When it comes to investing, Myanmar is one of Asia's last frontier markets--and thus a risky proposition even as the country sheds decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation to embrace economic wealth with the blessings of the international community.
For those seeking advice, there is probably no one better positioned than Shigeto Inami.
Inami, 51, has lived in Myanmar since 1998 and witnessed first-hand the transition to democratic rule, sanctions to protest military rule and human rights record and the country's new-found role in Southeast Asia.
Inami is managing director at Myanmar Securities Exchange Center. He has the trust of world-famous companies and investors, including famed U.S. investment guru Jim Rogers.
Inami was transferred to Myanmar by Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd. to work for a finance company.
Eventually, he sealed a partnership between the Central Bank of Myanmar, the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Daiwa Securities Group Inc.
“Finance is the lifeblood in business,” Inami says. “If the blood circulates, the manufacturing industry, what I call 'the bone,' is created and the economy is revitalized.”
As a young man, Inami dreamed of working in Southeast Asia.
Inami's father, a former navy pilot, steered him to study at the National Defense Academy of Japan. After he graduated, Inami joined the Air Self-Defense Force and worked in radar maintenance.
He quit a year later.
His dream came true when he joined the Daiwa institute, after working for a manufacturer, a foreign financial institution and other companies.
In 1998, when he arrived in Myanmar, Southeast Asia was in the grip of a monetary crisis. Foreign companies withdrew one after another as economic sanctions against the repressive military government began to bite.
Inami's private life was a mess, and he got divorced.
“I was all alone. It was really tough,” he recalled.
Conversely, his career with the SDF in Japan had helped him build a personal network in Myanmar when it was under military rule.
He was grateful that the people in Myanmar—including his current wife and local staff—were pro-Japanese and warmly accepted and supported him, despite the fact that Burma was under Japanese occupation during World War II.
“It is my turn to help Myanmar walk on its own two feet in the international community,” Inami said.
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