By Goh De No (Published 8 January 2010 in The Brunei Times)

Singapore firm Consulus is seeking to deepen ties with Brunei after making its first venture into the Sultanate at the end of 2009.

Lawrence Chong, the consultancy firm’s director of strategy development, said the company’s involvement in Brunei will be for the long run, noting Consulus is now registered in Brunei. He said the company isn’t “landing with a parachute” and leaving the next day even though it had initially faced some tension because people think the company’s methods are too foreign.

“But we are no longer foreign now, we are very much as local as the rest,” he said.

Consulus had even partnered with a Bruneian small to medium enterprise and is now striving to build more of these kinds of relationships.

Chong said that when Consulus chooses a partner, it’s because those firms showed promise, with Consulus opting for a partnership model based on revenue sharing.

Chong talks to The Brunei Times about the firm’s plans in Brunei.

Brunei Times (BT): With the launch of Superwater Marketing’s bottled water this year, it will be the first physical product based on Consulus and a Bruneian company’s partnership, is that right?

Lawrence Chong (LC): Yes, but it’s not just our first physical product. In terms of ideas, it’s how that idea contributes to the identity of the country. We position ourselves in emerging countries, for example, Vietnam, Brunei or Indonesia. It’s because they are at a time of defining their national identity globally. That’s what we are pushing for, that’s country branding. The upcoming bottled water’s brand is premium and pure of Brunei. It shows the sincerity of people and pureness of the country. Also, real values that are part of the Bruneian culture. It’s very interesting and we like the work we are doing here. We are working with people who really try their best to do something new. In February, the product will launch and I’m excited.

BT: You always mention country branding or brand of a country, why?

LC: The only way to put out an identity is through branding, whether it be food, automobile, technology; and water is a key aspect of Brunei’s history and culture as Kampong Ayer is known to be the Venice of the East. So take a look at how Singapore Airlines has defined Singapore or Toyota for Japan. A country needs an international brand name.

BT: So what other sectors is Consulus targeting?

LC: Our long-term plan in Brunei will be key strategic industries where we will try to position ourselves. We are trying to move. We are not looking at quantity, we are looking at key strategic industries. So banking is one, telecommunications is another, education, FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) and how the government presents itself. All these things have a very important impact on a country’s national identity. So strategic industries like water, Malay pastry, financial wealth of the country, transportation are all included as well. We were interested in the Bruneian airport as it’s the gateway to the country but the idea wasn’t adopted and it’s fine because we will still always give our best ideas at all different levels, believing it will help make a difference. Sometimes ideas are welcomed, sometimes it’s not, but that’s okay. Early this year, you will hear about how we are involved in other sectors, but I can assure you that all of them have an impact on the national identity. That’s what we are really focused on.

BT: What about education, you’ve mentioned that is an area of interest as well?

LC: We are pursuing interest in and keen to explore opportunities with either a university or college. The reason is because a university defines people’s characters. We see ourselves keen to work on an education project and in Brunei, almost all the institutions are functional. They serve a distinct function, they represent themselves as function. If you look at the notion as a function and how Harvard has shaped itself, or Yale, or Princeton, these are powerful institutions.

BT: So, what does Consulus bring to the table?

LC: One thing about us, besides having the ability to discuss the business, the strategy and to complete the task, we now have an architectural concept as part of our company. We are doing interior experiences as part of the brand, so we are now multi-disciplinary already. So, if we have a strategy, we can show you how it works. Some people have a good business plan but can’t define the experience. When we have a business idea, we can show you how it works, that’s the power of what we have. One example of a project we are undertaking is in Malaysia. There is a fascinating underwater hotel shaped like the payung di-raja (Royal umbrella). That concept, is developed by us based on a study and these are very pragmatic decisions.

So, property is what we are after, and that includes retail as Bruneians shop a lot, but most of them are basic shopping, they’re functional. Nothing is based on the users experience. Whether it is branding or designing a mall? Yes, that’s what we’re going after.

The other big thing for Brunei will obviously be oil and gas. In the last few years, oil and gas renewable energy has been gaining and we have done several (projects) in the region. Things like sustainable environment, Brunei is big on that and we can work on how to brand and sell it. There are energy-related companies we are interested in as well, indigenous Bruneian companies in the energy business, there’s lots of room to define that.

With an international scaleability brand yet still Asian, that’s the strength we would like to partner with our Bruneians friends. The opportunity now makes us feel really privileged as it is very rarely, one is able to contribute to a nation’s progress. The top three countries we are most excited about are Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam, because the kind of work we do has a socio-impact and people will remember it for years.