Features

‘I moved to Yangon sight unseen’ – How I got here…Era Myanmar’s Anthony Larmon

Era Myanmar managing director Anthony Larmon on the circuitous route taken to become one of the longest serving expat-public relations practitioners in the country, after starting life on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas

Education

I was born and raised outside Fort Worth, Texas. Not how one expects the story to begin for an expatriate now living in Yangon – but as I tell people, you rarely choose Myanmar; it chooses you.

I went to a Catholic high school where I, along with my accomplice and still best friend, Kyle, was always seeing how far we could push boundaries with just about any form of authority. What my mother would call “oppositional defiance” would eventually be a blessing, as now I never go without questioning or challenging what is “possible”.

Kyle and I took a trip to the Dominican Republic in the early 2000s, and to save money on airfare, arrived a day earlier than we should have with nowhere to stay. In broken Spanish we ended up finding a less-than-wholesome pay-by-the-hour hotel in a town called Higuey.  This happenstance, while traumatic for Kyle, awoke a love of adventure in my heart that has stayed with me.

At Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic

Ever since I was a child, my grandma had a word for stories like this: “Tony stories”. While it probably wasn’t healthy to have these behaviours constantly minimalised, it gave me a sense of permission to push the envelope in every way, challenge everything I was told and laugh at it in hindsight when the idea was (often) stupid.

But when the ideas weren’t stupid, they all added up to where I am now because some of these stupid ideas have become the best campaigns or decisions I’ve ever made.

My start

I graduated with highest honours from then-ranked number two communications program in the world at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook’em). While most of my classmates were looking domestically for work, I set my eyes abroad and fulfilled a childhood dream of working in Germany, where my Romanian grandmother met my grandfather during the second world war and emigrated. I also fulfilled my teenage dream of living abroad and an adult dream of working for one of the top PR networks in the world, Edelman, in Hamburg.

It was there that I had the pleasure of working on CSR, media relations and digital campaigns. One of which, “Save Food”, would go on to win a couple European Sabre Awards. It was this campaign that ran in multiple markets (notably Eastern European) that made me fall in love with the intoxicating sense of possibility and potential that comes with emerging economies.

Fast-forward a couple years to working back in Texas for another large firm, where every day felt like looking into a crystal ball and seeing myself sitting at the same desk for 30 years before dying of heart disease in a mid-range BMW in the suburbs somewhere.

Not for me. I stayed with that same network – Omnicom – and took the first job I could find in an emerging market as a business development manager. The market I chose was Vietnam, and thankfully, I spoke enough Vietnamese to make a good go of it (shout out to my high school sweetheart Catherine).

After spending some time in Vietnam, learning from one of the two best bosses I have ever had, I began to feel unfilled as a professional communicator.

If you want to do consumer PR in Vietnam you need a lot of envelopes and if you want to do corporate and/or public affairs, you need a lot of relationships. I am a vehement advocate of media ethics and it was around this time that Myanmar decided to lift its prepublication censorship and open the country up to a new generation of journalists and, thus, professional communicators.

With an opportunity to play a small part in protecting that newfound press freedom, I moved to Yangon sight unseen and the rest is history.

My approach

If you can’t tell by now, my approach is to never let anyone tell me what’s possible. I’ve started two agencies in a country I didn’t at the time speak the language, been one of the youngest managing directors at Edelman, taken my first agency management job at age 24, dreamed of starting an agency even as an intern and used anyone who laughed at these dreams or doubted me as fuel for my fire.

At Omnicom in Vietnam ,I was lucky enough to go to a management development training program where I wrote a pre-addressed letter to myself that was eventually mailed back. I keep this with me at almost all times and I want to take the advice I gave myself and now pass it on to the next generation:

Don’t let people tell you what is normal.

Use every piece of knowledge, no matter how seemingly insignificant, as a tool in your success or the success of others.

Hold yourself and your staff, friends and family to the highest standard and challenge what they consider their “best”.

Care deeply about the people in your life because that will enable you to authentically inspire them to do more.

Complacency is the enemy of growth.

Highs and lows

By now, you might think that I consider all of the above as successes. However, there are some noteworthy failures. Although they, and the people supporting me through those failures, have helped me grow more than I ever thought possible.

I was fired from that aforementioned position in Vietnam at Zeno/Edelman. It was a spectacular failure and lesson. I took a role for which I was ill-prepared, an appointment that stoked resentment in the one who was supposed to be my right-hand. That role lasted about three months if I’m being generous. My then boss, John Kerr sat with me and told me an anecdote of Michael Jordan.

He was cut from his school basketball team. He went home and he cried and cried behind closed doors, but he practiced tirelessly and did everything in his power to reach where he always envisioned himself. Now the man is more logo and legend, than man. John reminded me that failure is never the end and what to do with it, is in our hands.

The airforce insignia of the Lieutenant Colonel that accompanies Anthony on every pitch or award event

A few years ago, I lost my grandfather while I was here setting up the business at a very unstable time and I was not able to go to the funeral. When I went back, I only wanted his small Lieutenant Colonel air force insignia that I wear to every major pitch or awards event to remember the lessons he taught me: to be diligent, finish everything I start and to always do the right thing.

For me, I need to constantly be moving forward, so my highs are the breakthroughs that carry me into uncharted personal and professional territory, I like being uncomfortable. It’s territory where one could fail, or succeed, but that choice is most often always in our hands.

Anthony with his father (and early investor) in DC before the global Sabre awards

My biggest highs are accepting my first offer from Edelman Germany on the phone as I was walking to class through a parking garage, seeing my first press release published in print (Chiquita Banana), winning KBZ Bank as one of my first clients in Myanmar, taking home a global Sabre award and now, having merged with RevoTech to create Myanmar’s largest and most talented integrated communications firm, feeling completely ready to start creating the future of communications in Myanmar.

Do’s

Try new things, take that job offer, fail, experiment, put your team mates first (even if it means firing a client), challenge everyone and everything, help as many people as you can

Don’t

Take no for an answer, doubt yourself, get too arrogant or complacent, repeat one year of experience 10 times, delay.

Anthony Larmon is managing director of Era Myanmar. He is based out of Yangon, Myanmar

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