Rapytha and Ratana were both born in Cambodia, but grew up in France. We talk to them about their decision to return to Cambodia to live and work, and what they have learned about management along the way.
Born in Cambodia, Rapytha Bonamy moved to France aged 5, and came back 10 years ago, and currently works as the managing director of Hagar Catering.
Why did you decide to return to work in Cambodia?
I came back because, in one part, I wanted to get to know the country where I was born. I also wanted to participate in my small way in the renewal of the country that I left in chaos.
How does the Cambodian style of management differ from what you experienced in France?
Cambodian managers are less critical. Sometimes it takes time for them to give their point of view and you have to take time to gain their confidence. In France I experienced a tougher environment: sometimes here I’m expecting [managers to show] more initiative. It takes time to know what people are thinking, and sometimes they don’t tell me if something is wrong.
Did you bring any work techniques you learned in France back to Cambodia?
I tell employees not to be afraid to speak their minds. We share our ideas and I also encourage them to be critical of our company’s decisions.
Are there any new techniques you have learned since returning to Cambodia?
In Cambodia I have the opportunity to work with a lot of foreigners, both Western and Asian, and it has taught me to adopt cross-cultural management skills.
As a manager, which society do you find is easiest to perform within?
I’d say both, as I had the chance to work in France when I was younger and learned a lot of things. I’m happy to be in Cambodia now though, as the level of management is different – less conflict, not as tough. It’s not easier as we’re facing other problems, but it’s dealt with in a respectful way.
We’re a food providing company, so our workforce has low education and we’re missing lots of skills. Before, in France, we were all on the same level of education so I didn’t face that. However, I’m lucky to have young, very motivated Cambodians as my assistants.
Born in Cambodia and left for France aged 2. Ratana Phurik-Callebaut worked mainly in Geneva before returning to Cambodia in 2003. She has recently been appointed the director of Eurocham.
What were your first impressions working in Cambodia?
Cambodia is full of opportunities, so it was great to be able to have the freedom to do anything. I still see this in people returning now: they can do whatever they want.
What are the differences in management style, from Europe to Cambodia?
It’s cultural management – you have to realise you work with lots of different nationalities. Cambodians don’t like shouting and diving straight into things, so you have to be less direct. But being polite and nice gets you the same result in the end.
Coming back to Cambodia, were there any cultural barriers that were hard for you to manage?
From my side, no, because I grew up in a Cambodian family. It’s quite complicated for a foreigner to understand Cambodians because they can be very nice, yet very passionate – they’re nice up until the point that they get so fed up that they burst!
Would you encourage others to try working here?
It depends what you want and at what stage of your career you are. It’s great here if you’re an entrepreneur; although it’s hard getting financial support, you can experiment cheaply so it’s easy to build a company and hire people.
For a professional, it’s useful to have previous experience in Europe as it teaches you values and rigour that will help you a lot later on. I tell interns not to stay too long, or else stay forever. It’s difficult to go back [to Europe] after around five years, especially to technical jobs. Cambodia still doesn’t have the standards that are expected in Europe.
Text & Photograph by Eve Watling