I spent last week in Singapore, conducting a strategy workshop for a client there. Singapore gives you a disorienting view of what many still call the "developing world." Ultra-modern buildings thrust like shiny sculptures high into the sky. Clean streets, order, and precision are the norm. And everyone seems to be smiling.
At the top of many business people's minds and headlines is the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEK), just 1,500 miles away, which for the past two years has produced more IPOs in terms of companies and total dollars raised than New York, London, or any other exchange in the world. (View my podcast here)
Whether HKEK will retain its crown in 2011 is in question. It has seen only $8.8 billion in public offerings this year, compared to $23.8 billion for New York and $12.2 billion for London. But consider the make-up of companies that are choosing to list in Hong Kong: MGM China, the China operation of the giant casino company, is raising $1.5 billion this week in Hong Kong; Italy-based Prada decided Hong Kong was a better market for its IPO earlier this year than the Borsa Italiana or the London Stock Exchange; Samsonite, the American luggage maker founded in 1910, has chosen Hong Kong for its IPO. When asked why he chose Hong Kong, Samsonite's CEO, Tim Parker, told The New York Times, "We want to orient the company to where the world's center of gravity is going to be in the future." There are at least two important lessons I think we can draw from the story of Hong Kong's recent IPO dominance:
1) The center of gravity is shifting. A McKinsey study predicts that over the next 50 years the developing world will contribute more to global GDP growth than the developed world, something that hasn't happened for 200 years. And the center of the developing world, for now at least, is in East Asia.
2) You need to align your investors with your strategy. Many companies choose Hong Kong not because of valuations (in fact Asian exchanges have been underperforming New York or European exchanges this ear) but rather because their long-term growth aspirations lie in doing more business in Asia. By increasing the proportion of investors who live in Asia, they more closely align their investor base with their strategy.
There is so much more say about what I am seeing here in Singapore—the vibrancy, the diversity, the cultural and business practices differences. But in the interest of giving you one very important nugget to chew on, consider why so many smart companies are choosing to issue IPOs in Asia, shunning vibrant markets closer to home. What are the implications for YOUR business even if an IPO is not in your near-term plans? There are at least two:
1) The center of gravity is shifting. Are you taking Asia seriously enough?
2) Investors are not just capital sources; they shape what your company does and how it sees the world. Does your investor makeup fit your long-term aspirations? If not, which investors do you need to replace?