Home Insider Loving the dry season Interview with CMHL’s General Counsel

Loving the dry season Interview with CMHL’s General Counsel

Name – Robin Scott

Position – General Counsel

Nationality – British

Brief Career Background

Currently, Robin Scott is the General Counsel of CMHL, Myanmar’s leading retail group. CMHL operates over 150 retail stores across Myanmar under brands including City Mart supermarkets, Ocean hypermarkets, Seasons bakeries and cafés, City Care health & beauty stores and City Express convenience stores. Scott joined CMHL in May 2014 to establish and lead the Legal & Compliance Department for the group. Prior to joining CMHL, Scott spent his career at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, an international law firm. He undertook his legal training in London and New York before qualifying into the corporate department in London. Scott advised clients on mergers and acquisitions, including public takeovers, private equity transactions and equity capital markets deals. In December 2011, he moved to Freshfields’ Hong Kong office. Through his work on pan-Asian M&A and capital markets transactions, he began advising clients on their investments in Myanmar which ultimately led to the current position with CMHL. Scott holds an MA in law from the University of Cambridge.


MI: When was your first visit to Myanmar?

I first visited Myanmar in 2012 when I was working in Hong Kong. One of our multinational clients was planning its investment in Myanmar so I travelled to Yangon to help them with the process.

MI: What was your first impression of the country then?

I was only able to visit Yangon on my first trip but, I thought it was a really interesting city: very green with fascinating history and architecture. I was keen to come back.

MI: How has your impression changed since then?

Now that I have been living in Yangon for two years, I can see first-hand the changes that are taking place. Today, there are more international flights, better telecommunications and many more international restaurants. All these things make it more convenient to live here. But at the same time, I think Yangon retains its unique charm.

MI: Please explain to our readers about CMHL.

CMHL started in 1996 with one supermarket in Aung San Stadium. This year it will celebrate its 20th anniversary having become Myanmar’s leading retail group. CMHL operates over 150 retail stores across Myanmar under brands including City Mart supermarkets, Ocean hypermarkets, Seasons bakeries and cafés, City Care health & beauty stores and City Express convenience stores. Our CEO, Daw Win Win Tint and her family are responsible for the growth and they continue to manage the business today.

MI: How did you end up as General Counsel of CMHL?

I was introduced to the CMHL family by Thura Ko and James Ko of YGA Capital who know the family well. CMHL was expanding rapidly and working more closely with international partners so it was the perfect time for them to think about having a legal function in-house. I met with the family and we decided that I would help them to set up the Legal and Compliance Department. I was fortunate that the company also brought in a very experienced Myanmar lawyer, Daw Phyu Phyu Chone, to work with me. I am very grateful to have had the benefit of her experience and support in setting up the department.

MI: What are your primary responsibilities?

The department’s role is very broad. We help to structure and negotiate corporate finance and joint venture transactions with local and international business partners. We also draft and review many commercial contracts for the business. Another important part of my role is to help management to develop sound corporate governance practices in line with international standards. Fortunately, the management of CMHL is very committed to reaching these standards.

MI: How is working in Myanmar different from other countries?

As a lawyer, Myanmar laws are familiar to anyone who has worked in Hong Kong, Singapore or the UK. But, the practice of the Myanmar government and businesses has diverged somewhat from international practice after many years of isolation. So, it is not enough for lawyers just to know the law; they must also understand how the laws are interpreted and applied in practice. Also many of the structures and transactions that we are putting into place have never been seen before in Myanmar so there are no precedents to work with.

MI: What typical legal issues do you normally face at City Mart?

We often look at company law issues to see how we can organize CMHL and our investments most efficiently. We also are dealing with many hundreds of agreements with landlords, suppliers and other business partners and so we deal with contract and land law on a daily basis. Last year we went through the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) process with our partner Jardine Restaurant Group which involved a high level of legal work. The MIC approved our proposal to operate the Pizza Hut brand in Myanmar. As a retailer, we are also interested in many of the new laws that are being passed such as those relating to consumer protection and trading.

MI: Please elaborate on City Mart’s recent agreement with IFC.

In January, the International Finance Corporation agreed to lend $25 million to CMHL to support our expansion plan across the country. It is a good deal for CMHL because, as well as the funding, we can also access a lot expertise from IFC in areas such as food safety and corporate governance.

MI: What are City Mart’s current Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects?

CMHL set up the City Love and Hope foundation in 2013 to focus the group’s CSR activities. Our core sectors to support are education, health, environment and community living. At the moment, we have a couple of really good projects under way. One is supporting the Yangon Children’s Hospital’s child cancer ward. We provide nutrition and social support to children from all over Myanmar who must travel to Yangon for treatment at the country’s only child cancer ward. We also work with the Myanmar Deaf Community Development Association to provide education and vocational training to deaf people. As well as these major projects, we have our regular activities such as “no plastic bag” days and blood donation drives.

MI: From the business standpoint, what will be the biggest challenges facing your company in next 2-3 years?

CMHL has an ambitious expansion plan to serve many more of Myanmar’s population over the next few years. In order to achieve this, we need to work hard to identify the correct sites and markets for our supermarkets and hypermarkets. We also need to access the most competitive financing options. Internally, such a rate of business expansion requires internal processes to be very strong to deal with the additional work flows. And inevitably, we will need to bring in more managers and executives to support the expansion.

MI: If you could make one major change to any government policy, what would it be?

I think we are all very interested to see how the NLD will go about forming its government. People are hoping that policies which the business community has struggled with in the past will improve under the new administration. I will not point to any specific policy. Provided that the NLD continues the positive reforms of the last 5 years, I am very optimistic about the business market in Myanmar.

MI: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to invest in Myanmar?

I would echo a piece of advice that I have heard many experienced business people give to those looking to invest in Myanmar. The most important first step is to find the right local partners to support your investment. The business environment can seem confusing to navigate at first and some areas, such as logistics, supply chain and human resource, are impossible to get right without strong local support. CMHL works with many international companies. We benefit from their international experience and they benefit from our in-depth knowledge of the Myanmar market.

MI: How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?

I enjoy living here very much – especially during the dry season! When I’m not working, I sit on the board of the British Chamber of Commerce Myanmar which does a fantastic job of promoting business interests in Myanmar. I also enjoy getting outside and playing sports like hockey, tennis, running and golf and exploring the Myanmar countryside.[/paypal]