My journey to meet international actors in digital transformation started out in Myanmar (Yangon to be precise). After searching around on the French web and contacting the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry to find local contacts, one name came up over and over again: Telmo Freitas. Various leads all pointed in the same direction and so I decided to meet the General Manager of Havas Riverorchid, nestled on the seventh floor of the Hledan Center. A profile of an inveterate wanderer for whom Asia has (almost) no secrets!
“The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page”
If Saint-Augustin had met Telmo, he would have observed that Telmo is a compulsive reader of the famous “book”. As a young student at IPAG Paris-Nice qu’était Telmo , Telmo was probably unfamiliar with the maxim but that didn’t stop him, after numerous internships abroad, heeding the call of the events industry in Brazil. In Sao Paulo more accurately; the beginning of a long journey which sees him establishing himself in the international events industry in Paulista Avenue, the far reaches of Canada, scorching Spain, the red tape of Beijing’s, before his path leads him to South-East Asia, to Myanmar, via a decisive passage in Cambodia. A professional wanderer, passionate traveller, incidental nomad, Telmo cuts his teeth in the events industry. His first two years are spent setting up the first Sky Events Brazilian offices in Sao Paulo before he feels the urge to start a business in France. As the founder of the company SARL PIU, he soon misses the open seas… Drowning in the Parisian crowds, he is saved by a phone call; it’s 2007 and Beijing opens its arms as the Olympics loom on the horizon…
Confucius whispers in his ear that, “Time rushes forward, never ceasing day and night” as the young man continues his journey: from the World Event Agency to the Baumann Consultancy Network, he ends up in a new profession which enables him to discover the region: Asia Pacific Business Development Manager for Rosetta Stone. From New-Zealand to Australia, India, Pakistan, Cambodia, his steps orient his assignments at the outer limits of a planet without borders, neither geographical nor professional. A final freelance job for HighTeam Communication sets him back on the communication road, which takes him to Cambodia where his friend has just got a job with an NGO. At first doing freelance work in a country which still lacks expertise, he settles in for a year and a half at Kilat Events, in Phnom Penh where he meets the local Havas which soon offers him the position of Deputy Activation Director. Havas had just bought up (September 2015) Riverorchid, the network specialising in the countries of Indochina, becoming Havas Riverorchid.
In Cambodia, Havas, the biggest local advertising agency, teems with 130 workers. Two years later, following an initial introduction in 2012, he jumps at the opportunity to take over as manager of Havas Riverorchid and to make the journey to Myanmar. The agency has just made its nest in brand new premises: who better to run it than a man who knows Asian markets and their impetuous penetration rates? Who could be a better Director General than Telmo with his many experiences and thirst for change? It’s a done deal and he settles in Yangon where his job enables him on a daily basis to develop his feel for teaching with teams which welcome his expertise and knowledge with open arms. Myanmar is undoubtedly the least developed country in South-East Asia and this is exactly why he feels good there: “Everything remains to be done and people here believe more in the future than in the past”! Does our old Europe need a breath of fresh air?
“Innovating is easy, the difficult part is turning an innovation into a real business”
Wave Money is the perfect illustration of Michael Dell’s sweet words! While Myanmar’s banking infrastructures are enduring the repercussions of opening up to the world at a late stage and private money transfers are still done the old-fashioned way – by physically sending it -, a start-up company seizes its opportunity and “disrupts” the market. Telephone operators “debug” it by providing smartphones and SIM cards to inhabitants, extending the use of the internet to society as a whole. Wave Money, a dematerialised mobile wallet, takes over the playing field, supported by local and international investors. “Soon there are 40,000 outlets throughout the country, several million transfers each day and it’s the birth of a phenomenal success story”, enthuses Telmo before continuing, “It’s the perfect example of successful digital transformation in a vital sector for inhabitants!”.
The country opens up to innovation with the birth of hubs like Phandeeyar but is still held back by poor infrastructure; higher education doesn’t yet cover digital occupations and trains slews of engineers who, under the guidance of the Havas Riverorchid General Manager, become effective designers and other copywriters enchanted by their new operational daily life. The banking system and the absence of postcodes or precise addresses doesn’t yet enable e-commerce to join the digital transformation party, although initiatives are developing. All these factors put Myanmar at number 160 in the list of countries where it is “easy to do business” and the bad publicity in international media – the Rohinga crisis for example – further puts off many international investments, both American and European. This doesn’t bother China, Thailand and Singapore, which seize these markets at record speed and will most certainly eventually penetrate them when the “leapfrog” takes place.
Telmo returns to his speciality: marketing. “As soon as an obstacle is overcome, everyone steps into the breach!” and aptly cites the digital marketing example; penetration of phone operators = reduced costs of smartphones = data costs divided by 50 = explosion of the mobile market = development of digital marketing on Facebook = development of Youtube and influence marketing… Then Viber, then Google… And soon Instagram and then Pinterest and soon… Soon Myanmar will catch up with its immediate neighbours and will become a highly competitive market in which Havas Riverorchid will occupy a big position. Where will Telmo be in the coming years? Maybe here, developing his expertise and his field activations… Maybe in France where he will become a citizen like any other again, and where no-one will ask him questions about his culture or his country… Maybe elsewhere continuing his journey where his encounters and projects take him…
Yangon style !
And what about his daily life? A few networking evenings at the networking CCI and other corporate events in the week, a nice meal with his daughter before reading a bed-time story… A sprint, nutmeg and a strike on the football pitch, a few strokes in a hotel swimming pool with his daughter, lunch with colleagues or friends at midday, an exhibition at the Institut Français or the Goethe Institut to give a cultural touch to the weekend. But the computer animates all his spare hours as revealed by the Sunday email that he has just kindly sent me, with various contacts in Cambodia. Thank you for opening the doors to my understanding of a country which has just opened its doors to the world and maybe see you soon for – who knows? – a bevvy outside a Parisian café…