TOP Interview with Reinhart Zimmermann (Advantage Austria)

Reinhart Zimmermann has worked at Advantage Austria for almost 22 years in different countries and is now the head of Advantage Austria in Kuala Lumpur. He has been living in Malaysia since August 2019 and will be here for the next seven years to support Austrian companies that have business interests in Malaysia.

Hello Mr. Zimmermann, could you please describe in a nutshell what you are doing in KL.

I am the head of Advantage Austria Kuala Lumpur, the trade office of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber for Malaysia and Brunei, as well as the Commercial Section of the Austrian Embassy. We support our members, which are Austrian companies, with their projects and business activities abroad.

What would you say, was your goal for coming to Malaysia?

My goal for coming to Malaysia is to support the Austrian economy in Malaysia and Brunei. There are about 70 Austrian companies invested here and we assist them where needed in their daily business. An even larger task is to help new firms in various sectors to enter the market and to find the right business partners. Many companies from Austria do not really see Malaysia on their radar, but in the upcoming years, this will change. With situations like the US-China trade conflict or the Corona virus, businesspeople realize that they should not place everything on one card. Malaysia is a great business location with high potential in the wider South-East Asian region.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about doing business in Malaysia and what would you consider a challenge?

I really enjoy the friendliness of the people within the business life as well as their interest in new technology. The one thing that is proceeding very slowly is the decision-making process, especially in the state sector. Companies also often underestimate or do not take new technologies and its potential seriously enough.

Personally, what do you think about the Malaysian culture and economy, especially about its development?

Throughout the years, Malaysia has developed economic and political stability– even in the light of the latest turmoil in the federal government. During the Asian financial crisis in the 90s, the Malaysian economy suffered a lot, but since then the economic growth evolved on a healthy level. For investors this is a huge benefit. Nevertheless, there are many unused potentials and the country is not put enough effort to establish itself as a first choice in South-East Asia. To achieve this, they need to offer more and give investors better incentives as well as develop a more aggressive approach to convince possible investors of the advantages of doing business in Malaysia.

What are your expectations for the bilateral trade between Austria and Malaysia?

Malaysia is a very important export market for Austrian companies. In 2018, more than half a billion Euros were exported to Malaysia, which made Malaysia the most important market in South-East Asia and the 5th most important export market in Asia, after China, Japan, South Korea and India. We also imported nearly 400 million Euros from this country. In 2019, some projects expired which is why we expect a decrease of 13-14%. Examples here for are railway deliveries or in the sector of electronic components. In general, I can say Malaysia did establish itself well. On the long run, I expect a stable development also for the future, sometimes with a certain setback.

Which strategic advantages are there in the Malaysian market for Austrian companies, except of its stability and its high potential?

The location is indeed beneficial, as it is close to different markets in South-East Asia, easily accessible by plane. Malaysia is worth living, especially for expats with family, because it has to offer so many different things while being relatively inexpensive.

As there is a lot of political change right now, we wanted to ask, what is your professional opinion on the political situation and its development in Malaysia?

The political changes on a federal level will affect the execution of large-scale projects with public funds. Most of the business activities do not depend so essentially on daily politics – for them it is more important to benefit from a business friendly environment. So, in most of the cases I expect “business as usual” and further delays for infrastructure projects with federal funding.

What is your wish for Malaysia for the future?

I wish for Malaysian companies that they are more confident and prouder of their achievements. Also, I wish that they are more open to operate in the world market and enter into more international cooperation. We are in the process to build an innovation council to create a win-win situation in the technology and innovation sector for both countries and their respective businesses. We intend to present more Austrian technology and know-how to Malaysia as well as creative Malaysian solutions to Europe. In general, I wish that there is the more readiness to think outside of the box.

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