Mandalay is the second-largest city in Myanmar. Three years ago, when Yousuke Shigemori first visited Mandalay International Airport to attend negotiations with the Burmese government, the airport was in a rather sorry state. Even its escalators didn't work. "There was a terminal building, but most of its equipment and systems weren't operational," he recalls. "The airport was run by the Burmese government, whose fiscal problems were preventing it from keeping up with maintenance."
The airport project represents the first time that Japanese enterprises have been involved in the running of a fully privatized airport outside of Japan. Managing the airport is MC-Jalux Airport Services (MJAS), a special purpose company jointly established in 2014 by MC and two other enterprises. Shigemori was appointed a director of MJAS and General Manager of its corporate staff section. With about 60 employees under his charge, he is responsible for human resources, accounting, corporate administration and busines operations.
"No one in corporate knew what kind of contracts to sign to get overseas vendors to import replacement parts for the damaged equipment, or what the customs procedures were," he says. "I was the only one with any experience, and I knew that if I didn't get moving, nothing would get done."
Even when equipment did arrive in the country, it would get tied up somewhere in domestic shipping. Shigemori was in his eighth year with MC, and he was not used to working in such a difficult environment. Conditions were very different from Japan, where things tend to go smoothly as long as you have a contract in place.
That he managed to overcome the difficulties is a testament to how quickly he was able to build trust-based relationships with the local employees. Burmese are hard-working, mild-mannered people. Shigemori appreciated their honest approach to work, and did his best to accommodate their needs. No matter how busy he may have been, whenever employees wanted to speak with him, he always stopped what he was doing and gave them his full attention. He took his time to carefully explain why their work was necessary, and at times he wouldn't start his own until nightfall, after all his colleagues had gone home.
Thanks to the dedication of Shigemori and his team, the airport made a dramatic transformation in just three years' time. The functional amenities and Japanese-style customer service earned high praise from both overseas visitors and airline personnel, who felt the airport offered exceptional comfort and an atmosphere not unlike airports in Japan. Shigemori was proud of his contributions, but even moreso of his team. Their goal now is to see the airport evolve into a future logistics hub that will help stimulate more growth in Myanmar.
Shigemori joined MC because he wanted to get involved in urban developments, having studied their social impact during his university days. "The more people and goods that flow through this airport, the more it will contribute to Mandalay's growth, but there is still a lot to be done in this country in terms of water and sewage systems, power stations, and other social infrastructure," he says. "For anyone interested in urban development, this is a hugely promising place to be."
There's a youthful twinkle in Shigemori's eyes as he looks to the summer sky. New projects on the horizon here, along with new ways to brighten lives.
This article appeared in Asahi Shimbun's "GLOBE" feature of September 3, 2017.