The champions for growth: From ‘sari-sari’ to global innovator


TO elevate the Philippines and make it into a desirable hub for international businesses and foreign investors, a champion who is immersed, dedicated and proudly nationalistic is crucial—it just so happens that the man forging the path is a Dane.

Lars Wittig, country manager of Regus Philippines, is a tall, dapper, Caucasian man with light eyes and an easy smile on the surface. Behind all of these, though, he is a true-blue Filipino at heart who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty and fully explore everything the country has to offer.

After decades of moving in, out and around the Philippines, it was five years ago when Lars took over the helm of Regus that he finally settled down here for good. In those few years, Lars has not only established permanent roots here, but also pushed for an aggressive and impressive Regus expansion—from four centers in 2012 to twenty-five in 2017.

Tough times pave the way for good fortune

Aside from adapting perfectly into Filipino society, Lars and Regus share a fearlessness that compelled them to enter a foreign land in uncertain times.

Lars Wittig is the Danish expatriate paving the way for Regus’s regional expansion.

Lars has been frequenting the country since 1992, during which he also visited over 5,000 sari-sari stores to hear the market at a grassroots level. Originally from Luxembourg, Regus entered the Philippines in 1998 during the Asian Economic Crisis. While most foreign investors were bypassing the Philippines for other more prominent countries, Regus boldly took the leap. A pioneering tenant of the Enterprise Building, Regus remains one of the only three original tenants in the 85,000-square-meter property.

With the Philippines becoming the largest-growing economy in Southeast Asia, it is clear that Regus and Lars made the right decision to make the country their new home. Regus is now considered a success magnet by building developers who want to add value and build the credibility and reputation of their property.

“We are enablers and incubators who mitigate risks,” Lars explained. “By offering a chance for international clients to dip their toes into the market sans leases, capital, long-term investments they can foresee a viable future here that will benefit the local economy, too.”

A symbiotic partnership

When Regus becomes a part of a particular development, it largely increases flexibility of tenants and scaling, and even attracts the youth—arguably a crucial component to the longevity of any industry. Predating other shared economy businesses, like Uber and Airbnb, Regus offers employees the most flexibility in their space and time; both of which are factors that millennials use as gauge for measuring success and whether they see a long-term career with a company.

“You need to embrace the flexibility that will enable you to get new partners,” Lars said. 55 percent of office spaces are typically vacant, but by adding Regus as a building’s asset, there is less liability and more opportunity for both would-be tenants and developers.

Getting down to business, going back to basics

It’s important to go to the base level and really roll up your sleeves, Lars explained. “Old marketing was just visibility, but what is really needed is to spread understanding of what solutions you offer.”

Indeed, Lars and his team have visited dozens of remote provinces across the Philippines. These excursions have prompted Regus to open centers in Cebu and Davao, with the latter experiencing the fastest occupancy rate after reaching 85 percent full in only six months.

An innovator in coworking spaces driven by a thought-leader, Regus stands as the champion in the industry. With a large network and an inclusive approach to growth, Regus is the first in mind when talking about flexible work spaces—and that’s exactly how they envisioned it. While other foreign companies only entered the Philippine market after the brunt of the economic crisis was over, Regus stood by for the long haul and acted an ice-breaker for otherwise reluctant investors.

The crystal ball of business

Nowadays, looking at the Regus client list is like looking into a crystal ball.

“Some of the largest acquisitions and mergers take place at Regus,” Lars said. For example, Convergys—the Philippines’s largest employer today—started at Regus.

Whether the client is a large international company or a humble start-up, a customizable arrangement can be made with Regus. A hundred dollars a month will give a member access to global locations; while a little extra will give you concierge services.

“We like to say that you never get more than what you need, because we never force you to make unnecessary choices,” Lars added.

Local expansion for international growth

Probably more Filipino than full-blooded Filipinos, Lars is the first to announce his genuine love for the country that has adopted him as its own.

As a fervent supporter of Mindanao, I was thrilled to hear that Lars hopes to see Regus open centers in more up-and-coming provinces, like South Cotabato, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Iloilo and Zamboanga. When I mention that he’s probably been to more places in the Philippines than other Filipinos, Lars shared that his Philippine tax numbers are even older than most locals he meets.

Where Regus goes, the investors follow. As Lars and Regus continue to eye expansion across more Philippine provinces just waiting for their big break, it’s not unlikely that the country will become a number one choice for investors where even the most remote places can become viable business districts. As this Danish gentleman at the head of a Belgian company advocates the Philippines, it’s exciting to envision the country’s near future as an integrated and leading business mecca.


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