With a broad smile, 37 year-old Om Seng Bora describes the day that got the ball rolling, the day that marked his first step in becoming an entrepreneur.
When Untac officials visited his village in Kampong Thom province in 1993, their Cambodian chauffeur had to withstand a barrage of questions from the villagers.
“How much do you earn?” many people asked.
The chauffeur told them he earned $200 a month. Bora, then just 18-years-old, was impressed and asked the “handsome man in the blue uniform” how he could earn as much.
“You need to learn English, and learn how to drive,” the chauffeur answered.
This lit the spark, and street vendor Bora decided to move away from his poor family to Phnom Penh – to study English.
Nowadays, Bora has a broad background in business and leadership amd was one of the country’s youngest CEOs at 27. He has founded and leads a number of private and social institutions, including Aplus Consulting and the Aplus School for Professionals, the Cambodia Microfinance Institute and the social enterprise Garuna Fund Cambodia. He has trained more than 10,000 people, including entrepreneurs, CEOs, civil servants and students. The entrepreneur is also an independent director of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority.
“[To be successful] you need to stand on top of the mountain, overlooking 360 degrees of your business,” Bora explains. An entrepreneur needs to see and consider all aspects and preview the risks, he adds. “We need to understand what we don’t know.”
Upon arriving in Phnom Penh, he continued working as a street vendor to support his studies until he received an Australia-funded scholarship for management. This was followed by an internship with Ernst & Young.
Now, Bora holds a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s in management with an accounting specialisation.
Bora’s first step on the career ladder was with World Vision, where he worked as an internal auditor and soon overtook the department’s management.
Working on one project after another, he learned a lesson that many NGOs face in Cambodia.
“We help the poor to become sustainable, but when the NGO ends the project after years, the [employees of the NGO] suddenly are worried that they’re not sustainable anymore.”
He came to understand that “they’re not sustainable because they lack income sources”, Bora says, seeing the same problem in the traditional family structure in Cambodia. “The crude cause of poverty is that people in the family rely mostly on one income source – the father.”
Bora found his motivation to create a self-sustainable project and his employer rewarded his idea. In 2004, he became the youngest CEO in the history of World Vision’s credit program VisionFund Cambodia, with more than 600 staff, total assets of nearly $27 million and branch offices throughout Cambodia.
For more than five years Bora steered one of the leading microfinance institutions in Cambodia through the global financial crisis. “I learned a lot during that time, from my staff as well as from my employers,” he says, emphasising that good communication and team spirit are the most important skills in the workplace.
However, his passion for entrepreneurship pushed Bora to quit his position and look at the numerous opportunities in Cambodia in terms of workforce skills and experience.
“I found that the quality of a company depends entirely on the quality of each individual,” he explains. Meanwhile, the quality of a human being would depend on his decision making.
“We get stuck in thinking because we don’t have the information, and to get the right information, we need to associate with the right people.”
Those associations made Bora’s plans come true so far, he says. “Things are going well,” he says with a laugh. “I’m quite happy with the current trend for the young entrepreneurs. I’m optimistic that Cambodia will change the landscape. Two thousand and fifteen will be a big opportunity for those who are ready to be a good partner with foreign companies,” he added, referring to the year the ASEAN economic community is set to be inaugurated.
Among other enterprises, Bora established Aplus Consulting in 2008 to provide human resources and tax solutions to local and international companies. The company partners with more than 100 organisations, with almost 1,000 employees placed throughout the country.