IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 22

International SOS | From East to West
Accessing Asia
Turning a Problem
into an Opportunity
One day, in Hong Kong, Arnaud went
to meet the regional head of the largest
credit card company in the world. In
the taxi, on the way to the restaurant
where they were to meet, Arnaud
realised he did not have his credit cards
with him. On arrival Arnaud told the
manager that he would arrange for
payment of the bill to be guaranteed
by our Hong Kong office. The manager
seemed very dubious but Arnaud
insisted on making a phone call to our
Assistance Centre. Arnaud’s guest then
arrived and they sat at their table. As
they were going through the initial
pleasantries the Head Waiter, just off
the phone, approached them. He
addressed Arnaud with some
deference saying, “Sir, you can order as
much as you want.” The guest looked
surprised so Arnaud smiled and said,
“Let me tell you an assistance story.”
The Assistance Centre had done its job
and Arnaud was able to demonstrate,
quite perfectly, how we really could
help those who mislaid their credit
cards. The guest was suitably
impressed and a long standing
business relationship, core to our
Hong Kong operation, was born.
January 2000, new
Bangkok office opening,
Thailand. Dr Pascal
Rey-Herme attending
the Thai monk blessing
Right from the start the Founders’ vision was to
expand across Asia. This was achieved by following
customers into new regions. If we were already
working well with a client in one place, that increased
our chances of persuading them to work with us in
another. Ideally we entered new territories to service
a set of customers, rather than a single one, to
spread the risk and costs. That was the general
approach, but each country was given a certain
degree of autonomy to act independently and take
whatever opportunities came its way.
It was not easy. We had effectively invented a new
industry and we had to persuade clients both of the
need for such a service and that we could provide it.
The multinationals present in Asia usually had their
headquarters elsewhere, so being heard could be
difficult. We had to show them that we could deliver
locally where others could not.
We tended to work with the same clients – larger,
global customers with set requirements, especially
those in the oil, gas, mining, construction and
engineering industries. Insurance companies were
important clients too. They wanted to sell insurance
in Asia but could not deliver assistance services in
those areas – whereas we could.
We often started with a representative office in a
capital city or major business centre. From there we
would develop our network of providers and seek
potential clients. In many countries restrictive rules
on foreigners doing business meant we often worked
with national partners in joint ventures. It took time
to get clients fully on board, so we had to take it
slowly, use our resources sparingly and grasp
opportunities when they arose. Operating in less
developed countries tended to further compound
the complexities and challenges.
Mui Huat Tan, now head of our Asia Region, was very
involved in developing this part of the business back
then. He recalls:
“We shared an entrepreneurial spirit that drove us
all. We dealt with every difficulty and made the most
of our opportunities. Everyone had this attitude.
It is still so today.”


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