“Every single project is pioneering; every single project brings something new to Cambodia that Cambodia the country wants and the business world needs.”
B2B Cambodia spoke with an animated Mr. Rami Sharaf, just days after his appointment as CEO of World Bridge International (WBI).
“To continue in business I need adrenaline, risk and real progress for the nation. This is why I am so excited about my new position: WBI offer nothing but pioneer projects.”
“Take one look at The Bridge and you will see what I mean. That project is truly iconic for Cambodia in its style, scale and standard. In partnership with Oxley Holdings, a Singaporean listed company, WBI is effectively inviting and nurturing a higher standard of construction in Cambodia as we complete The Bridge and, meanwhile, pioneering an unprecedented condominium concept in the Phnom Penh central housing market.”
Palestinian born, Rami, 48, spent his early career in the Middle East’s emerging Pharmaceuticals industry as Novo Nordisk Denmark’s CEO in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively. In 2009, Rami was invited to join RMA Cambodia.
Originally inspired by the prospect of becoming CEO in another post conflict, up-and-coming economy, Rami has since been responsible for huge growth at the helm of RMA Cambodia. Over the past 5 years, RMA’s $34m annual turnover has expanded to $140m and successfully broke into several industries once outside the company’s traditional ambit.
Yet, when RMA International offered a CEO position in Kazakhistan, Rami, father of four, graciously declined: “My heart now lies in Cambodia; this country really gets under your skin…”
But there’s no time to waste settling into the CEO’s chair: World Bridge International is kicking off the New Year with some huge-scale, first-of-their-kind projects of which Rami cordially elucidated to B2B Cambodia.
“In Cambodia, they think you are crazy to buy fish that is still in the sea. They also think you are crazy to buy anything off the Internet with your credit card.”
Rami says this seemingly comical reflection was the chief impetus for the newest WBI project of the year.
First announced at a press conference on the 16th last month, “My All in One Mall (MAIO)” is the largest Cambodian e-commerce project to date. The brainchild of the recently created World BridgE Commerce Company (WBC), a subsidiary of WBI; it is the first Cambodian countrywide online shopping website that asks only for cash on delivery.
World BridgE Commerce pioneers the project in partnership with Kerry International Logistics (listed in Hong Kong), ACLEDA Bank, and Oxley Worldbridge Specialized Bank; the latter being an in house specialist in financing and venture capital loans.
A degree of fear has thus far inhibited the grand scale use of e-commerce in Cambodia, proposes Rami. The MAIO Mall concept maintains the value and supposed security of the cash economy, still a very strong force in the Cambodian marketplace, but also nurtures the full evolution of e-commerce in the Kingdom.
“For the first time,” explains Rami, “a Cambodian youth who lives in the provinces and can’t travel to Phnom Penh to shop at the new Aeon mall or wherever else, can go online and order clothes and other products from any participating shop in Cambodia, and later maybe even the greater-region. All they need to do so is a cheap smartphone, an internet connection and a credit card. When the goods arrive, they check they are satisfactory and they pay in cash. They need not even use the credit card listed online.”
“This is the perfect time for countrywide e-commerce to be truly launched in Cambodia,” attests Rami. “Why? The strategic demographic aspect of the ASEAN integration awaits on the horizon; Internet services are finally accessible in almost all parts of the country; and smartphones and tablets continue to flood into the Cambodian market, at very low prices.”
As importantly, demands Rami, “We have achieved a unique synergy between all of our partners in this project, and we believe none will slow the other.” For example, ACLEDA has the greatest countrywide coverage for online banking services, and is also a regional player if the project seeks to expand beyond Cambodia. Kerry Logistics, meanwhile, guarantee that the payment and delivery is absolutely assured, every time.
“WBI is a very selective group in this respect. We don’t choose partners lightly.”
Another project to be kicked off the first quarter of 2015 harks more so to Rami’s past expertise as CEO of RMA Cambodia. In a JV between World Bridge International and Kerry Logistics International, a bonded automotive area will be introduced to Cambodia.
Currently, without any such bonding area, importers and resellers of vehicles face a critical cash flow dilemma. Import levies in Cambodia are currently as high as 125% of the original purchase price of the vehicle; and importers must pay this tax as soon as the vehicles cross the border. Thus, the tax is owed before they have had any opportunity to resell the car inside Cambodia.
This means import risk is still very high in the Cambodian automotives industry currently, as one needs the necessary cash flow to pay the import levy without having guaranteed the car is resalable.
Or, in the case of multinational corporations wishing to merely store a vehicle inside Cambodia but not actually use it at the present time, maybe waiting to transfer it to its operations in a nearby country: They are still forced to pay the import tax – even though they may later remove the vehicle from Cambodia having never actually released it into the domestic market.
The new bonded automotive area will allow importers to bring their externally purchased vehicles to Cambodia and lock them inside a holding area; essentially a giant car park. They then pass the keys to the bonding authority. If they later wish to release the vehicle into the Cambodian market only then do they pay the import levy in full – after payment of which they are issued the keys to leave the yard. Alternatively, if they wish to re-export the car outside of Cambodia, they can take it from the bonded area and exit the country without ever having to have paid a Cambodian import levy.
This is simply an evolution in Rami’s opinion: “This is the international standard for automotive imports and one that exists in countries either side of Cambodia. WBI, in partnership with Kerry International, are just bringing the market up to date. Nonetheless, it will alter the efficiencies of the automotives industry remarkably.”
These are just a few of the projects on the horizon for 2015, and Rami clearly sees no limits to his new companies potential innovation: “I may sound philosophical here, but in our positioning with WBI we don’t sell end products; we don’t even sell services. We position ourselves as solutions suppliers. Whatever your problem, yes we can solve it.
“However, any project we take on will be a game changer for Cambodia. It will bring something to Cambodia that will improve Cambodia and alter the market dramatically – for the better. If it doesn’t, we won’t waste our time on it.”