|Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum, 24 September 2010|
“Morgan McKinley was proud to be a sponsor of the 2010 Asian Gaelic Games and Business Forum which gave us the opportunity to embrace our Irish roots. We also welcomed the chance to develop and strengthen relationships between our employees across Asia-Pacific and the business communities involved. "Combining the entertainment of Irish sports with a high-level conference programme created a great atmosphere, fostering excellent networking opportunities for companies from a range of industries, including our own. We look forward to working with the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong again in the future."
“As sponsors of the highly successful Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum in Hong Kong in September 2010, I would like to confirm that, as the Irish Governments Trade and Technology agency, Enterprise Ireland is fully supportive of the ongoing development of the trade and business networks between Hong Kong and Ireland, which the forum has fostered and catalyzed. We look forward to our future involvement in these events as a critical part in the development of even closer relations between Irish businesses and Hong Kong and Asian companies.
"This series of events brings together Irish people and their friends from all over Asia, and contributes to Hong Kong"
“At the APIBF, I was amazed to receive personal attention from an InvestHK representative who proved knowledgeable on the industry in I wished to explore investment in HK, and who was accessible and constructive in conversation, also participating in our workshops showing a genuine flair for business development, and interest in our work. The APIBF brought together a critical mass of business people that makes it possible for this kind of attention to be lavished on a group of international business people, in order to achieve tangible results, and purely on the basis of this interaction I am exploring further the opportunity to expand my business to HK. If I had not received such solid support from HK representatives, which in turn would not have been set up without the environment of the APIBF, I would have not considered HK at all. Now, it’s the next place we are considering expansion.”
“The Business Forum is now the most important gathering of Irish Business people in Asia and is closely linked into the Government's Asia Strategy. It will play a vital role in expanding Irish Trade with Asia.The Asian Games are also a very important manifestation of Irish culture for the Irish abroad and continue to grow in numbers participating and also in integrating many Asians into our ancient sporting tradition.'
The fourth Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum in Hong Kong was an event which focussed on themes and trends. An audience of 150 delegates proceeded through a programme comprising formal presentations, panel discussions, and focussed industry sector workshops. The event was proudly sponsored by Business & Finance, and Enterprise Ireland, Invest HK, Morgan McKinley and KPMG, to each of whom a sincere thank you. While it is not possible to fully reflect the breadth and depth of the content of the event, this report is intended to capture and recall some key messages from the day’s proceedings.
The mood of the APIBF this year was overwhelmingly of optimism, but not blind optimism or foolish hope with no grounding in reality. This came particularly into focus in presentations by those who gave hard economic data on Asia to the delegates attending.
Mr. Nick Sutcliffe, from the Conference Board, noted that on average, global growth through to 2016 will be at 4% per annum, and two-thirds of this growth will occur in emerging and developing countries. If economic growth represents potential that has vested and is realised, then the roadmap to economic potential in the global economy points to emerging and developing economies. Warming to this theme, but focussing on the shorter term, Mr. Sutcliffe anticipated high speed growth in China, India and emerging Asia in the coming year, with Chinese growth levelling out in the medium term to 7%. In India, Mr Sutcliffe noted that the major trend in the coming period would be the development of critical mass in the manufacturing sector. The opportunity for Ireland was to provide the support required to improve the productivity gains in emerging Asian economies. This was another example of the way in which Ireland can use its intellectual capital in economies and countries leaping to an advanced stage of economic development.
Further cause for optimism, if actioned sensibly, is the prospect that Ireland can be a harbour for Asian outbound investment to Europe. This recent and growing trend was explored by Mr. Fergal Power, from KPMG, and Mr. Brian Conroy, from the IDA. Mr. Power noted that the trend in outbound investment tended to move through three phases, from the acquisition of stakes in the financial sector, to the acquisition of resources and commodities, to the acquisition of technology, brands and people. The trends in outbound investment from Asia to Europe showed that Asia was in phase two and moving to phase three. Mr. Power noted that Irish businesses in the asset leasing, financial services and technology sectors could soon find themselves the objects of interest from Asian investors. Mr. Conroy noted the IDA target of attracting 20% of all inward investment from new markets and that Asia represented the markets with most potential for that to occur.
The mission of any annual conference is to have delegates leaving the conference with a spring in the step looking forward to the future. The APIBF is the annual conference of Ireland Inc in Asia, and the enthusiasm of the participants – from the podium to the delegates to the workshops - was infectious. Asia is experiencing an extraordinary time and period of transformation. In the address by Dr. Martin Mansergh TD, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, he stressed that the current circumstances in Ireland, if anything, gave urgency to the Asia strategy of the Irish government. He stressed that opening and penetrating markets in Asia was a key government policy where the government would be relying upon the practical patriotism of its business people to achieve its goals and objectives.
The energetic address by Mr. John Bruton, Chairman of the International Financial Services Centre, noted the historic re-distribution of economic power that has occurred from Western economies to Asian economies, and explored where Irish business could position itself to share its own experience of economic transformation. Mr Bruton’s focus naturally fell to the financial services sector. He stressed that the international leading position of Ireland in fund administration was of interest in all countries with developing financial services sectors, and could be used as a lever to increase Ireland’s profile and leading edge and as a magnet to draw investment flows to Ireland. Mr. Bruton also spoke of the creativity and curiosity at the heart of the Irish character, and stressed that the future for Irish business was to contribute in international markets at the high end of the value chain.
