Niche Market – An Interview With Hans Vriens

August 11 | Craig Hoy

Since setting up Vriens and Partners six years ago, Hans Vriens has added six offices and 50 staff to his operation. But, he tells Craig Hoy, he has no plans to extend its reach beyond its niche: government affairs in South East Asia

Following the economic rout of 2008, Hans Vriens bet on Asia’s emerging markets when he put his name above the door of Vriens & Partners, his Singapore-headquartered government affairs firm. A well-known figure in the industry in Asia Pacific, Vriens has had a varied past: a corporate strategist turned lawyer, turned journalist, turned PA practitioner. He headed up APCO Worldwide, first in Indonesia, then out of Singapore for Southeast Asia before setting out on his own path.

Less than seven years in, Vriens is far from a sole trader with seven offices across the region and a full-time staff now topping 50. “We set out to cover Southeast Asia. We are on track but there is a lot for us still to do in this highly diverse region with 600 million people. Government affairs is a local business. All politics is local. This means we need to have a strong in-country team to be able to answer the questions from the regional CEO and the regional head of GR. We want to stay focused on what we do, which is only government affairs, public policy and political risk – nothing else.”

To this end, Vriens is content not to pursue work that would bring his firm into the intensively competitive mainstream of communications consulting. “We don’t come across the big PR firms. Southeast Asia is a difficult region to cover. You cannot do it by just sitting in Singapore. You need outstanding teams all around the region.”

Tight focus

And the focus of the firm will remain tightly set on what it does best, he says. “When I sit down with the CEO of a multinational in Singapore: “He asks,‘what kind of government policies around the region can negatively impact my business?’”

Given the differences in the markets his business covers, Vriens is certain that a firm of the kind he is building cannot just have a big team in Singapore. “Singapore is not Brussels or DC. It doesn’t issue directives that have to be implemented around the region. So for us it’s about decentralizing. We are not a franchise operation. We are a one-firm firm.

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