Name: John Sartain
Position : General Manager
Company: Pun Hlaing Golf Estate (PHGE)
MI : When was your first visit to Myanmar?
I have always had a fascination with this beautiful country, initially in the 70’s when it was Burma and through reading the books ‘Burma Days’ and ‘Road to Man- dalay’. I first visited Yangon in April 2013 and accepted the role of General Manager at Pun Hlaing soon after. I have now been here for 18 months and I enjoy the role im- mensely.
MI : What was your impression of the country then?
My first impression was one of surprise that, after decades of military rule, the peo- ple were generally so happy and content. I found the people to be respectful, caring and very friendly to this ‘new foreigner’. However, I cannot deny that the traffic con- gestion, telecommunication coverage and poor standards of driving were frustrations.
MI : How did you end up as the Gen- eral Manager of PHGE and what is your role in PHGE?
I have been living and working in Singapore for almost 7 years developing a career in hotels. I managed several large hotels there plus the Hilton London Kensington back in 2003/4. I needed a change and after speak- ing to the Directors and seeing the estate, I was hooked and I am enjoying the chal- lenge immensely.
MI : In which ways working in Myan- mar different from working in other countries?
After working in Europe and Singapore, Myanmar has been an eye opening experi- ence. Myanmar is probably the last Asian country to develop and as such it is ‘frontier territory’ for many foreigner investors. As a foreigner I see my role as helping the local people become more business minded and productive. The country’s infrastructure has to develop very fast. We need good trans- port, air links to other towns and cities and beach resorts, as well as a ‘first world’ tele- phone and internet connectivity system etc. The people whilst very hardworking, dili- gent and enthusiastic need leadership along with mentoring and coaching to help drive their careers and the country to the stan- dard of the rest of Asia. Basically, I would like to have a local Manager to be doing my job in three years’ time. This is the vision of our Chairman Mr. Serge Pun.
One of the issues I realized early on was to respect the people’s strong faith and cul- tural beliefs. We have many religious holi- days and these are seen as very important to Myanmar people whereas in other coun- tries, the day is likely to be seen as just an- other day off. Also, a degree of patience is required in completing tasks as the commu- nication and understanding between us can be difficult. However, the desire and enthu- siasm is second to none.
MI : What is your opinion on the cur- rent real estate market in Myanmar, especially in Yangon region?
I know little of the market outside of Yan- gon but here in Yangon I believe there is a strong demand from local people to buy quality homes in a safe, tranquil and well maintained environment and this is where Pun Hlaing excels. There is also a very strong demand from foreigners for rent- al accommodation and as evidence to how
popular this estate is. All of our sixteen Ser- viced Residences are fully let and most of our rental pool of apartments and houses are, too. Our last project – ‘Rose Garden’ was sold out within weeks. We are about to release for sale our fabulous new devel- opment of homes “Lotus Gardens” and the interest has already been incredible. We
expect the demand to be very strong from local people. Many are selecting PHGE for the lifestyle. A master planned Communi- ty offers multi-generational family with a school for the children and a hospital for the Estate family.
MI : How different are the customers’ expectations here in Myanmar com- pare to other countries?
We are setting a benchmark for quality homes in Yangon and across the country. The company builds homes with fixtures and fittings of an international standard rarely seen before in the country. It is clear that the ‘savvy’ international traveling Myanmar families now expect the best and here at Pun Hlaing we endeavor to provide this.
MI : How was Pun Hlaing Golf Estate founded in the first place?
Our charismatic Chairman Serge Pun con- ceived visionary idea of a luxury golf estate back in the mid 1990’s. The project has been overseen by Steven Nelson, Head of Project Management, Real Estate and the develop- ment has grown slowly but with care and at- tention to detail over the past 15 years.
MI : What are the objectives of PHGE?
Our objectives are simple …to offer an in- comparable lifestyle to our residents and home owners in a safe, clean and efficient environment. We also aim to offer excep- tional recreation facilities for the whole family.
MI : What are PHGE’s plans for next two years (future plans)?
There are many exciting developments al- ready happening to enhance the lifestyle experience here at Pun Hlaing. For a start we have many more quality homes be- ing planned, some about to be released, a new 46 bedroom boutique hotel opening in January 2016, a modern gymnasium is being built, a new reverse osmosis water treatment plant to ensure wholesome water 24/7, an upgrade of the golf course to pre- pare us to host the Myanmar Open perhaps in 2016 and much more.
MI : May I know the residential popu- lation and special services offered by PHGE?
Of course the population is dynamic and growing almost daily. The current popula- tion is 502 residents. We have a ‘Buggy But- ler’ service for the residents to move them around the estate plus a downtown shuttle service in an air conditioned 15-seater bus with Wi-Fi on board. Our Estate Manage- ment team offers a full range of services from housekeeping to bicycle repair for residents.
MI : What are the current projects that you and your team have been working?
As mentioned above there are many proj- ects from new homes, to improvements to infrastructure to building of the hotel and the improved water quality project. They all take time and meticulous planning.
MI : We would like to know about the Golf Course and its being acknowl- edged as the Union’s finest golf club and “pride of Myanmar”?
We were recently awarded the prestigious Asian Golfer ‘Best Golf Course in Myanmar’ award. We are hightly proud to be associat- ed with the club and this is the first of many awards over the coming years.
MI : What sort of difficulties and hardships PHGE could be facing in Myanmar’s real estate sector?
It is clear that we are in a very buoyant and lively period of real estate development. There is a great deal of demand for quality homes in secure environments. This posi- tion is likely to continue for the foreseeable future although the lesson learned from oth- er countries real estate sector’s is that do not expect the same level of growth every year, also at some time a “re-alignment” will take place.
MI : What effect do you think that the sudden influx of foreign companies/ nationals will have?
I believe that the influx of foreign compa- nies now reinforces the confidence that the country is now ready to compete in the wid- er world of business and commerce. There are immense opportunities across all sec- tors including hospitality, tourism and the service industry generally. The influx of foreigners also helps local people improve their skills and thereby their careers and in- come for their families.
MI : What advice would you give to someone looking to start up a busi- ness and invest in Myanmar?
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is now a safe and secure country and as one of the last frontier countries left in the world the opportunities for new startups could not be better. It is a relatively low risk chance to build a business quickly.
MI : What would you advise to local young people?
I see a lot of people from other countries that are Myanmar Nationals coming back to Myanmar because they see the opportu- nity. These people working in Singapore,
the USA, Europe, Thailand and China want to come back because it’s home. They know that it’s a wonderful and beautiful country. The only thing that was missing before was the peace, harmony and the opportunity. Now they have all three; the peace, harmo- ny and the opportunity. So if you’re a bright young person and you want to come back to Myanmar, it is a perfect time to do it.
MI : If you could make one major change to any government policy, what would it be?
I am not sure it is Government policy but if I had one wish it would be to improve driv- ing skills, road courtesy and to improve the transport and road network at a stroke.
MI :How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?
I enjoy the hot dry season with blue skies. I enjoy a round of golf when I can and I am also training for the Yoma Yangon Interna- tional Marathon on 11th of January and con- sequently I tend to run three or four times each week around the estate. Although I have completed six marathons before it is still hard and challenging particularly as I get older but very rewarding.