Stepping Up As A Home-grown Business Leader In 2015

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As 2014 drew to a close, B2B Cambodia sat down with Mr. Ngorn Saing to reflect on his first month as Country Manager of RMA Cambodia.

With a fresh Bachelor of Economics, Saing joined RMA’s lowest ranks in 1996 as an entry-level intern. At that time, a mere 60 staff attended to all of RMA’s Cambodian operations. In 20 years, Saing has climbed from his lowly interns’ pew to the highest leadership role in the company; and is the first Cambodian-national to ever do so. Today, he manages over 1600 RMA staff throughout Cambodia.

When considering his proudest career moments thus far, Saing is very talkative.

In 1998, newly armed with a Thai MBA, Saing became heavily involved in the RMA’s automotive division – in particular, part of the team that brought the first international standard car showroom to Phnom Penh, in partnership with Ford, USA: “While the idea of a new car showroom seems trivial now in a city littered with them,” laughs Saing, “at the time, it was a remarkable sight in Phnom Penh and really set the bar for all things that followed.”

RMA developed the Cambodian prime automotive industry proactively since this introduction and, ultimately, radically changed it – bringing only new vehicles to a market almost 100% saturated with second hand imports: “Today,” boasts Saing, “12% of all cars purchased in Cambodia are new, and the variety of brands and models now on offer would have seemed whimsical to prospective customers back in 1998.”

2004 marked Saing’s next major achievement with RMA: this time importing the first international franchise restaurant chain to Cambodia under the subsidiary company Express Food Group Company (EFG). “When we started EFG, we believed Cambodian’s were ready and willing to try international quality foods,” says Saing; “And although the project begun tentatively, EFG exceeded expectations very quickly.” The company now encompasses 42 franchise outlets nationwide – including Thai brands ‘The Pizza Company” and “Swensens”; the UK’s “Costa Coffee”; and the Korean owned “BBQ Chicken” restaurant chain.

Notably too, EFG successfully introduced pizza to Cambodia – a daunting task amid such a wholly rice-dominated diet. “The Pizza Company,” EFG’s first ever import, has, however, become Cambodia’s favourite all time franchise, and between 2005 and today has grown to 16 locations countrywide. “So it seems Cambodian’s don’t mind pizza after all,” quips Saing, himself admitting to still prefer a bowl of rice.

Saing also recounts RMA’s first major step into the burgeoning Cambodian tourism industry. RMA set up its very own car rental company in 2011; yet another first-of-its-kind in Cambodia. Asia Vehicle Rental Company (AVR) expanded quickly throughout Cambodia and soon drew the interest of international competitors. In January 2014, a merger agreement was struck between AVR Company and the world-renowned rental franchise AVIS, USA. AVR Company accepted the contract and has now become AVIS USA’s official franchise representative in Cambodia.

Saing’s laments, however, that his appointment marks the end of another era. Mr. Rami Sharaf, former-RMA Cambodia country manager, responsible for 96millionUS$ growth in RMA’s portfolio over just five years in control, will move to a new position as CEO of World Bridge International.

Before “passing the flag” to Saing, Sharaf mentored his deputy on international business norms and the specialist skills necessary for the country manager position he now holds. In 2003, when Saing was Sharaf’s direct deputy, he was sponsored to travel to the US to become the first Cambodian National to graduate from Harvard Business School’s “General Management Program”.

Fittingly, Sharaf sees Saing’s appointment to country manager as a feather in his own cap: “To see a country manager position such as this, of such a global company as RMA, fall into the hands of a Cambodian who has absolutely traversed the company ranks from the outset of his career, makes me as happy as any overall investment growth. The development of Cambodian business, after all, is intended to benefit Cambodians. I am proud to have taught Saing some of the skills that have granted him such a momentous award and opportunity; and I wish him only luck, but I am sure he doesn’t need it.”

When asked if taking on such a huge portfolio presented a daunting prospect, Saing appears significantly more reserved than his voluble predecessor; not surprisingly, as Rami maintains a vigorous public and political profile.

But Saing, with a quiet confidence, says his secret to success is simple, and in many respects universal of all good business: “To succeed, we must work in partnership. We must always strive to join as real partners with our suppliers, customers and our staff. To build trust with these partners, we must guarantee the quality of all of our products and services, every time, and train and nurture our staff to their utmost potential, continuously. No company is an island; and RMA Cambodia will never forget this while I am country manager.”

Saing will have his work cut out for him this year though. RMA Cambodia are in the process of bringing two more major international franchise restaurant brands to Cambodia in 2015, one in the first quarter and one in the second, both of which remain a surprise to the public at this point. Meggeo and Saba are two German high-tech brands that RMA are currently introducing throughout Cambodia, absolute specialists in electrical current testing equipment. The ability of this new technology to monitor and measure electricity, water and other current flows is unprecedented in Cambodia, and has the potential to improve these industries, nationwide infrastructure and national statistical data sets dramatically in the near future.

The other challenge that faces Saing as he enters 2015 is guiding the transition of the EFG Company into an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Saing notes this process is largely complete, as RMA has been working closely with the Cambodian Security Exchange Commission to ensure that EFG will meet all required standards when it becomes an IPO later this year. “The decision to move EFG to a public offering company,” affirms Saing, “seeks to reward the company’s loyal members by allowing all of those members to hold a share of the EFG Company as it continues to grow in the future.”

Saing has already proven himself to be a pioneering Cambodian business leader in many respects; and his career has just begun. As he takes over control of RMA in 2015, Saing seeks to achieve a continuingly eclectic, forward-thinking and innovative portfolio, in line with a changing Cambodian and ASEAN economy; informed, but unrestrained, by the companies and his own traditional strengths.