Tag Archives: expat myanmar

American duo on a moving mission

Published in Mizzima Weekly on 1 November 2015

The Pathway Moving Services team
The Pathway Moving Services team

A husband and wife moving team launched their company in Myanmar this year with the aim of offering a stress-free transfer from old homes to new.

Jackie and Brian Ackerman spent seven years working as electrical engineers in Washington DC before deciding it was time for a radical sea change.

“It seemed like everything in America was so predictable – we were doing the same thing day in, day out. We came to Southeast Asia on a holiday in 2012 to see if we could lead a different lifestyle. But when we flew to Singapore it was evident from the moment we landed that we weren’t needed there. We also struck out in Ho Chi Minh, Siem Riep and Bangkok,” said Jackie Ackerman, Director of Pathway Moving Services.

While in Cambodia, their local guide mentioned in passing that Myanmar had just opened up and that it might prove an interesting destination to visit.

“Myanmar wasn’t on our to-do list: we hopped on a flight on the spur of the moment and spent a couple of nights at Park Royal Hotel. When we came here, we felt that we could make a difference.”

Jackie Ackerman, director of Pathway Moving Services
Jackie Ackerman, director of Pathway Moving Services

Neither Jackie or her husband Brian had any experience in the moving industry, but that didn’t deter them from starting up their own venture.

Most expat business owners in Myanmar open bars and restaurants – so why did the inherently stressful moving industry appeal?

“Brian and I are total introverts. It wouldn’t be in our nature to open a restaurant or bar, or something that required us to mingle – it’s just not in our DNA,” Jackie said.

The seeds of the idea of a moving business were sown in 2011, when Jackie’s office relocated and she had a chance encounter with a company that stood out from the rest.

“Mover after mover came into our office and they were really stereotypical – these guys parked their trucks out the front and rolled in like they’d just finished a job.”

But when a man in a suit strode in, sat down and calmly explained the logistics of moving in detail, Jackie was pleasantly surprised.

“He was so professional. It was like an ‘a-ha moment’,” she said.

Her boss opted for a company that gave the cheapest quote and a discount to boot – but it became less of a bargain when an insurance claim had to be lodged for damaged office desks.

“I knew it would be horrible – but the experience keyed me into the industry. And it culminated with the idea of looking for something to do outside the US. You could say the two thought patterns converged.”

Moving is an inherently stressful industry
Moving is an inherently stressful industry

Jackie and Brian, the latter of whom is Pathway’s managing director, met a couple in Washington with decades of experience in the relocations industry and spent the next couple of years gleaning insights from them.

Jackie and Brian’s first move in Yangon was in March this year. Both admit it’s a tough industry. Fortunately though, Jackie said that expats in Yangon are ready to roll with the punches – such as sudden refusals to allow movers to use the elevators in condos or tricky architectural designs.

“For the most part, people living in Yangon are willing to deal with all sorts of strange things,” Jackie said.

Jackie and Brian’s Myanmar language teacher has equipped them with a moving-related vocabulary, and their director Min Thu Aung, offers limitless supplies of invaluable advice, Jackie said with a grin.

“We spend a lot of time on the job saying ‘phyay, phyay’ [‘slow, slow’]. We also often ask a single worker to team up with another to carry heavy objects – sometimes they get a little crazy and want to carry heavy things upstairs, which could result in damaging floors or walls – and themselves.”

Jackie said they convey the importance of protecting owner’s buildings to their team and make sure that belongings are covered in cushioning wrap whenever necessary.

“Wherever possible, we use dollies to exert less energy: it’s about working smarter and working slower,” Jackie said.

Brian Ackerman
Brian Ackerman, Managing Director of Pathway Moving Services

Pathway is marketed as a premium moving service. While cheaper options are certainly available in Yangon, in the long run it can be worth spending more to avoid having to replace the irreplaceable.

“We really pride ourselves on protecting people’s goods and internalising what matters most to our clients.”

The task can be daunting in Yangon, as elevators aren’t yet par for the course in apartment buildings.

