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The Summit Parkview Experience

Copyright 1995 Business News Indochina

                                Business VietNam

                                    Feb  1997

SECTION: Property

HEADLINE: The Summit Parkview Experience

DATELINE: Rangoon, Feb 1997

BODY: Rangoon:

   Singapore Technologies is one of the largest conglomerates in Singapore
an annual turnover of $ 3.2 billion in 1995 and employs some 17,000 people.

   Parkview is the first major investment in  Myanmar  which the Singapore
Technologies group has undertaken.  Stewart Yen, Chairman of Summit Parkview,
was personally involved in the design and construction of the hotel which was
completed and opened for business within 12 months of ground-breaking.  He
outlines his experiences here, as presented at the recent Asian Initiatives

Seminar in Rangoon.

   After years of successfully trading with  Myanmar,  Singapore
Technologies, a
Singapore government-linked company with diverse business interests decided
1993 to develop an international class business hotel in Yangon.  Out partner
for the venture is Liang Court, a publicly listed property development
and operator of serviced apartments.  With the gradual opening up of the
and the transformation of its socialist economy to a market-driven one, we
believed that international businessmen would begin to visit Yangon in
increasing numbers and hence there was the urgent need of an international
hotel.  However, as this was going to be the very first hotel project for
partners, we also quickly came to the conclusion that we had to be the first
put the new hotel on the market as we would have some learning to do in
a hotel. Summit Parkview is an international class business hotel with 250
sitting on 3.2 acres of land.  The building is 6-storeys high with a
and has a built-up area of 18,000 sq m.  Facilities include a multi-purpose
function hall which can accommodate 300 sit-down diners or 500 conference
attendees, a business centre, coffee house, bar lounge, KTV rooms, fitness
swimming pool, shops, a clinic and a hair & beauty salon.  The hotel has a
power generation back-up and its own sewerage treatment plant.  Incoming
is also treated.

   The Development of the Hotel

   In order to be the first on the market, we needed to complete the
construction of the hotel in the shortest possible time.  There was in 1993 a
dire shortage of building materials in Yangon, including even basic materials
like cement and steel bars.  There was also a shortage of workers who were
experienced in modern highrise construction, especially in the areas of
specialised mechanical and electrical services.  Otherwise, the skill level
the local tradesmen in the more traditional fields of brickwork, plastering
carpentry work was very high.  The hotel building was therefore designed to
incorporate the type of construction method which was most suitable to the
market conditions.

   We selected a semi-prefabricated design using steel trusses, concrete
slabs and bathroom units which were prefabricated in Singapore.  All the
components and practically all the other building materials with the
of bricks and some timber components were imported.  Even the labourers for
erection of the steel structure were imported to ensure speedy completion of
structure.  Yes, it was a more expensive way to construct the hotel but we
able to guarantee the completion schedule of the project.  In our case, time
of the essence.

   The ground breaking ceremony was held on 18 Nov 93; actual construction
on 1 Dec 93; and on 1 Dec 94, exactly 12 months later, the hotel opened for
business with 150 rooms.  Three weeks later, the remaining rooms were in

   The design and physical construction of the hotel were completely under
control.  But the logistics of importing every bolt and nut for the project
not entirely under our influence.  Availability of ships, congestion of the
port, custom procedures, MIC approval for duty-free importation, etc, for
example, are all beyond our control.  Also, during the construction stage,
were the submission of design drawings to and the checking of design
calculations by the various approving authorities, the application of various
licenses and so on, all of which could have delayed the project if the
activities were not properly planned and coordinated.  The fact that we could
complete the project in just 12 months only showed that the bureaucratic red
tape in  Myanmar  is not half as bad as what some of you are led to believe.
have heard some horror stories myself, but I would really investigate the
cause of the delay.  Could it be due to a small discrepancy in the
paperwork?  You see, the  Myanmar  people are a meticulous lot, just a digit
difference in the shipping documents will cause a chain reaction involving
various departments and the importer will be required to submit a lot more
work to correct the mistake before your cargo can be released or enjoy the

duty-free status.  Today, because of the increasing economic activities and
limited capacity of the port, it is true that at times the cargoes do get
in the port for a long time.  But if you do not do your paperwork properly,
can expect even longer delay.  While the bureaucracy here may not be as
efficient as some of the Asia's tiger economies, they are certainly a lot
efficient than many other emerging economies in the region.

   Operations of the Hotel

   As the construction was fast-tracked, we needed the management team in as
early as possible.  Recruitment of expatriate managers was initiated in Feb
and by May 94, most of the 27 expats hired were on board and recruitment for
local staff began.  There was no shortage of applicants as one might expect.
Most of the young people who applied had college education but unfortunately
great proportion of them did not speak acceptable English.  Many applicants
never worked before, let alone having hotel experience.  A longer training
programme was planned for the recruits as the training syllabus was enlarged
include some of the more basic areas of training.

