Forbes: “Despite Southeast Asia’s Staggering Economies, William Heinecke Remains Optimistic”

By Jane A. Peterson | SEP 23, 2015

Political and economic alarms reverberate through Southeast Asia, with output slowing, currencies falling and governments rocky. Many who do business, or follow it, are apprehensive. And then there is William Heinecke.

The American-born founder and group CEO of Thailand’s Minor International appears decidedly relaxed and bullish on a September weekend at his 14th-floor penthouse of Minor’s St. Regis Hotel in Bangkok. Eyeing his billion-dollar (revenues) hospitality and retail empire across the region (and beyond), he says, “These emerging markets still have a lot of gas to go.”

Even in Indonesia–seen widely as the most difficult place regionally to do business–Heinecke is negotiating his first-ever hotel deals in Ubud, Seminyak and Lombok. They would be government-allowed leasehold properties to beef up Minor’s current Indonesian portfolio of two managed hotels, 18 time-share units and two franchised restaurants.

That’s a brash move to those like Hans Vriens of Singapore, who advises business clients on regional governmental affairs. Many of them fear Indonesian protectionism. “For some of our clients there the main objective is to protect themselves against expropriation,” he says. “Indonesian officials have always thought, ‘It doesn’t matter if Indonesia has a good investment climate; companies will come anyway.’ They are wrong.”

Not that Vriens gives the other core economies a pass: Thailand’s “erratic” bouts of martial law bother him. “It’s difficult to operate in a country where there are no longer checks and balances,” he says. As for Malaysia, his clients are concerned. “If you are looking to build a factory, you worry,” Vriens notes. “We don’t know who will be in power there or how the regulatory framework may change.”



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