Singapore on a Friday: Riding with Mark Mobius, Father of Emerging Markets

The Galfromdownunder rides with the Man from All Over in Singapore

First published 10/6/2009, with updates below

Mark Mobius on a Friday (Internet archive - be a bit patient as it sputters and loads, some content preserved here)
Singapore on a Friday (Internet Archive link - cross fingers it still works)
Meeting Mark Mobius in Singapore 
Photo Gallery (Arrrgh, made with the now-defunct, Flash-driven JAlbum - guess I'll have to reformat the shots. Sorry).

I've just landed in Singapore and hit the ground pedaling, meeting and riding with customers Mark Mobius ( and Richard Piliero from Franklin Templeton (the "Gain from our Perspective" people).

So who is Mark Mobius, and more importantly, what am I doing hanging out with the likes of  him?

Mark is considered "The Father of Emerging Markets," credited with coining the phrase that refers to investing in "developing" countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). Of course, this acronym is becoming obsolete as these economies rapidly accelerate towards first-world cushiness. He travels globally and constantly, frequenting 24-hour gyms while investigating promising companies - and rides his small wheels whenever he can.

Mark with his third Friday: a Pocket Crusoe (the lighter version of the legendary New World Tourist)

The custom nameplate that instantly identifies the owner. You can ride but you can't hide! 

I sold Mark his first Bike Friday back in 2001, a New World Tourist.  And now, 8 years later, we finally get to ride together. Mobius is an incredible example of a pro at the top of his game when most his age are sitting back in a rocker and playing bingo (not that there's anything wrong with bingo...)

In fact, coolest of all, there's even a MANGA comic book written about him, that opens with "The name's Mobius. Mark Mobius..."

Mark Mobius Manga comic

We did a book swap as authors do - he got a signed copy of my Cuba travel memoir during the time of Elian Gonzales, The Handsomest Man in Cuba. (Yes, enjoy my old skool HTML page, it's coming back like LPs, flip phones and fountain pens).

Mark is based out of Hong Kong, but as luck would have it, he happened to be in Singapore the very weekend I was visiting and doing my Bike Friday ra-ra.

So what's like to ride with this legendary figure in the financial world? I shot the pic below as I desperately tried to keep up with Mark and his protege Richard Piliero (scroll to bottom for the full reveal on Rich) on a spin out to the islands. Seriously, I was panting as he became a rapidly receding dot in the distance. 

Mark and Richard in one of the few moments when I was actually ahead of them.

Over a cold coconut juice Mark inspected my own invention, the Traffic Cone Bag - apparently it was not a patch on a simple nylon pack-tiny backpack he got from somewhere in China for probably a lot less than my Made in NYC invention. I guess he didn't consider it a big enough emerging market!

Little wheels help you make bigger deals! 

"Bike Friday has every ingredient for success," Mark once proclaimed on an email to me while he was checking out businesses in Botswana. "Passion, innovation, great customer service..."

We could argue Mark has a vital ingredient for his success too - a bike he can take with him wherever he goes.

"It's the best investment you can make in your health!" says Mark, of his (third) Bike Friday.

(Scroll to the bottom of this post for the full, original story that appeared on the Bike Friday website, peeled off the Wayback machine)

5 QUICK QUESTIONS FOR MARK MOBIUS (an interview circa 2009)

Q: It's been 8 years since, as a newbie Bike Friday telephone sales rep, I sold you your first Friday, a "Lite New World Tourist," a precursor to the Crusoe. I've since changed hats and you're onto your third Bike Friday!

Mark: I started with the Tourist and then bought an Air Glide. I decided I still preferred the Tourist, so I gifted the Glide to a staff member and got this Crusoe in 2008. I use it for exploring places wherever I go: Portugal, Hungary, Romania, Africa, Russia… It's great for exploring cities. If I can take the Friday with me I do, otherwise I rent a bike. I like to explore at night when it's cooler, and get a round-the-clock feel for a city.  My colleagues Carlos Hardenberg and Richard Piliero now both have Fridays too. Any of my staff who wants a Bike Friday can have one!

