Universal Dexterity Group, more commonly known as UD Group, is one of Myanmar’s most successful locally-run companies. Covering a broad spectrum of services from automobile production to crane sales and service, the company employs more than 300 workers. Susan Bailey met with U Khin Maung Win, the founder and CEO of UD Group, to learn more about the man who built this empire from scratch.
Soft spoken, quick with a smile and down-to-earth, U Khin Maung Win comes across as an atypical businessman. There is no aggression in his voice nor boastful claims of success. Instead, he openly shares his personal story and leadership strategies.
U Khin Maung Win was born in Mandalay, the second of four children. At the tender age of six, his parents divorced and he and his siblings moved to the countryside with their mother. The experiences and struggles that he faced in the following decade are, in U Khin Maung Win’s eyes, the reason he is the successful man he is today.
‘I always knew I wanted to be a businessman. Starting from a young age I made learning a priority- I never skimmed over books, I asked teachers a lot of questions and I observed those around me’, he says.
His first lesson in management was taking care of his family’s cows. ‘I was just a little boy but I had to make sure they were kept safe, were fed on time and had enough water. I knew that it was important to stay calm around the animals. I took it very seriously even though I was young.’ A short time later, U Khin Maung Win started attending a monastic school. He was captivated by the head monks’ ability to manage the students and the daily activities of the monastery. This observation was, he later realized, the second leadership lesson that would impact his later life.
Having completed fifth standard at the monastic school, U Khin Maung Win decided to move back to Mandalay and start working. Arriving back to the buzzing city, with just 35 kyats in his pocket, he got a job at a mechanic workshop run by a family friend. The work was a perfect fit- the engines and machines captivated his curious mind. And it was here, he says, that he learned his third lesson. ‘The master mechanic had to control his staff, organize the shop, maintain the quality of work and still make a profit. His business skills made a big impression on me.’
After cutting his teeth as a mechanic, U Khin Maung Win had gained the confidence and experience, as well as saved up enough money, to set up UD Group in 2002. It may seem like an almost casual decision. But U Khin Maung Win is not one to leave things to chance. He was confident in his abilities as a businessman and confident in his technical skills, but he humbly knew he was not yet ready to strike out fully alone. So in his early years running UD Group, he regularly sought the advice and guidance of successful Mandalay business owners and poured over management books in his free time.
This combination of factors equated to success from the start. And in the 17 years that UD Group has been operating, the company has grown from a team of 10 workers to more than 300 employees. The head office and two main factories are located in Mandalay with their manufactured products, such as generators and light trucks, sold throughout the country. As well, UD Group provides crane rental and support services in all of Myanmar’s states and divisions. To have achieved such widespread success and to manage such challenging logistics is a testament to U Khin Maung Win’s dedication and business savvy.
With his son now handling most of the daily running of UDCorporation, one would think that U Khin Maung Win is enjoying some down time and relaxing. But when asked about his leisure time he quickly replies with a smile, ‘My job is my passion. I don’t need to relax after working as work is enjoyable for me.’
This mimics the sentiments of one of his business heroes, Sochiro Honda. The founder of Honda Automotive was, like U Khin Maung Win, a self-made man and a visionary who loved his work. U Khin Maung Win fondly recalls one example of this, ‘One day he [Mr Honda] was speaking to a group of students and he asked them ‘What do you do on your days off from school and work?’. The students responded that they liked to relax to which Mr Honda said ‘My work is relaxing for me. That’s why I never have a day off’.
But U Khin Maung Win does have hobbies other than work. His biggest passion is reading and researching- a notebook is never far from his side, where he jots down notes or inspiration for new ideas. ‘The more I read and the more I learn, the better I am as a business owner and member of Myanmar society. There is no need to stop learning once you are successful as being successful doesn’t mean you know it all. I would be bored if I wasn’t learning something new every day’, he remarks. In addition to these academic hobbies, U Khin Maung Win dabbles in photography and gardening. And, as is expected from a man who has built a business on automobile manufacturing, he loves cars and is the proud owner of a Rolls Royce among other luxury vehicles.
Despite this picture of success, U Khin Maung Win never forgets his humble beginnings and the people who helped him along the way. His legacy is important to him and he wants to encourage not just only his family but all young people to strive for success.
‘It may sound strange, but I want my loved ones to struggle. I want them to face challenges and find ways to overcome them. This is the best way to learn’, he stated.
U Khin Maung Win plans to write a book in the near future, passing on his knowledge and experience to potential business leaders. ‘It is important that we encourage the younger generation to be interested in technology, to believe in the value of education and to serve their community’, he says. ‘There is potential but too many young people are not motivated. They blame their parents for not providing money to help them start a business. But that should not be the case – their parents gave them a brain and a healthy body. That is all that is needed to get a start in the business world’.