KBZ’s Nang Lang Kham: ‘Women Are Taking a Lead Role’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 22 July 2015

Founded in 1994 by U Aung Ko Win, the Kanbawza (KBZ) Group of Companies manages a diverse set of business interests, including in mining, banking, real estate, aviation and insurance. The eldest daughter of the firm’s founder, Ma Nang Lang Kham, cut her teeth working at KBZ Bank, one of the largest private financial institutions in Myanmar, with nearly 200 branches across the country and with 113 billion kyat (US$101.9 million) in capital as of 2014. She has risen to become the chairwoman of Brighter Future Foundation, Air KBZ, KBZ Bank and Kempinski Hotel Nay Pyi Taw under the KBZ group of Companies. Ma Nang Lai Kham spoke with The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Hsu Mon about the role of women at Kanbawza, promoting women business leaders and encouraging women’s participation in all sectors of the economy.

Women are playing a greater role in Myanmar’s economic life. What challenges do they face?

As the country has developed more and more and connected with the international community, people’s horizons have expanded. There are lots of opportunities for everyone now. Women account for 51.8 percent of the national population. Previously, women were stereotyped as housewives once they were married. But now, a certain number of women are leading businesses shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Women now play an important role in the economic development of Myanmar and they are a force for national development.

What policies should companies adopt to enhance the role of women in the workplace?

I would like to talk about an empowering culture rather than a policy. I would encourage every staffer, regardless of their age and gender, to exercise discretion and take responsibility rather than adopting an overall policy for an entire company. On a level playing field, we award and give promotions to female staffers depending on their competence, performance and expertise. In Kanbawza, we nurture a culture that provides equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of gender.

I believe that a large number of Kanbawza staff are women. Can you tell us about this?

Women account for 85 percent of staff in our Kanbawza Insurance Co. and about 53 percent for Kanbawza Bank. Women share senior positions with men in our company.

Married female staffers are entitled to maternity leave, fixed health allowances, plus leave to take care of their newborn babies if necessary. In addition, we assign duties that are appropriate for them when they return to work. We don’t transfer them to places far from their families.

We also provide training and do not discriminate on the grounds of gender in providing training. We award staffers depending on their performance and expertise. Interestingly, 35 percent of customers who take loans from Kanbawza Bank are businesses that involve or are led by women.

How important is parental support to women who want to become successful in business?

The guidance and support of parents are fundamentally important for a child to have success in life. On the other hand, a child who gets support from her parents needs to have interest in the business and devote tireless efforts. And she also needs to have big ambitions.

What do you expect will be the challenges as a young woman in relation to inheriting your family’s businesses?

Challenges exist everywhere, especially in Myanmar, which is developing fast. We need to hand down a great deal of knowledge from generation to generation and systematize our companies for further development.

I, together with my sisters, had to work almost daily at the bank branches to be familiar with the job since we were young. To make sure there is no generation gap, we coordinate with our parents. For our business to last long and succeed, we need new ideas for each business. As the first generation has established the business, the second generation has to maintain the success and should have entrepreneurial skills.

We have joined the Business Families Institute in Singapore and have adopted strategies for the greater success of our company. We also attend and take part in discussions at the World Economic Forum’s New Champions.

What is your educational background?

I studied basic education at Teacher Training College. Then I did a bachelor degree in business administration at the National University of Singapore. At present, I am studying a Master of Management at the University of Sydney in Australia. I intend to play a part in social and economic sectors important for building a developed country.

You have participated in high-level discussions on the role of women here. Can you tell us more about this?

You can see that women are taking a lead role not only in business but in other sectors. At Myanmar Investment Outreach Forum held in September 2014 in New York in the United States, we held a wide ranging discussion together with MelanneVerveer [Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Executive Director] and businesswomen from other organizations on expanding the role of women in Myanmar’s economic sector, capacity and opportunities for women and the role of women in Myanmar society.

Again in December 2014, the Women’s Forum Myanmar was held in Naypyitaw and Yangon. The forum was attended by male and female leaders from various fields at home and abroad. The two-day forum included frank discussions on a wide-range of topics. Our country is weak in raising awareness and cooperation. Such forums should be held in other regions and states to unlock opportunities for women.

What is your understanding of glocalization and Myanmar?

Glocalization is adapting global economic concepts to regional needs. Since culture differs from one country to another, we need to maintain national identity and tune international economic concepts in to Myanmar culture so that we can keep abreast of international countries.

After 2011, Myanmar expats came back to the country along with their knowledge, experience, expertise and they could be tuned in to the specific needs of customers together with their local partners. Some difficulties they have faced working together with their local partners are that work procedures and social relations in the workplace are different.

You are serving as chairwoman of Myanmar Future Ray of Light Foundation. What does this involve?

We are engaging in a wide range of sectors including education, health, sports, poverty reduction, empowering persons with disabilities and youth development. We also provide help for internally displaced persons, victims of trafficking and disasters, and also help migrant workers return home. Like Forum-CEO Champions, we have formed Women’s Forum-CEO Champions Myanmar with male and female businesspersons to encourage the role of women in the economic development of Myanmar.

This interview originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.