Q:  What a cool boss. And fitness? I remember reading that you're a big fan of 24 hour gyms.
Mark: They're a lifesaver. I try to go every day. I often work 7 days, and today (Sunday) is a typical day we try to get on our bikes and pedal off for a few hours. I've never been this far around Singapore's East Coast bike path,  I'm amazed at the progress!

Q: If I may be so bold, you're somewhere north of 70, you're still at the very top of your game - you're a real inspiration to our pretty adventurous readers who are approaching seniordom - um, that's actually all of us. Did you know the average age of a BF owner is 55?

Mark: 55? That's amazing. Well, someone asked me once if I was a senior and I was so insulted (grins). Then I discovered you get these great discounts…  so count me as a senior! Bike Friday is the best investment you can make in your health. Did I tell you I cycled Italy with colleagues last year and did a week on my own in Austria…

Q: Speaking of other countries, do you see cycling as an emerging market?
Mark: Absolutely, especially in Europe and even here in Singapore, look at this great path they're building all around the island. But in China, there used to be 110 bikes per 100 rural families, now it's down to 98. They're all buying cars… (and running over the cyclists, chimes in Richard).

Q: We're buying a delicious coconut juice here at the East Lagoon Food Market. Not a Coke?
Mark: Never.

The encore question comes from Mark:

Q: So, tell me, Lynette, when are Bike Friday going to make a bike with big wheels?
Lynette: There's no need. It's enough performance for most people and besides, when you're 100 you can get your leg over it.
Mark: Hey, I never thought of that - it's true!


UPDATE 2023: 

I'm delighted to be the recipient of Mark's recent book, The Inflation Myth and the Wonderful World of Deflation:

I see bills of green

In-the-red roses too

I see them boom and bust

For me and you

And I think to myself

What a deflationary world… 

I'm currently hosting traveling Singaporean vanlifers Gia and Gracia, aka the @theproperpaupers, videoblogging their way around the USA and beyond. Note their prescribed bedtime reading... 

Yesssss.. there's a Bike Friday Singapore Facebook page

UPDATE 2016: 

Mark is still jetting around the globe, researching companies and riding his bike. While in Capetown he kindly scribbled a birthday note so I could include this shot in a gift of his manga book to a friend in finance. His message on the card?

Stay strong and the market will follow

Mark Mobius
Mark Mobius writing a birthday note in Cape Town

UPDATE 2010:

The internet archive has miraculously preserved this shot of Mark with a new Bike Friday circa 2010, the titanium-beam Air Glide. Where in the world is Mark? The caption helpfully says, "Here he is taking time out from investigating emerging markets with his on-board Bike Friday, in Vina del Mar, Chile." 

Did I say,  off to search for Durian


In case the internet archive sneezes and wipes the original Mark Mobius story off the face of the Wayback Machine, here's the original text as it appeared on the Bike Friday Website, circa 2009: 

"Any of my staff who wants a Bike Friday can have one!"

As if prompted by an advertising cue sheet, mutual funds guru Mark Mobius is freely enthusing over his Bike Friday by email. He says he's sitting in a London diner, about to see an opera after a hard day's visiting - companies, that is. An email earlier he was in Portugal … or was it Romania?

"And here's a picture of me and my Air Glide in Chile!"

He wasn't always open to brandishing his bicycle brag book.  When I sold him his first Bike Friday in 2001, he was very cautious of being photographed with it for reasons of propriety. A prominent helmsman at Franklin Templeton Investments, his insights on emerging markets - the bullish term for investment opportunities in developing countries - are broadcast around the world on Bloomberg TV, the global business press, the blogosphere and beyond.

He's even been immortalized in a manga comic book entitled "Mark Mobius: An Illustrated Biography of the Father of Emerging Markets Funds." His shtick? Unearthing companies in remote corners of the world with "A great product, great service, and a passion for what they do."

