Magazine article International Trade Forum

Exporting by Design in Malaysia

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Exporting by Design in Malaysia

Article excerpt

The Malaysian design firm Veritas went into business with an international outlook. In this challenging service sector, it learned how to ride out the storms as well as take advantage of international opportunities.

Located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Veritas is an awardwinning design firm backed by a team that includes more than 40 qualified professionals and over 60 support staff. Although it began as an architectural practice, Veritas now offers a full range of design services. The firm opened its first overseas representative office in Dubai in September 2005.

It has always been an objective of Veritas to be "a premier architecture and design firm worldwide", as stated in our vision statement. However, the first opportunities to venture abroad only appeared in the early 1990s, about six years after our inception. By this time we had grown to about 30 staff and were already becoming recognized as an up-and-coming local firm.

Managing globalization

Meanwhile, macroeconomic factors were at work. The booming South-east Asian economy made Malaysian businesses feel invincible on the global stage and they started exploring international markets. Simultaneously, foreign companies were coming into Malaysia. Technological impediments to communication were coming down as the Internet evolved from an experiment into a reality. Barriers to trade and travel restrictions were also disappearing, and soon Malaysians enjoyed visa-free entry into most Asian nations. Visa requirements into Malaysia were also relaxed.

All of this was a double-edged sword for Malaysian professionals, however, as it encouraged Western firms to enter our market and compete against less experienced and marketing-savvy local architects.

The initial response of the local architecture profession and its institution (the Malaysian Institute of Architects) was to "batten-down-the-hatches". There was a lot of defiance to the prospect of World Trade Organizationimposed market access by foreign professionals.

Veritas took a different view. We encouraged the entry of the foreign professionals. Either we collaborated with them in a "technology-transfer" spirit, completing many high-profile projects that we could not have done alone, or we willingly competed against these "intruders", sharpening our own skills by necessity, and occasionally winning. For this we were roundly criticized by our peers. Then we jumped on the bandwagon ourselves and started exploring the global market. Our first forays were modest speculative attempts in Thailand, Viet Nam and later the Philippines. We got our feet wet, enjoyed minor success and recognition but did not get anything major built.

In 1996 I began to think the time was right for a serious international effort. We created a dedicated unit, Veritas Global Sdn Bhd, under the leadership of a talented British managing director, and soon started to latch on to some serious projects in Cambodia and India that were led by Malaysian entrepreneurs, and later even Saudi Arabia. At one time, Veritas Global Sdn Bhd had more than a dozen staff and was cited regularly in the media.

Emerging from the Asian crisis

Then came the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998. Within six months our global work shrank to almost nothing, the managing director left and the remaining staffwere absorbed into the parent firm, Veritas Architects Sdn Bhd. We thought international work was just a mirage. We fought hard to survive in the Malaysian market, which itself had contracted to a fraction of its pre-crisis activity. After some very hard times, Veritas eventually emerged with a greater market share by the time the Malaysian economy rebounded at the turn of the millennium.

To get back in the international game, we started participating in various "high-risk" invitations, selection exercises and competitions, and eventually won mid-sized projects in China, Sri Lanka and Pakistan which we have since completed. …

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