Asean ‘now more vital for Nordic firms’

By Alvin Foo | Source: ANN

Fast-gorwing regions like Asean have become even more significant for leading Nordic firms in recent times, said a prominent Swedish banker and industrialist in town earlier this month.

Marcus Wallenberg told The Straits Times that the increased focus on this region is a direct result of the global financial crisis, which has rocked traditional markets such as North America and Europe, and the European debt crisis.

“The Nordic home markets are very small… For us to expand our business, we have to (come) here,” added Wallenberg.

“The fast-growing economies such as Asean and Latin America have become even more important to our clients and therefore it becomes more important for the bank. It’s a natural progression.”

Wallenberg, chairman of Sweden’s SEB bank, led a group of about 50 high-profile chairmen and chief executives from Nordic companies to Singapore.

For the last 13 years, they have visited a key city around the world each year, including Beijing, Washington, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul.

The delegation – mainly from firms in engineering, industrial, financial services and logistics – spent four days here, meeting prominent local business people and high-level politicians.

Wallenberg, who has been a board member of Temasek Holdings since 2008 and chairs prominent Swedish firms SAAB and Electrolux, said:

“The eye-opener this time was how forward Singapore has reached in its thinking around what to offer as a hub for Asean. I think this impressed most of the people here very much.

“They made a recommitment to Singapore, which is very important.”

The visit was beneficial to Singapore, “in terms of getting their attention, business and focus going forward”, he added.

Wallenberg, 56, hails from Sweden’s illustrious Wallenberg family, who have a significant corporate footprint in their home country.

He noted that Singapore is a “well-known entity” to many of the top Nordic companies but “the big challenge for many of these companies is when they venture into the other Asean countries, to find the right partners, find the right structure and find the right setting going there”.

“For example, going into Indonesia probably requires some partners with local knowledge.”

The European debt crisis has increased the need for Nordic countries to grow their presence in this region.

“We see the interest in South- east Asia increasing for the Nordic corporates,” said SEB president and CEO Annika Falkengren.

“It’s not only China which has been very high on the agenda for a long time, but also South-east Asia. This region is very important, and it’s growing,” she added.

Wallenberg said: “As the capital foundation here expands and as Asia companies grow, we foresee more activity in east-to- west flow as well. And we’re positioned to be helpful there.”

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