“We’ve done stairwells with no lighting source – when our guys are in total darkness and we’re speaking two different languages it can be challenging,” she said.

For the most part, Pathway finds its customers by “trolling Yangon Expat Connection” and Brian Ackerman’s SEO skills help to recruit others online via its website.

“Our strike rate is about 50:50. When people say no [to an inquiry on YEC], it’s usually because of the price. If someone really wants the rock bottom price, where a bunch of guys turn up and move your stuff without caring, it’s hard for us to match that price-wise because we provide a premium service.”

That said, Pathway “says yes to everything. We want to see if we sink or swim and we won’t know unless we try.”

The heaviest item Pathway has moved was a 200 kilogramme piano, which had to be delicately lifted out of a fourth floor apartment.

A definite advantage for expats who choose Pathway is having at least one person on the job who speaks English and Myanmar to explain what goes where. Pathway also has an add-on service for packing and unpacking belongings by a team of ginger-fingered ladies.

Moving offices as opposed to homes takes up a quarter of Pathway’s business, while moving locals comprises but a fraction of their overall jobs.

“It’s hard for us to get local business – we haven’t quite figured it out, but perhaps it’s a price point thing,” Jackie said.

As for direct rivals, there’s Asian Tiger and Crown Relocations, although Jackie said they haven’t gone head-to-head with either yet when bidding for jobs.

What makes Pathway unique is that it’s a wholly foreign owned, family-run business.

“I think maybe we’re the one-off that doesn’t necessarily fit under the corporate umbrella,” Jackie said.

For more information about Pathway Moving Services – or to get a free quote – visit http://pathwaymoving.com

Australian expat in Myanmar: my interview on expatsblogs.com

Here’s a snippet of my interview about being an expat in Myanmar, which was published on expatsblog.com

Feeding a beer at Yangon Zoo
Feeding a beer at Yangon Zoo

Jessica Mudditt is a journalist at The Myanmar Times and she has lived outside her home country of Australia for the past seven years. Jessica moved to Myanmar in July 2012 and her blog contains feature articles, light-hearted accounts of life in Myanmar, book reviews, photo essays and short documentary style films made during her travels. Jessica was accredited as a newspaper journalist in the United Kingdom in 2009 and afterwards moved to Bangladesh, where she worked for Bangladeshi newspapers for almost three years. She lives with her Bangladeshi husband in Yangon and hopes to travel extensively throughout Myanmar in the coming months and years – the best bits of which will be published on her blog.

Here’s the interview with Jessica…

Where are you originally from?

Melbourne, Australia

In which country and city are you living now?

Yangon, Myanmar.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?

With reporters at The Myanmar Times Christmas Party 2012
With reporters at The Myanmar Times Christmas Party 2012

I came here in July 2012 and hope to stay at least until the elections are held in 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted the 2010 elections, however she is now a member of parliament. Although constitutionally she is ineligible to be president because she married a foreigner, there has been so much positive change in Myanmar since 2010 that I think the lead up to 2015 will be fascinating to observe. Myanmar is a very exciting place to live right now.

Why did you move and what do you do?

I moved because I was offered a job at The Myanmar Times. I had been living in Bangladesh for almost three years, working for the United Nations as a stringer and as a special correspondent for a national newspaper called The Independent. I had no idea I would live in Bangladesh so long – I initially came from London to do a six month internship with another Bangladeshi newspaper called The Daily Star. It was an incredible time for me, both professionally and personally (I married my translator!), however Dhaka is one of the world’s most densely populated cities and after a few years I began to feel worn down and longed for a new opportunity.

My husband and I at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
My husband and I at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

I work for The Myanmar Times as features supplement editor and really love it.

Did you bring family with you?

Yes, my husband Sherpa came with me and he is now the editor-in-chief of another newspaper in Yangon, called Myanmar Business Today. It took us a few months longer to arrive than we hoped because getting visas from Bangladesh was difficult. We also brought our cat and have since adopted a street dog called Ripley.

Click here to read the full interview…