Big Conversation


With a business portfolio stretching across agriculture, education and infrastructure, CEO and director of Cambodian conglomerate SOMA group Sok Puthyvuth talks to Management Insider about how he motivates employees, his own management techniques and what it takes to be a good business leader.



What are some of the management hurdles you faced when you first established SOMA Group in 2007?
When I first started SOMA group, I knew I had to modernise people management to focus on ERP systems, HR and CRM**. It was difficult in the beginning, because nobody knew how to use these tools, but these are the types of systems I use to manage the company today. Anticipating that the business would grow, I took the time to integrate these systems into the company early on. I did not want to be managing these things manually. But it didn’t happen overnight. When I first started out, managing the day-to-day operations of the business while trying to get new projects off the ground meant juggling different priorities. The workload was just dumped on me.

How do you manage your priorities?
It is difficult, but you always have to keep your vision in mind: What is your purpose? Why are you here? I use this as a guide to stay focused. The company has grown to more than 60 staff members working in IT, HR, marketing, procurement and accounting.

Has your own management style changed as the company has become larger?
When I first started out, I would pick up a project myself and dedicate all my time to it. I was very hands on. As the company grew, I was taking on an increased workload and I needed to learn to delegate. So it was not so much of a change per se; you could call it an evolution, as I learned how to manage that increased workload without having to do everything myself. But it takes a lot to let go. You say to yourself, I don’t trust anyone other than myself to do it, but that slows things down too much. You need to find the right person, and empower that person to take things on themselves. So I learned to let go, and delegate responsibility. And it’s ok to fail sometimes, and sometimes it may not be to your satisfaction, but that is ok too; it works, it is enough to keep projects moving.

How do you motivate your employees?
When I first started SOMA group, there was an attitude or an environment in Cambodia that businesses were not high achieving; that we don’t have the ability to compete. I shared a very different vision with my team, however I told them we can achieve great things; we just need to learn more and to work hard to become a competitive Cambodian company, a company that can compete internationally as well.

You studied economics and management in the US and France, as well as spending time working in the finance industry in the UK. How do you apply what you learned  overseas to your work in Cambodia today?
I took a lot of classes during my school years, so many in fact that people would call me crazy. I was always very curious, my class selection was quite diverse: from economics to business, to computer science to psychology, to music and art. Schooling is important, but you don’t really know just how important until you meet business problems head on. When I face these problems, all those things that I was taught in school start to come back to me. I realise what the professor meant when he lectured me on that particular topic. So it is actually quite valuable now when I look back, in terms of how to apply the theory. What is the right way?

What are the traits of a good business leader in Cambodia?
I don’t think it is any different from the traits of good international businesspeople. You need to be committed, you need to be professional, and I think entrepreneurial drive is also important. Cambodians are very entrepreneurial; it is just the opportunities and the resources to show what they are capable of are quite limited.To think broadly is also important, and you need more exposure to do that. Businessmen that have more international exposure are able to think more broadly and have bigger ideas. They know the right way of communicating and approaching challenges properly. It is not a trait of all Cambodian businessmen, but the most successful ones have that in them.



Text by Daniel De Carteret | Photograph supplied