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Launching Southeast Asia office requires commitment.

In two weeks Brennan Beer Gorman / Architects and Brennan Beer Gorman Monk / Interiors commemorate the second anniversary of the opening of our Hong Kong office with extreme gratitude to the clients and dedicated staff on both sides of the Pacific who have united to bring about an exciting time in the history of our firm.

We continue to see opportunities in Southeast Asia, where the desire for American design and project know-how remains in great demand, especially for the large mixed-use, office, retail, hospitality and master plan projects that are currently underway in the region.

Making the leap into international design requires a significant amount of financial and personal commitment. We have found that there are five essential criteria for making the foray into the Southeast Asia market feasible:

* Establishment of a local office;

* Involvement of senior management in all phases of a project;

* Dedication, without compromise, to the time, energy and quality of service required in the process;

* Understanding the individual cultural differences that make working in Southeast Asia so vastly different from the U.S., as well as the cultural differences between each Southeast Asia country; and

* Maintaining a strong domestic presence with senior management participation, concurrent to the new market efforts.

We opened our office in Hong Kong two years ago after winning an international competition to design a world-class hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Our good fortune in winning that first assignment came from both an understanding of the client's objectives and the full scope of the project and also, we believe, our thirty years of partner experience, (including earlier completed projects in the region), which provided us with an historical perspective on meeting client objectives in the Pacific Rim.

Having the local office has provided the opportunity to build on our new client relationships, a crucial element in doing business anywhere, but even more intensified in this part of the world.

For those contemplating establishing a foot-hold in the Southeast Asia market, it is important to recognize that the financial and personal sacrifice will be great. Speaking from experience, the laptop office at 35,000 feet may work for a single short-term project, but it will not serve to sustain a presence or signify a commitment to the region on the part of the firm. Joint-venturing will work initially, too, but not if you are in it for the long haul, Clients in Southeast Asia, as throughout the world, demand commitment.

Aside from the expense of setting up office, (and establishing a residence for a partner to head that office), there is the exhausting reality of routine trans-Pacific, air travel. At least one of the partners, and often two or more of us, is criss-crossing the Pacific on a monthly basis. While this can be very draining on both the personal and professional lives of those concerned, as well as a financial burden on the company, it is a simple fact of doing business on a global scale.

It is imperative that senior partner involvement is consistent - the client should see the management team repeatedly, not Just when the contract is signed. You can't continuously introduce a new face to the design team, it shows a lack of respect and a lack of commitment.

The commitment to a technologically advanced office is equally paramount. Without the telefax, telephone, and computers with modem hook-up, we couldn't possibly have worked as effectively and efficiently as we have during these past two years. We have, essentially, established the 24 hour office.

There exists a reciprocal learning environment between the American and Asian members of the design team. As is often the case, the American architect takes the design lead on these new large-scale, mixed-use, retail and hospitality projects, working in tandem with local architectural firms, the Architect of Record. This is often a reflection of the depth of experience that international firms bring to a project, complemented by the Asian architect's knowledge of local methods and materials, which encourages and fosters cooperative partnership and project contributions.

Opening the Hong Kong office necessitated restructuring our domestic business plans, as well. Creating a balance between domestic and overseas business development and management efforts had to be re-evaluated to maximize partner involvement at every level both here and abroad, with the appropriate financial commitment carefully assessed.

Our efforts have netted terrific results. We are currently in construction on two projects including the 1.8 million square-foot Jakarta Stock Exchange Building complex in Jakarta, Indonesia; and the 40-story hotel project in Bangkok, Thailand. We were also awarded the design of the 560,000 square-foot Diamond Hill retail mall in Hong Kong, one of six recent international design competitions won by our firm for projects in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and China.

When we began, our overseas work represented only 5 percent of our total income. That figure is now nearly 40 percent. This success has put us in an entirely different position than if we had pursued only domestic work. Our designers and associates will continue to visit our Southeast Asia projects with even greater frequency. This invaluable personal experience of recent and current one-to-two million square-foot projects will further enable the firm to compete in an expectedly re-invigorated domestic market.

We see 1994 as a time for continued growth and expansion in Southeast Asia. And with the boundaries of a once-vast financial network becoming blurred, our contacts abroad are now helping us with new development opportunities domestically, and via-versa. When the domestic real estate market returns, as it is showing signs of doing, our project team will be intact and ready to meet the new design challenges in the U.S. marketplace.
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Title Annotation:International Markets; Brennan Beer Gorman/Architects and Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors
Author:Gorman, Peter
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Dec 15, 1993
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