Challenges faced while working in emerging markets are different from those in established economies. Such experiences, however, sharpen one's problem-solving skills and build resilience. For Priyanka Jain, setting up shop in Myanmar helped her overcome unexpected obstacles and taught her to embrace jugaad – thinking out-of-the-box for creative workarounds.
"In a developing country, there is no other choice! Either we find a way to make things work, or nothing gets done," said the 28-year-old who splits her time between Yangon and Singapore.
As Head of Operations at Valency International Trading, an international trading house headquartered in Singapore, Priyanka oversees the firm's offices in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. Since 2016, she has also been in charge of steel, sugar and fertilizer trading in Myanmar, as well as strengthening ties with local players and sourcing for new avenues of growth in the country.
Overcoming all odds
"The toughest part of my job is leading the business in Myanmar, where government policies can change quickly for reasons not immediately apparent, and working in an environment where contracts, legal frameworks and trade terms are not standard practice," she said.
She came face to face with one of her "most challenging moments" when a regular customer called to renegotiate the terms of an already-signed contract. His reason? He had no idea what he signed.
"That was an important learning experience and it came as a bit of a shock as the goods were of relatively high value and had already been shipped," said Priyanka, who joined Valency as a Steel Trader in 2010, upon graduating from the University of Bristol with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Economics and Mathematics.
Taking small steps and getting connected to the world stage
Up to that point, her only introduction to commodities trading was a short stint as a trainee at Valency, between completing her A Levels and enrolling in university. She did administrative tasks and documentation for trades, so becoming a full-fledged trader was a big leap.
"It took me awhile to get the hang of it, build my knowledge in global demand and supply trends, and learn the finer points of maintaining existing relationships, as well as forging new ones," she said. But her perseverance and enthusiasm soon paid off when steel distribution in Asia and Africa was added to her portfolio.
And just as she had hoped, her portfolio was further expanded after she completed a Master of Business Administration at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in 2014. The qualification also made her a prime candidate for the Myanmar opening which came two years later.
Although she knew running the show in a new market was a big ask, she jumped at the chance. This leap of faith served her well; the Myanmar posting is a career development milestone and has positioned her for greater career advancement.
"Working here really broadens your mind. You have to adapt to their ways of working and learn to accept the culture. You also need to be circumspect and agile in identifying ways to minimise risk. But these challenges also help you realise you can make the impossible possible. And that is inspiring. It gives you the confidence and motivation to do better and do more," she said.
"Working here really broadens your mind. You have to adapt to their ways of working and learn to accept the culture. You also need to be circumspect and agile in identifying ways to minimise risk. But these challenges also help you realise you can make the impossible possible. And that is inspiring. It gives you the confidence and motivation to do better and do more."
"It's been incredibly exciting being based in Myanmar. It is one of the last frontier economies today and the prospects are phenomenal. I intend to expand my product portfolio and expertise in supply chain and I am confident with this mindset and skill, I can propel myself towards bigger opportunities," she added.
As Valency operates in 38 markets worldwide with plans to expand into more markets and ramp up trade volumes over the next few years, her timing couldn't be better.
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