   The average  Myanmar  worker is genuinely friendly and eager to learn.  A
number of the recruits were also computer-literate and they had no difficulty
learning our state-of-the-art front office system.  There are of course 
cultural differences from not only the Westerners but also other East Asians:
The  Myanmar  people are usually soft-spoken; non-confrontational; tend to
their feelings to themselves; hardworking and not so calculative.  These are
positive traits which we delightfully discovered during the preopening period
the hotel.

   On the other hand, there are, in my view, some not so positive aspects of
average  Myanmar  employee which can cause problems for an employer.  For
example, they can be overly sensitive that their feelings get hurt easily,
they would resign over very small issues.  Also, most of the  Myanmar
 workers I
spoke to felt that their loyalty should be directed to an individual, usually
their immediate superior (especially when they are in good terms) and not the
company.  Peer pressure also plays an important role in influencing an
individual's decision.  This could be due to the fact that many  Myanmars
never worked for a true commercial enterprise.  Their work experience was
limited to working for either the government or the family business where
individual relationships matter much more than loyalty to the organisation.

   This has recently created some major problems for us.  Some of our expat
managers have joined the soon-to-be-open new hotels and they all wanted to
along their local staff with them, though not necessarily with higher salary.
We interviewed many who left and those who did not, and realised that this
decision to move or not to move has been one of their biggest and most
decisions they have to make in their lift.  Job opportunities have never been
good.  They are happy working in our hotel but they feel that they should
their manager as he or she was the one who taught them what they now know.
Often, the manager is also some sort of father or mother figure to local
We have lost about 40% of our 380 local staff to the new hotels over the last
three months.

   During our first year, we found the average  Myanmar  worker easily
trainable.  Some of the better ones learned extremely fast, performed very
but soon found their job boring and could not wait for the next appointment.
We, in labour scarce Singapore, have always complained about young
being impatient.  But what I have experienced here is nearly as bad.  We have
computer guy who is extremely good, he is a self learner and be picks up
fast.  He left us to join one of the newer hotels as he thought since the new
property is much larger, the computer system would be more sophisticated.
when he found out otherwise, he was out in less than 2 months and is now
for a software company.  It is therefore very important for the company to be
able to find ways to keep them continuously motivated and challenged.
Ability-wise, there is normally a big gap between the 'super-achiever' and
average worker.  While we would be quite happy to push the super-achiever up
a more responsible position, it is usually difficult to convince the other 
fellow workers the need to promote this particular person ahead of the rest.
not handled properly, the promotion of one person can cause mass resignation
from his or her colleagues in the same department.

   Challenges Ahead

   The biggest challenge for a foreign investor is to bridge the cultural
Managing people with a different cultural background is always difficult.
being the guests in this land, must therefore make a conscientious effort to
learn and understand the local culture and acceptable social behaviour.  For
people who have had no contact with outside world for nearly 30 years, I
it is easier for us foreigners to adapt to the  Myanmar  ways than for them
accept the totally new and sometimes strange foreign practices which they now
suddenly faced with.  In time,  Myanmar  workers will gradually get used to
different foreign practices as their own contacts with foreigners increase or
they travel overseas more, and they will choose and pick and emulate those
are positive.  This way, we can help minimise the cultural shocks for the
 Myanmar  workers, and gradually but steadily help build up the mutual trust
respect for each other.

   There are many bright young people in this country.  What they lack is
exposure to the outside world.  They can be developed fairly quickly and,

the right exposures, they can learn quickly and perform as well as any
expatriate.  We must therefore have a plan to talent-spot the better
and develop them on an accelerated career track; because if we don't, they
soon find something else to do.

   Some of our bellhops and waitresses are college graduates.  While they may
not all be super-achievers, they are not going to stay if they do not see a
future ahead in their career path.  In Summit Parkview, we are presently
re-engineering the work processes in the hotel operation, simplifying the
processes in some areas and completely redesigning others.  With
we hope to be able to enlarge the worker's job scope and enable him to be
cross-trained so he may handle multiple tasking.  Job satisfaction, besides
relationship, appears to be another major factor in the retention of staff.


   All the personal traits which I mentioned above, unique or otherwise, can
either a virtue or a weakness depending on how one looks at and deals with
The hotel business is all about service, and service is all about people.
immediate challenge is therefore to re-design our operational management
so we may harness these 'different' human traits into a positive force.  I am
confident that we can do that.  I am excited about the future of this

and I look forward to a long association with  Myanmar.

LOAD-DATE: January 23, 1997