Doing better business in the Asia-Pacific region

Professor Siah Hwee Ang has been appointed as Director of a Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence (CAPE).

Siah Hwee Ang poses for a photo with office buildings in the background.
Professor Siah Hwee Ang, BNZ Chair in Business in Asia, has recently been appointed as Director of a Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence (CAPE).

Professor Siah Hwee Ang, who is the BNZ Chair in Business in Asia works with New Zealand businesses to help them gain a foothold in Asian markets and has been appointed leader of the new Government-backed venture that will further capitalise on his expertise.

The North Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence (CAPEs) were established under the previous Government, and are designed to enhance New Zealand’s economic engagement with, and cultural understanding of, Asia-Pacific countries, and build New Zealanders' ability to do business with the region.

The CAPEs offer programmes, scholarships, internships, and other initiatives to support New Zealand businesses, schools, communities and students to better understand the key countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

Professor Ang is Director of the Southeast Asia CAPE (SEA CAPE), which is hosted by Victoria University. The Centre has a focus on the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam) and Timor-Leste.

Having spent many years researching, teaching and writing about international business strategy and trade in the wider Asian region, Professor Ang was a natural choice for the SEA CAPE directorship. As well as strengthening engagement with this region, the SEA CAPE works with New Zealand exporters, young people, government agencies and other organisations to improve understanding of these countries and build knowledge of their economies, cultures, languages and business protocols.

Professor Ang says the CAPEs are being run by universities to make the most of the international knowledge and networks within these institutions. “This will allow greater linkages to business research about what’s happening internationally, and it means culture and language studies are also able to feed into the CAPEs,” he says. “The business world is the ultimate end user of the CAPE system, but there’s also a big need to build public awareness of the region, and for the exposure of students at all levels to the region.”

He says the Asia-Pacific region will be a big driver of growth in the world economy over the next 30 years, so it makes sense for New Zealand to forge a unique role in the region.

“A large part of the CAPEs’ role is to give guidelines and ideas to businesses about which might be the best countries to try to get into,” says Professor Ang. “The Southeast Asia CAPE will be able to give businesses a real advantage—the ASEAN countries have ambassadors in New Zealand and vice versa, which creates an immediate connection.”

Professor Ang says New Zealand businesses can fall into the trap of being too focused on establishing themselves in China. “While there’s certainly a lot of opportunities there, it’s by no means an easy market to crack,” he explains. “New Zealand companies can do really well in Southeast Asia—the markets have been less tapped by Western businesses which, while risky, can also be potentially more rewarding and allow foreign companies to gain a stronger foothold.”

The Southeast Asia CAPE will be holding industry-specific workshops for New Zealand business owners, and collaborating with researchers in Southeast Asia to study particular markets in the region. “That will help us build competencies and allow us to produce targeted, shareable resources that are specific to New Zealand-based businesses,” says Professor Ang. “We’ll also be working closely with Business NZ, Export New Zealand and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) to develop resources that are useful and relevant to companies here.”

He says there’s a lot of hard work to be done. “Asia is definitely a long game. We can’t always aim for quick-wins—it’s more important to get the foundation right and build on that steadily.”

Professor Ang says his role with the Southeast Asia CAPE aligns nicely with his role chairing Victoria’s Asia-Pacific Trading Nation academic distinctiveness theme. “There is a lot of potential crossover in terms of content and expertise,” he says. “There will also be many opportunities for the theme to connect with the three CAPEs. I’ve invited all three CAPE Directors to meet the theme members, so there’ll be at least one session where I’m leading a discussion on two sides of the table!”

Along with writing regular commentary pieces for the Stuff and Interest websites, Professor Ang is also a panel member for the Prime Minister’s Business Scholarships, and for the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia. He’s also a panel member for the Marsden Fund, and is a senior editor at the prestigious Journal of World Business.

Professor Ang also continues to dedicate himself to the thing he loves the most: research. “I’m still a very active researcher focusing on international business strategy, which ties in with my work around foreign companies’ behaviours in emerging markets,” says Professor Ang. “It’s more than just an academic interest—it’s a personal one. Research is in my blood so I carve out time to do it for my own satisfaction.”