Following a stint in East Timor during its unstable early days, Brett Miller has taken another leap of faith by starting a real estate service in fledgling Myanmar
By Liam Aran Barnes Photography by Francis Wade
Many of the millennial generation find themselves still recovering from the trials of university life at the age of 24, half-heartedly weighing up the uncertainties of the near future and contemplating those intrepid, initial steps into the ‘real world’. At that age, Brett Miller was already established in the heart of the business community in East Timor, which was then the world’s newest country.
In the midst of the global financial crisis, Miller left the US in late 2007 to work for Chistopher Whitcomb, a New York Times correspondent, former congressional speechwriter and one-time FBI Hostage Rescue Team veteran in East Timor.
He joined up with a small team of expatriates, which included an AK-wielding retired Russian general, and set to work at a recently acquired, yet ailing, private security firm – Asia Pacific Assurance Company (APAC Security).
“At the time, political instability was a grave concern,” Miller said. “Internally displaced people were camped throughout the city within the major functioning areas, such as the airport and the national hospital. Arsonists and rock slingers abounded, and we had to screen the windows on our vehicles.”
Following a failed coup-d’état in 2008, a nationwide curfew with police and military checkpoints was put in place. Yet Miller continued to thrive in his newfound home and was tasked with revamping tactical operations and attracting new clients, most notably landing a United Nations tender the following year.
Within two years, Miller had ascended through the ranks and eventually bought the security firm, running it for more than a year before embarking on a year-long hiatus.
“During that time I looked at speculative markets including Mongolia, Cuba and Myanmar, eventually selecting Myanmar after a few reconnaissance trips,” he said. “We entered the market as soon as an American firm could, [following] the suspension of sanctions, and initially looked at offering security services and facility services for clients that we had been doing business with in Timor.”
The initial business strategy was quickly altered, however, and Miller’s new Yangon-based venture Scipio Services soon found itself dealing primarily in property management and real estate services.
“When we arrived, a lot of our time was actually spent finding facilities for clients,” he said. “We linked up with local property company Myanmar Deals in order to obtain a supply of facilities and [we] now work together to offer the leasing of the premises.”
When Scipio began operations, the leasing market was practically non-existent in Yangon, but within a year rental prices throughout the sector increased exponentially, tripling in some cases – and Miller has seen no signs of the trend slowing.
“People often ask me if I see the leasing market easing in the next year, but I can’t see it slowing for the next two, perhaps even further out,” he said. “While there are massive projects being constructed, to be completed in the next few years, the majority are being pre-leased at the rate of supply, sometimes even higher.”
Although the introduction of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 is likely to boost the international business presence in the city and potentially expand Scipio’s client list – which currently includes major oil and gas companies – and international aid organisations, Miller is concerned that, even with the surge in real estate supply, the city will be unable to provide desirable office and residential space.
“Companies might be able to find a space at a cheaper cost, but it is not going to be an ideal situation,” he said. “It’s not like 2015 will come around and we’ll have enough beautiful offices and accommodation for every company and individual.”
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