Opportunity in Asia was a recurring theme during the day’s proceedings. It sprang most prominently from the podium during the panel discussion where ambassadors from the Irish diplomatic missions in India, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines spoke about the business opportunities available in the emerging economies of Asia.
H.E. Kenneth Thompson, the Ambassador of Ireland to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, focussed on India in his observations. India is on the cusp of significant and radical change. Already possessed of prominent international strength and profile in the technology and the pharmaceutical sectors, it will graduate to leading positions in the financial services and manufacturing sectors. The perception of Indian companies as being at the low end of the value chain is a relic of the past. Given the incentive and push for Ireland to lead in respect of innovation and the knowledge economy, this is a ripe opportunity for Irish companies that can see beyond the limited opportunities that may be available elsewhere in the world. The opportunity for Irish businesses will be to assist Indian companies by contributing high value and premium skills and services. Presently, Ambassador Thompson reported, there are approximately 50 Irish companies with operations in India, five or six of whom employ more than 100 people
H.E. Maeve Collins, the Ambassador for Ireland to Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR, gave the startling statistic that, although Vietnam is classified as an emerging economy, only 10% of the population holds a bank account. The opportunities for the future for the Irish financial services sector and related software around payment processing and transaction services are abundant. Ambassador Collins also noted that there were early-mover opportunities within Vietnam for the green and clean technology sectors, as Vietnam is one of the countries that will be most significantly and adversely affected by climate change.
Other points to arise from this session was included the need for businesses to be realistic about the support that the diplomatic missions can provide. Their role in economic support is to provide information to Irish businesses looking to their countries of representation, to facilitate arrangements for meetings and making introductions at the right level of government or business, and to provide interpretation and translation services where necessary. However, no diplomatic mission can cover for the lack of preparation or organisation of the travelling business person.
Of all the sessions that were conducted during the course of the event, this panel provoked the most discussion about untapped potential for Irish business and opportunities. It was a reflection of the diversity and range of opportunities across Asia. Perhaps a point to follow up in future events will be to explore in more depth, and give more time, to the opportunities that are available in the emerging economies.
Ultimately, the lofty heights of theory must condescend to devilish detail, and ambition found its partner in application particularly in the panel discussion on business networks.
Mr. Matthew Connolly, of Eire Systems, introduced the project for a pan-Asian business directory. The directory will comprise a source of contacts of Irish businesses in Asia, and will become a critical touchstone for Irish businesses seeking to enter Asian markets, or Asian businesses looking to do business in Ireland or with Irish companies. This is a grassroots project of the APIBF, with contacts provided by regional business associations, and support from the Irish government. The objective is to move the contact network to an online platform in the future.
Another initiative, borne from Farmleigh and bearing fruit in Asia, was brought to the fore by Mr. Fred Combe. Under the Farmleigh Fellowship, 25 talented Irish graduates will enter a 12 month Masters in Asian Business Studies programme which will include three months at University College Cork and Nanyang Business School in Singapore, and six months project based work with sponsoring companies in Asia. This new programme has proven to be such a success that the vision is to make the programme broader to include a China specific programme next year and the Middle East in the future.
The fostering of young talent in Asia was also a theme that Mr. Christy Cooney, president of the GAA, warmed to. There are 450 overseas GAA clubs now, with 27 clubs in Asia. This represents a social infrastructure that touches on business interests in many ways, most notably, as a network to help young people find new jobs and roles.
The passion for self-deprecating modesty in the Irish character is often a positive; but in business, to recognise and shine a light on success is a necessary and noble act. The Business & Finance Asia-Pacific Ireland Business Awards 2010 fulfilled this role by honouring luminaries who have already seen the light that shines so brightly in Asia. Those honoured represent the best of Irish business in every way. Mr. Tom Hardiman has been involved in north Asia, and with the Japanese community both institutionally and in business, for over thirty years. He chaired the international telecoms forum which convened in an Asian city annually from 1985 to 2000 and he has been very active in ASEF as Governor for Ireland from 2000 until the spring of this year. This is the paradigm example of a person seeing where the future lies early, and supporting business initiatives that have enured to the benefit of Ireland and Irish companies since then. Glanbia is a company that has gone international, and placed Asia at the core of that strategy - both on the buy and sell side. With customer service centres in multiple locations in Asia, and a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Suzhou in China, Glanbia is a growth company operating in growth markets - a real Asian success story. Ms. Catherine Toolan, a lady who breathes energy, was at the heart of the event that had the biggest global impact for Asia in the past decade - the Beijing Olympics. Think of it - an Irish executive was at the forefront of leading a team of over 7,400 people, running 30 restaurants to serve 3.5 million meals. These are stories to be proud of.
So what does it all mean? What can we distil from the day’s plenary proceedings? The core messages seem to be:
As the patron to the APIBF, Mr. Dick Spring, articulated at the end of the day’s proceedings, we were energised. The story does not end with this event report. In our next report, we will focus upon the workshops at the APIBF, and the action plans arising from those workshops that will lead to next year’s event. We will now show stamina as well as energy