A “take charge kind of guy.” This in a nutshell, is one of the many ways one can describe Danish expatriate Lars Wittig. In a meeting with Manila Times, Wittig was carrying with him a rather large briefcase and a collapsible banner that bears the logo of the company he oversees. He spots a quiet corner of the ballroom, puts up his banner by the side, and opens his briefcase to reveal all the corporate details that he needs, as well as a massive trophy he was recently awarded with as “Expatriate Executive of the Year” at the Asia CEO Awards last November. Seeing how he finished the entire set-up in fifteen minutes, Wittig could also very well be the poster boy of how modern businesses are run nowadays.
Wittig is the Philippine country manager for Regus, a multinational corporation that provides serviced office accommodation in business centers. It currently operates around 2,000 business centers in over 750 cities across 100 countries with diverse stakeholders and supply chains.
It was founded in 1989 by English entrepreneur, Mark Dixon, who while on a business trip to Brussels, noted the lack of office space available to traveling business people. He recognized the need for office space that was maintained, staffed and available for companies to use on a flexible basis. He establishe his first business center in Brussels, Belgium. In 1994, the company expanded to Latin America, through Sao Paulo, and five years later to Asia, through Beijing, China. The following year, Regus completed a successful initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange.
In the Philippines, Regus is found in key Metro Manila cities as well as in Cebu. “I joined Regus in April 2012 as the first country manager, with the mandate of increasing awareness at the same time expanding aggressively. Since then, we quadrupled the growth, and today, we get at least 800 inquiries per month, and with an almost 100-member team complement.”
Wittig also announced that the company is aggressively growing this 2015, with four new business centers set to open in the first four months of the year. In particular, Wittig says “this includes what was formerly known as Nomads, which was one of our competitors in half a dozen countries, which Regus has acquired, effective January 1st.”
Wittig said Regus has taken over the Nomads’ corporate space in PBCom Building, in Ayala Avenue, Makati. Wittig said Regus’ pace of expansion for the first four months approximate that of last year’s pace.
In describing who their customers are, Wittig says “we have customers across many different sectors, we’re not really relying at all on one, and many would assume that corollary to the Philippines’ growth rates, that it would be primarily BPOs and call centers.” Apart from those, he says other industries they cater to, are those in the field of consulting, legal, finance, and more importantly, he says Regus Philippines now feels, it seems the “renaissance of manufacturing.”
Because of the unique position that Regus is in, Wittig says one of the perks is that they are able to see the types of businesses that are growing more than the others. “You could say I have a crystal ball, I can see the future of this country, I see a lot of new foreign investors in retail, when one of these new big brands come in, they actually start in one of my business centers first.” He says Regus’ role now is very much an incubator of investments of both foreign and Filipino entrepreneurs.
The Philippines is in a sweet spot right now, Wittig says, and this makes him genuinely happy, especially since he’s seen the country at various stages of development since he first stepped into the country in 1992, working then for East Asiatic Company (EAC). “We were a trading company, so on my first year back then, I visited 5,000 sari-sari stores personally nationwide.” Wittig has since worked for several other multinationals, getting posted in different countries. He was again posted back in the Philippines for a second time in 1998 under the Coca-Cola Company, and was moved to another country after his stint ended. In 2012, Wittig says he was again offered a third time to go back to the Philippines for Regus, and he says “this time, I literally followed my heart, because I wanted to stay in the Philippines for good.”
Among the things he has learned from the Philippines, is that “people will not volunteer information, unless you have a genuine interest in them. I’m glad I really get the chance to know them, and many of them eventually became my friends.” Wittig says he is happily settled in the country, and even gets to occasionally enjoy some of the things he loves doing, like sailing at the Manila Yacht Club, whenever the situation permits. Otherwise, he is just like a good number of urbanites living in Metro Manila— staying in a condominium with his wife on weekdays, and spending weekends in their other house, which is in Las Piñas. When asked if he would consider living in another country in the future, he politely smiles and declares he did have his dream destination, and he’s already living his dream.