After 20 years in France, Pily Wong returned to Cambodia in 1991 at the prime age of 26. Since then, he has been highly involved in the economic development of Cambodia. As the CEO of Hung Hiep Cambodia – a firm first established in the Kingdom in 1953 that didn’t reappear until after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords – Wong furthered the legacy of a company that now distributes both Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, and is also one of the top rice exporters. As the owner of MDP Cambodia, an independent system integrator that works closely with Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, he has been pivotal in developing the local ICT sector. As his businesses have grown, Wong has honed his skills as a manager. He knows what to look for in an employee and what to expect. And he understands the value of skill and experience in the country’s emerging industries.
Wong spoke with Management Insider about what he has learned and offered a few tips for young managers, entrepreneurs and employees.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you first came back to Cambodia?
I actually think I grew up and matured in Cambodia. In the beginning, it was very difficult to get things done. When I first came here I thought I knew everything, and in my mind I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t do particular things. So at first, I made a lot of mistakes and would get very impatient. Slowly, I was able to put myself in other people’s shoes. I started to improve and understand Cambodia better. This change came progressively as I immersed myself in the culture.
What tips would you give young entrepreneurs and managers?
I have had the experience of being on the jury for some business plan competitions. I also had the chance to mentor young entrepreneurs. Most of the time I see people that are very good at dreaming, but there is a thin line between being ambitious and dreaming. Sometimes when you dream you do not always give yourself the energy or power to makes things happen. When you have the ambition, you accept that things will be tough and you will work to build solutions. I think for the young entrepreneurs, the challenge is to work out their business plans in detail, have the vision to achieve, and the tools to succeed.
For managers, they need a deep understanding of their role and responsibilities. Managers need to communicate with senior people and those who have more business experience. They need to put their self-esteem aside and find inspiration in the older generation. Many people will say that the society is evolving, that companies and technology are evolving, but the basics never change. You have to be patient with your employees and wait for the right time to reach out and grab an opportunity.
With so many opportunities in the job market, how can managers be sure to retain staff?
First, you need to lead by example. You have to be ethical when you do your hiring. In the future, I think it will be easier to build a strong loyalty with staff but right now it is nearly impossible because opportunities are everywhere. At some point, employees will be tempted to leave, so it is very important to train and prepare for all levels of replacement.
How hard is it to find qualified employees?
As a manager, I am happy to see more tools to train people. Employees can use the Internet to educate themselves and not rely only on universities to learn. In Cambodia, education is a big business. Somehow, it so deeply engrained in people’s minds that they need a diploma, which in Cambodia doesn’t have that much value because the schools don’t really care if the students find a job. In the schools, they also do not teach professionalism and responsibility. And while Cambodia has gone through many phases of economic development, I do wish to see my employees be more professional.
Surprisingly, I am seeing a lot more expats coming here to develop their careers. I think this is good because they bring their expertise and know-how. Moreover, it helps the local staff to open their minds and to learn by example and how to have the correct attitude towards work.
With a high turnover of staff in Cambodia, what is the importance of developing skills in a particular industry?
I think it is a great advantage to stay in your industry. In the long run, jumping from one company to another may not necessarily help. Maybe your salary will increase, but in terms of learning it is tough and you take on a lot of risk. Say you jump from sales manager position to a general manager position; the expectation from the employer is so much different. Sometimes, employees have to consider that being loyal to a company and waiting for a promotion is a beneficial investment.
As a manager, what qualities do you look for in an employee?
Generally, when I receive CVs, I do not look at the education part. I look at experience in a particular industry and also how many years somebody has spent in the same company. So when I see people who change jobs every year, I don’t consider them at all. I always give priority to people who have stayed with the company for a long time. If they gave that amount of time to a previous employer, they may give me that amount of time to develop their skills.
The passion for a particular industry is very important and to have a willingness to learn. The employee needs to be interested in the product and the service because sometimes if people are bored, no matter how much their salary is, they won’t perform their best.
Text & Photograph by Kali Kotoski