Baker goes to Burma
Baker & McKenzie partner Chris Hughes has relocated to Myanmar to lead the firm’s newest office there amid major political reform.
“Being [in Myanmar] at a time of such great change … is pretty amazing,” said Hughes (pictured), the head of Bakers’ just-launched office in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub.
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He said the country is “undergoing such a positive and rapid transition” as it moves towards democracy after decades of military dictatorship.
The Sydney-based corporate partner relocated in December along with his wife Sally and youngest daughter Zoe, who has changed her name to Zo Zo to give it a “more Myanmar flavour”, Hughes revealed.
He was enthusiastic when asked how he and the rest of the family were settling in at their new home.
“It’s a fascinating place to be; we’re meeting plenty of interesting people,” he said, adding that Myanmar may be lacking in a lot of home comforts, but that is “more than offset by the new and wonderful experiences we’re having”.
Hughes confessed, however, that he had sought out treats from home, including Tim Tams and Kraft Singles which he found a local supermarket.
On the work front, Hughes’ immediate priority is to build a team in Yangon. Once he has the support he needs, he expects to work in a variety of areas, including corporate advisory and infrastructure projects.
“There is such a significant push to develop the infrastructure base [in Myanmar],” he said, citing the rollout of two mobile networks and the construction of a power plant among current projects that will be sources of legal work.
There is also a growing volume of work for firms in the property development and product distribution sectors, he added.
Over the past two years, Bakers has been advising multinationals and Asian conglomerates on their inbound investment in Myanmar from the firm’s Myanmar Centre based in Bangkok.
Hughes claimed that a ground presence in the country was necessary to become “deeply connected” with the market and firm’s clients. He is also philosophical about the challenges of operating in a country that is not quite open for business.
“While the direction of change here is good it’s still a very challenging place for many investors to do business,” he said.
“You probably need a higher tolerance for uncertainty and certainly plenty of patience.”
Hughes said he will take the challenges in his stride through what could turn out to be a long-term secondment. He travelled to Myanmar on a one-way ticket and sold his house in Sydney in December.
“I think we'll be here for a while,” he added.
Bakers now has 16 offices in the Asia-Pacific and 75 offices worldwide.