Lifetime lessons from Myanmar and Cambodia

by Esther Siah | MBA Class of 2018 | Student Stories

A year ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life: to embark on an MBA journey with the Asia School of Business established in collaboration with MIT Sloan. Having always been fascinated by the different cultures and diversity across South East Asia, I was very excited to work with Procter & Gamble in Myanmar for my first regional Action Learning project and with Axiata, a regional telecommunications conglomerate, in Cambodia for my second.

Working with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures in growing markets such as Myanmar and Cambodia has taught me invaluable lessons both personally and professionally. I’ve summarized some of my favourite takeaways from my Action Learning projects below:

Team and host communication are crucial to project success. We would meet our hosts regularly within the week to keep them updated of our progress. I found it very helpful as our hosts would provide feedback on our market research and the data we analysed. We also learned our hosts’ management styles so we could align our expectations to theirs.

Your team will always have your back. During our second onsite visit in Myanmar, which lasted almost two weeks, one of our team members caught a bad viral infection and needed to be on a drip, and I severely injured my back which, as a result, limited my range of movement. It was very stressful because there was so more market research that needed to be done but we learned to realign our team’s expectations to our current situation. Luckily, we had each other to rely on.

Want to understand local culture and brand perception? Conduct home interviews. Home interviews are the best way to understand the local culture and the end user’s perception of a brand: Many Burmese families, especially in cities, live in apartments and buy most consumer products including cosmetics from the stores below their apartment blocks. My Action Learning team and I would visit home after home with a translator to conduct interviews. It was an exhausting task, as we needed to climb many flights of stairs just to talk to a handful of people. Nevertheless, it was truly a pleasant experience as they are very welcoming even though they barely knew us.

There’s a world of possibilities in start-ups and incubators. The start-up community had never been particularly exciting to me until I joined ASB and started engaging with entrepreneurs in Cambodia. Among these entrepreneurs, a common trait is grit – they would get back up as many times as they needed to, because failure is never an option. I remember meeting an entrepreneur and talking for over 2 hours about his idea and how passionate he was about the potential for growth of his business!


Value bonding time with team members. We would spend time exploring food in Cambodia and I got to know my team on a personal level as we ate most, if not all, of our meals together. I even had a memorable birthday celebration with my team while we were there. This bonding helped with our project too, as we understood how each team member thought individually and could increase overall team effectiveness through honest feedback amongst ourselves.