group of Yoma Strategic Holdings.

A former advisor to President Thein Sein, as the chairman of the National Economic & Social Advisory Council beginning in 2012, he led a working group that drafted a policy paper, entitled “From Rice Bowl to Food Basket,” outlining pathways for modernization of the country’s agricultural and food sector. Earlier this year, group members presented the proposals to key ministers and officials in the agriculture, commerce, and planning and finance ministries and to … MORE