Thierry Tea is a Cambodian-French entrepreneur, investor, managing partner of Agama Investments and CEO of PhilJets. With holdings across a range of sectors in Cambodia, he spoke to Management Insider about the current climate for investors in Cambodia.
What makes Cambodia an attractive investment destination?
Obviously, the GDP growth of about 6-7%, which should continue for the next 10 years, is very attractive. On top of that, more than half of the population of six million are youth, and they are phenomenally creative, resourceful and eager to succeed. These people are extremely resilient and highly motivated; the entrepreneurial spirit here is incredible.
Also, 90% of businesses here are small- or medium- sized enterprises, meaning there is great potential for a good portion of those to graduate to larger companies over the next 10 years.
What are the reasons for your current investments in Cambodia?
As a Cambodian who grew up overseas, and having developed businesses in Singapore, Philippines, France and Hong Kong, I wanted to reconnect with my roots and contribute to the development of Cambodia via my investments.
Although I would have liked to invest earlier, only recently have I had the financial capacity. Late is better than never, and so far we have invested more than $1 million in Cambodia. Coming from a family devastated by war, this provides a great sense of fulfilment, but we remain aware that there is still much to be done, particularly in rural areas.
So far, we have invested in agriculture (vanilla and hibiscus plantations in Koh Kong and a mango plantation in Kompong Speu); in real estate and real estate technology; and in retail, aviation and services. Now we are looking to move into food processing.
We see many opportunities in agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, technology, retail, real estate, food processing and logistics, and we plan to bring other investors to Cambodia.
What are your expectations of the future development of Cambodia and its economy?
To maintain the dynamism of the country, we all have a role to play. Much of the current growth is driven by real estate and construction, which I believe will continue for the next 20 years at least. However, now is not the time to sit back and count our accomplishments; we must continue to capitalise and grow, with new technologies set to increase the speed of globalisation. If we harness this via our energetic and youthful population, Cambodia can grow even faster than it has done.
Now is not the time to sit back and count our accomplishments; we must continue to capitalise and grow, with new technologies set to increase the speed of globalisation.
What improvements would you expect Cambodia to make in order to continue the upward investment trend?
I was recently at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, and there was a lot of interest from neighbouring countries keen to go regional. Cambodia is definitely a destination that will thrive, and I would like to push for the Cambodian Business Group and the government be more united and work toward making international investors feel even more comfortable coming here. Thailand, Malaysia and, of course, Singapore have been doing a great job in this regard.
Cambodia will need to strike a balance between managing relationships with big investors like China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan while also attracting more investors from countries like the Philippines, Thailand or Indonesia. I believe the development of roads, railways, elevated skyways, trains, bridges and ports is essential for the next phase of the economy’s development. On top of that, there should be a focus on the energy sectors in order to reduce costs for small and medium enterprise. Last but not least: education. Developing talent is key to the future of the economy.
Words by Vivaddhana Khaou