Expat: Multinational firms coming to PH

Major multinational companies, some of them belonging to the elite Fortune 500 list, are now looking at the Philippines to go big time in terms of investments, says Lars Wittig, a long-time Manila resident whose company plays a role in accommodating these new investors.

Lars Wittig
“I have companies here that you do not know yet, who are going to go big time, in terms of new business.  I know a lot of them, but they are not out there, showing,” Wittig, the country manager of flexible workspace provider Regus, says in an interview.

Wittig, a Danish national who first came to Manila 22 years ago, heads the Philippine operations of Regus, which offers flexible office space, fully-equipped work stations with Internet connection, meeting rooms and business lounge to investors, corporate executives, seasoned businessmen and budding entrepreneurs.  Photocopy and fax services are available at Regus centers, where coffee is also overflowing, he says.

Wittig, who has three children, lives together with his Filipina wife in Makati City.   The couple also has a home in Las Piñas City, which Wittig describes as a vibrant city.

Regus, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has more than 1,500 centers across 600 cities in 100 countries including the Philippines.  It has a dozen centers in Metro Manila and one in Cebu, where Regus members can work anytime they want.

Wittig says Regus members can use any of the 1,500 centers in 100 countries.  “It is truly operating in a global basis, just like a foreign airline.  In the Philippines, we have 12 centers in Metro Manila and one in Cebu,” he says.

Wittig says using flexible workspace allows businesses to cut the cost of owning or leasing fixed offices and manage their budget.  He says Regus offers companies and investors flexibility to grow, downsize and relocate.

“If you are a member of Regus anywhere in the world, you already have an office in the Philippines,” he says. 

Wittig says in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is the fastest-growing market for Regus, because of the extraordinary number of inquiries among new investors looking at setting up operations in the country.

“Measured in centers, we have been growing faster than any other.  The Philippines has really become a star, within Regus. We are signing up these big leases,” he says.

Wittig says while Regus opened its first center in Makati City in 1999, the dramatic growth came only in the past couple of years.  “Two and a half years ago, we realized this country had fantastic potential. We have a fantastic base to build on,” he says.

“We have quadrupled the number of inquiries. That translates to a number of new customers.  We are attracting more new customers than any other country in Southeast Asia,” says Wittig.

“In two years, we tripled the business.  The demand has quadrupled and keeps growing.  We have 800 to 1,000 inquiries that we get every month.  We have a good read on where the demand is.  It is our duty to fulfill that demand as much as possible,” he says.

Regus center in Pasay City
Regus main office in the Philippines is located at the 27th and 28th floors of the Enterprise Center along Ayala Ave. in Makati City.

Its other Metro Manila centers are located at Zuellig Building, Philamlife Center and BPI Buendia in Makati, Net Lima and Net Cube in Bonifacio Global City, One E-Com Center in Pasay City, Joy Nostalg Building in Ortigas, Cyber One in Eastwood and Filinvest One Building in Alabang.

Regus is set to open a center at Gateway Tower in Cubao, Quezon City on Monday and at Times Plaza in Ermita, Manila later this year.  It has a center outside Metro Manila, at Apple One Equicom Tower in Cebu, which opened in June 2013, and Wittig says the plan is to expand the Regus network nationwide, including in other cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

“We have a brand-new center opening in Gateway Cubao on the 1st of October,” he says.

Wittig says more than 2,000 users are going to work at Regus centers in the Philippines every day.  Occupancy rate at Regus centers in the Philippines is about 85 percent, much higher than in other countries, he says.  A typical Regus center has 200 to 250 work stations.

“As the Philippines becomes a more attractive investment economy, we are seeing more investors and companies looking for office space here,” he says.  “We will continue our network expansion in support of the economic development of the Philippines.”

Wittig says the growth of Regus in the Philippines, along with the economy, has a special meaning for him.  “I can guarantee that it has extra value and pride for me, especially with my 22 years here,” he says.

He has visited many areas across the Philippines and walked along the streets of Tondo, Manila.  He recalls that in General Santos City, he once took a container ship bound for Manila, while working as marketing manager for Asia for fruits producer Dole Packed Foods.

Wittig recently visited Dumaguete City and Iloilo City.  He says Regus is closely watching real estate developments all over the country. “I have close dialog with major developers and I know where they are developing.  We know the cities where the happenings are.  Iloilo is of particular interest,” he says. “We need to have a national network and that [Iloilo] is one of my potential destinations.

He says Dumaguete, which has no SM shopping mall yet, will also be in the radar of Regus, once it attracts shopping mall developers.  Wittig says shopping malls and banks are a good indication of a city’s economic strength.

Wittig, who was born in Denmark, has worked in different countries, including Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.  Of all the countries he worked in, he chose to live for good in the Philippines. 

He first came to Manila in 1992, when he worked for East Asiatic Company which established a distribution system for Philip Morris.  Wittig, an active member of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, also worked as marketing director for Coca Cola in the 1990s.

“I am a second-time returnee to the Philippines, but this time it is permanent,” he says.

Wittig cites the growth of the real estate sector as well as the business process outsourcing industry as among the factors that drive the growth of the Philippine economy.

He says Regus also decided to establish its global shared services facility in the Philippines, servicing Regus customers worldwide. 

Wittig says Regus is able to meet the “very big unfulfilled need which we have managed to convert into actual demand.”

“We have grown our network so substantially in only two years that we can actually attract even more,” he says.  “We have the solutions, that we are getting ahead of the curve.  That is why, as a business leader, I am recommending to other business leaders to get ahead of the curve of flexible work space.”

“I am talking from heart. We are proud of what we have succeeded with Regus.  Within Regus, the Philippines is really standing out,” he says.

Wittig says his optimism stems from the impressive growth of the Philippines of 7.2 percent in 2013 and 6 percent in the first half of 2014.  “The growth to date has been very sustainable.  The growth is locally financed.  The growth is based on adding value.  Significant reforms have also been made.  That has facilitated much growth,” he says.

He says growth in the future will be driven by a population of more than 100 million people and a highly skilled labor force, of which 10 million are working oversees.

“In terms of labor force, we will soon reach a point that the 10 million Filipinos abroad will find it attractive to return. That will be brain gain for the Philippines, with 10 million up to speed with international standards.”

“Their contribution in terms of remittances is leading to the growth of residential developments. Eventually, their knowhow is the biggest thing that they will contribute to the economy,” says Wittig.

“What are my reasons for my optimism?  There is no reason not to be optimistic,” he says. RTD

Topics: Regus , Lars Wittig , office space
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