Q & A: Happy to be back home in Cambodia
What year were you born in Cambodia and what was your family doing and how did you get to first arrive in Australia?
I was born in Phnom Penh in 1974; my father was an engineer who had a scholarship to study in China in the early 1960s and my mother was a nurse working in the healthcare sector. Unfortunately, we all went through the Khmer Rouge regime and had suffered like all Cambodian during the time. What didn’t kill us made us stronger as an individual, and member of society. I remember being a hungry skinny like boy looking after water buffalo, and looking after rice fields, being separated from family. How harsh life was during those times. We had seen many family members disappear and watched our grandfather die of starvation. As a child, we were forced to mature and be independent at a very young age while being uncertain of our destination.
After the Khmer Rouge downfall in 1980, my father went to the Thailand border first to make way for us to follow his routes. My mother with two daughters, three sons and her younger sister had to escape along the border to reunite with our father at a refugee camp. In the camp we were fortunate to be sponsored by a group of Australian families who attended the same church in Melbourne, Australia. We flew to Australia in 1981 and there experience a new beginning in our life.
What did you study in Australia; How did you first become acquainted with GE and what made you come back to Cambodia?
Australia was a land of new opportunity and new life for us. Life was great and the government even paid us to go to school. While living a life there, our parents encouraged us to do our best in education, so my brothers, sisters and I focused on our studies. It was in Melbourne that I acquired my university bachelor’s degree, majoring in accounting and information technology. It was also in Melbourne that I completed my MBA at Victoria University. My background had always been in finance and had worked in a corporate firm for many years. I first became acquainted with GE by going to work for GE Capital, logistic division for a small period of time before leaving to Cambodia.
Cambodia had always been home for me, even when we were living in Australia. Our parents had always ensured that at home we follow the Cambodian culture, speak Khmer and eat Cambodian food. Outside we could be Aussie kids, but throughout my university years and work life, my heart and mind had always thought of Cambodia. I remembered my first trip back in 1991 during the UNTAC period and after that my frequent trips back to Cambodia during my vacation made me want to come back one day. Remembering the tough times during the Khmer Rouge period and the fortunate opportunity of going to Australia with the chance of a better life, I felt that it was time for me to pack up and come back to Cambodia to contribute and help somehow by using my experiences and education gained in Australia.
When did you arrive back in Cambodia? Did you come back to work for GE?
I made my decision to come back to Cambodia in 2005, after living in Australia for 24 years. It was a challenging yet interesting transition; adapting to the way of life in a new environment. I was working in Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism, helping promote and market Cambodia as a new tourist destination. My role there provided an essential foundation for my development and gave me an opportunity to contribute to the development of the industry and working in the public sector in Cambodia.
In 2008 after three years of service in the public sector, I decided to join the private sector. This was when GE opened its office in Cambodia and I was invited to join to help set up operations.
Now that you are representing GE in Cambodia, can you explain how people can relate to this company, one of the world’s largest? Light bulbs, medical equipment, water treatment, finance ... how can the ordinary Cambodian relate to GE?
GE is a diversified technology, media and financial services company focused on solving some of the world’s toughest problems. GE is made up of four businesses, with products and services ranging from aircraft engines, power generation, locomotives, lighting, water processing and security technology to medical imaging, business and consumer financing, media content and industrial products. GE businesses help countries build their infrastructure and assist customers in meeting their environmental challenges.
GE serves customers in more than 160 countries and has launched its presence in Cambodia in July 2007. GE has been operating in nine ASEAN countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei and Laos. GE looks at ASEAN as a key driver for growth.
With GE’s diversification and global experience and leadership in innovative technology, we can see Cambodia, a young and optimistic population, as a key driving force toward development and reform of the business environment. As one of the dynamic countries in ASEAN today, Cambodia’s strategic location – being centrally located between Vietnam and Thailand – plays a strategic role in the rapidly-growing cross-border trade. It is rich in culture and resources that have great potential for growth. Cambodia can also boast of its young, hardworking and highly-skilled workforce with high education qualifications. GE recognizes these opportunities and untapped growth potential that are just waiting to be discovered. Cambodia is on a path of strong and sustained economic growth, which was testified by considerable achievements and encouraging results during the last few years.
What projects using x-ray machines and other medical equipment has GE supported in Cambodia so far?
On corporate social responsibility, by the end of 2011, GE will commission US$4.5M worth of medical equipment in 24 provinces in line with its Developing Health Globally initiative. This is in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Cambodia under the leadership of His Excellency Minister Mam Bun Heng who had graciously supported and attended the commissioning held in different hospitals. Each commissioning marks the completion of the product installation and training, and provides each hospital the opportunity to share the news of the upgraded facility with the community. GE’s donation is comprised of equipment and training workshops to be conducted, to better many areas of the hospital, to increase access and improve awareness on health among Cambodians.
The program aims to improve access to quality healthcare for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Developing Health Globally uses GE’s core competencies including technology, process expertise and employee engagement, and offer sustainable “enterprise solutions” to address some of the critical gaps that exist in developing-world healthcare facilities.
GE will continue to partner with the Ministry of Health and further support the human resource development under GE’s Developing Health Globally initiative.
Did you have any difficulties establishing a presence for GE here?
The decision to establish presence in Cambodia was based on a relatively extensive market research and development process. It was vital to have the knowledge and full understanding of the market driving force, key players in key industry sectors vis-à-vis GE’s one-stop shop of innovative solutions for growth.
I think that establishing a strong presence in Cambodia is also a continuing process. As in other young countries, it takes time in getting the GE brand out into the market and increase brand awareness, but GE remains excited and driven in achieving significant presence in the country. To date, the number of GE businesses penetrating the local market is gaining. GE Healthcare and GE Consumer and Industrial have already appointed local distributors. NBC Universal, on the other hand, have recently acquired licensing rights to local TV cable distributors while GE Digital Energy has begun seeking for potential local partners. We just have to consistently build our network base and develop partnerships both with the public and private sectors.
When you look at Cambodia’s turbulent history and your family and now here you are today: what do you think the challenges are for Cambodians?
For many decades Cambodian had gone through so much from the killing fields, to civil war and to the current situation of peace and politic-economic stability, which has brought growth and prosperity with social benefits. I believe Cambodia has actively integrated itself by taking best practices and experiences from its neighbouring countries and advancing forward rapidly. The greatest success stories were also created by people who recognized a challenge and turned it into an opportunity. GE sees the opportunity and stays committed to Cambodia.