Small wheel wonder that Bike Friday would eventually blip on his off-duty radar!

He says now that "A bike - like a Bike Friday - is the best investment you can make in your health!"

Backpedal 8 years when, fresh from my gig as an ad agency creative director in Costa Rica, I parked my little wheels in equally remote Eugene, Oregon. I was given a headset and let loose on a database of 10,000 (now close to 25,000) Bike Friday customers and serious tire-kickers. One particularly inquisitive prospect was Mark Mobius. His inquiries were triangulated with his unflappable executive assistant Zita in far-off Singapore. Or was it Hong Kong?

He wanted to know about a  Bike Friday in detail, with a full explanation of each individual component. I think I learned everything I every needed to know about Bike Friday anatomy by bugging all Production departments in order to answer his questions. In fact, page 23 of  his manga bio shows toddler Mark clutching an object and pointing, asking "What's this? How come? Why?"

The result was a lighter, leaner incarnation of Bike Friday's best selling model, the New World Tourist. Mark's "Lite Tourist" was a probable precursor to the popular Crusoe, the lighter, leaner recreational tourer.  

I'd read somewhere that he zipped about in a Gulfstream jet when it made logistical sense, and wondered why he'd want or need a Bike Friday, imagining he could slide a custom-made carbon fiber huffy through the rear door. But when you're in sales, you don't make too many assumptions - you could be completely wrong. You listen, learn, offer a solutions, and ultimately venture, "and how would you like to pay for that?"

Sometime later, I got wind that he'd not only bought an Air Glide, he'd purchased quite a number for staff if they wanted one.

"Any of my staff who wants a Bike Friday can have one!" he wrote in an email from Dubai. Or was it Turkey? "The good news is that now they are converted, some are becoming new customers of Bike Friday". Ah, that's how our little wheels go round and round ...

Crank forward to 2009, when I'm now waving a camera in movie mode and saying "and how do you like to play with that?"  - and I finally get to meet Mobius while passing through Singapore. He popped out of the elevator and led me to his third Bike Friday - a Crusoe. In his slipstream was colleague Richard Piliero, a young and dapper private equity analyst - also with a Crusoe.

Mobius is 73, but don't tell this man he's a senior - "unless there's a senior discount , then I'm a senior." In great shape due to being a 24-hour-gym junkie and biking when he can, he wears black, shaves his head, and his book "Passports to Profits" opens with imagery of a turtle-necked avenger uttering "The name's Mobius. Mark Mobius." Given that the average age of a BF customer is 55 (time and money to travel),  I was buzzed to see Richard, a mere 36, also enthusing about his Crusoe.

"You must be one very secure 36 year old to ride small wheels!" I joked, fully suspecting he has a carbon fiber Orbea hidden in his closet when Mark's not looking.

"I'm a happy, happy Bike Friday camper - try it!", he said to the camera.

I wondered why they kept the bikes locked at the foot of the Franklin Templeton office block in Suntec City, a towering mini megapolis of global business and gastronomic pleasures - squeaky-safe Singapore is food court nirvana. Here, it's practically law that you provide for your elders, so there are no homeless people in the streets. Anywhere. In fact, there was a recent news story about some parents suing their offspring for support, an uncomfortable sign of the times.

"I'd rather not risk it," said Mobius, stashing his fat cable lock on the headset tube. Perhaps also, showing up on a bike doesn't quite measure up to limo-cred in the world of high finance …

I remember locking my Air Friday in a barren concrete piazza at Suntec City for a go-see interview some 12 years ago, on my way to cycle end to end in Britain.  Two uniformed guards descended on me and told me I wasn't allowed to park it there.  Not knowing what to say, I simply told them it was expensive.

"How much?" they asked, in typical Chinese style (I say that because I'm Chinese).



Next minute I know, they're carrying my bike up to the glassy lobby of the McCann-Erickson ad agency and leaving it displayed in full view.

