As mentioned in my last post, I was in Mongolia for a week consulting with the largest beverage company there and this will be the first of a number of blogs on the country and my travels.
How and why I got there will be the subject of a future post. For now, I’d like to provide some first impressions. Particularly since most people have only a vague and hazy image of Mongolia. Myself included, before I went there.
Why bother you, you ask. Because, in my view, despite its size and only a few decades of free market economics, the country will take it’s place among the most important emerging nations in the world. As a colleague who has been there observed, “They should put up a billboard over the country saying, ‘watch this space.’”
I like to think of the Mongolia as a “sleeping beauty.” Put to sleep by an evil empire for 70 years and whose recent awakening foreshadows a strong new beginning.
When one thinks of Mongolia, chances are that the first thing that comes to mind is the Mongol Empire and “Genghis” Khan. (In fact it’s pronounced Chinggis; Arabs could not pronounce the ch sound and that’s how it became a g sound.). By the way, the Mongol Empire had the largest contiguous land empire in history, 22% of the Earth’s total land area.
This small country that once ruled much of the world became the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924 and was subjected to Soviet rule. Suddenly in 1991, with the collapse of the evil empire, Mongolia was on its own. What followed was roughly a decade of restructuring, embrace of free market economics and unfortunately, a deep recessionary period.
Fast-forward ten years. Despite ups and downs, the country gets on its feet and by 2009 analysts are referring to it as the Mongolian Wolf – “Untapped mineral deposits and a bourgeoning financial system could make Mongolia the next Asian tiger, analysts say.” Further, on his trip to Asia this past summer, Vice President Biden visited China, Japan and – you guessed it – Mongolia. That ought to tell you something.
Consider this – not only is Mongolia land locked, it is the only country I can think of that is surrounded by two super powers (Russia and China) and is dependent on them for trade and access to the world. Yet, the GDP growth is among the fastest in the world.
Roughly half the population lives in the capital of Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator), a bustling, sprawling city struggling to keep up with the growth of the economy. As my Texan friends would say, “too many tires and not enough road.” It’s a city in transition with contrasts between vestiges of the Soviet days alongside modern skyscrapers.
The other contrast is the perception versus the reality. I think visitors are surprised to see the burgeoning affluence and the palpable level of optimism and aspiration. The roads are full (perhaps too full) of late model cars, supermarket shelves are stocked with choices more extensive than many places in the States and the modern department stores were already crowded with Holiday shoppers.
At one of my training sessions, we were discussing brand awareness and the importance of top-of-mind recall. I asked for people to call out the names of automobiles that first came to mind. I fully expected to hear Toyota and Hyundai thinking that these everyday brands would top the list. Instead, I got rousing choruses of Mercedes and BMW with a few Bentleys thrown in.
That, my friends, is aspiration.
Next – the people, culture and my hosts.