Would that happen in 'merica? It'd be: "Ma'am, move right along."

"Bicycling is becoming more acceptable in Singapore, with all this talk of health," said my host Kim. While Singapore has stiff laws about chewing gum and littering, I've noticed the rustiest of huffies can now be seen locked up to a pole outside the fanciest buildings. I'm not sure where they ride though - apart from a circle-island path, the shoulderless lanes are narrow, the traffic is fast, the weather is sweltering. Not ideal conditions for urban cycling. 

My steed for this trip was a princess-pink-is-the-new-black tikit. I spent several seconds showing Mark and Richard how it folds an unfolds in 5 seconds flat (on a slow day). These men spend their waking year assessing innovative products and services all over the world, so for them to eyeball the latest handiwork from the Scholz Bros' Promethean labs in Eugene, Oregon was a great opportunity.

"Amazing." (I guess that means they liked it).

I remember once asking Mark for feedback on his Lite Tourist.

"The water bottle needs changing," he wrote from Moscow. "It gives the water a plasticky taste." That was all he said.

But it made me realize two things: no matter how sweet your product is,  a) the little things count and b) the little things count. The tail can often end up wagging the dog - be careful who you get your tail from.

"I saw a guy with wheels this big yesterday."

Richard, a star graduate from Brown and Oxford, has made Singapore his home for 8 years. He highly embarrassed me by conversing in fluent Mandarin at a coconut juice stand, while I spoke in indecipherable Aussie English.

"I've packed and unpacked this bike many times, takes me about 10 minutes," he said.

"Hey, you must be pretty mechanical," I said.

"Not really, just did it a few times. Practice."  One can see how he got great grades and thence hand-picked to work for a financial guru: can-do, humility, focus. Maybe there's no need for a carbon fiber Orbea in his closet after all …

We talked about inventions in general.  For fun I showed them my own little invention, my Traffic Cone Bag, in two sizes.

"Smaller one is better," said Mobius, and spoke of a wonderfully simple, Japanese bag that he takes everywhere.

"I'm frightened they'll go out of business and then I'll be stuck."

"I'll find out the supplier," said Richard.

We stopped so Mark could point out a simple seatpost-mounted rack on a mountain bike.

"That's what I need. I've got so many bags. All-well meaning gifts. None of them work quite like I want."

"Let me make a note of the brand," said Richard.

"I need a new stem for this bike, the same height as Richard's," said Mobius, stopping to raise the seat. 

"I'll organize it," I said, snapping to attention, given that Bike Friday has a fit guarantee

I can see how things that simply work, and work well, are apples in a venture capitalist's eyes ...

Richard, a young Friday fan, outside his office in Suntec City.

"Let's go grab some ozone," said Mark. I thought we were headed for a trendy oxygen bar or something, but no, we simply turned our little wheels onto a pier. "Aaaah, sea air on all three sides, just smell it!"

On the subject of bicycling as an emerging market: "Absolutely." See "5 Quick Questions for Mark Mobius" below.

On the subject of travel: "Travel is an addiction because the more places you visit the more you want to return and see more. So it is not just work. The problem with travel is the impact it has on your body if you don't take care of yourself. Jet lag is not good and the other related impact of sitting on a plane for hours on end is not good. Otherwise … travel!" Or, ride a bike, eat good food and go to the gym..."

And on the subject of social networking: "I'm gonna be on Twitter!"

What is he going to tweet? Where he's parking his Bike Friday to go take a leak?

"I'm sure I'll get plenty of "Tweetback" when the market goes down!"

We turned around and headed back to the office - me to my laptop to write this story, and the Bike Friday Emerging Marketeers back to their life's work - and riding a Friday on a Sunday in the Lion's City...

MOVIE: Mark Mobius on the cycling life 

Singapore on a Friday (Internet Archive link - cross fingers it still works)

by Lynette Chiang, Bike Friday Customer Evangelist


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