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Soreasmey Ke Bin & CCIFC: "A good leader needs to open the door to new energies"

English version

An exclusive final interview with Soreasmey Ke Bin as President of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie France Cambodge. As the Chamber's Annual General Meeting nears, the outgoing President talks about his two terms in office.

During the CCIFC Gala. Photo supplied
During the CCIFC Gala. Photo supplied

You've said on several occasions that two terms were enough and that you had to know how to hand over the torch. Do you still think so, or are you somehow reluctant to step down? Indeed, is it easy to turn the page?

Turning over a page is never easy, but the question is not so much my personal situation as that of the Chamber. And yes, I'm convinced that we had to limit the number of terms a president can serve, which is what we did, and I'm very happy about that. When we put this resolution to the vote, I was even pushing for the limit to apply to the total number of terms and not to consecutive terms, and it was the latter choice that was voted for by our members.

This limitation is of course binding on me, and at least I don't have to ask myself too many questions about a possible candidacy, despite a number of solicitations. But above all, it commits my successors, and sets a precedent.

"An association, and even more so a chamber of commerce, belongs to no one but its members, and must regularly renew its leadership, it's a matter of equilibrium and dynamism."

We tend to forget that elected officials are the driving force behind an association, but it's a voluntary commitment that comes on top of our professional activity. It requires energy and ideas, and we have less as time goes by.

In the past, I was elected because I thought it was necessary to bring about a change of generation at the head of the CCIFC, and I wouldn't be very coherent to hang on to it any longer. No one is irreplaceable, and I think I've done a good job at the Chamber, working collectively with all the people who have committed themselves to me, but I have no doubt that those who will take our place in a few days' time will also bring their own contribution to the Chamber's development.

"You have to know how to step back and make room for others, our responsibility as leaders, you cannot endlessly cling to positions and honors."

Now, to come back to your question, I don't think I fully realize it yet, it's been over eight years that I've been very involved with the Chamber, as vice-president and then president. This mission has consumed many of my days and nights, and I'm sure I'll be relieved in terms of my workload, but of course there will be an undeniable element of sadness.

Being President of a CCI often brings honors, recognition and satisfaction, but sometimes also criticism. How do you deal with this?

In fact, whether I like it or not, I think I've always had a controversial personality, long before the CCI. So I had my critics, and I expected them when I was elected, which is in any case logical and natural when you occupy positions that are more exposed than others.

That said, some criticisms have been and are well-founded, and it's important to remain attentive to them and to discern what is constructive criticism and what is simply intended to harm.

It's a time-consuming job, how do you manage that too?

Of course, there have been times when we've had to "heat up", and it's not always easy to combine our professional and personal activities with the Chamber's commitments. Nevertheless, I think I've managed to surround myself with the right people and, above all, to delegate well. Above all, it's a collective effort, and I'm delighted to see that some of the previous board members are standing for re-election - it's now up to them to take over.

On a personal level, what experience (human, social, leadership...) has it brought you? In one word or phrase, how would you describe your CCIFC experience?

I've learned a lot. As I said, the Chamber is a collective undertaking, there's a team to manage, and you have to satisfy a lot of people and entities with sometimes very different interests. So I've learned to listen and compose. As those who work with me know, I often have strong convictions, but I know how to listen, for the simple reason that you can't be right all the time on your own.

You're one of the few people to have communicated on the follow-up to major events. Was this easy, and are you satisfied with the results (it's often said that great intentions are forgotten after big meetings)?

From the outset, our approach has been to highlight the Franco-Cambodian business community, to demonstrate its resilience and dynamism, and to further develop relations between France and Cambodia - this has been at the heart of our action, and recent events have proved us right. At a time when some would still like to dissolve the French presence in Cambodia into a large European entity, we have been able to highlight our presence and the special nature of the relationship between Cambodia and France.

Overall, what would you say were the great satisfactions of your two terms of office? Without mentioning all the events or anything else, please name at least two major reasons for satisfaction.

Two things: we were elected at the start of the pandemic, so we knew how to innovate and create new formats to maintain the link within our community - I remember our series of weekly mini-networkings with a dozen or so people to stay under the gauge of the gatherings.

"This resilience, the resilience of our community has been great and I think everyone remembers our back to business evening when all the restrictions were lifted."

It was then that we mobilized over 100 French companies to come expressly to Cambodia for a first bilateral business forum, at a time when some countries were slow to reopen.

Finally, the Cambodian PM's visit to Paris a few weeks ago, and the Forum we organized with MEDEF international, the CCE and the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, was seen by all as a concrete achievement in the rapprochement between the two countries.

During the Business forum France Cambodge
During the Business forum France Cambodge

What, if any, are your biggest regrets?

Having spent half my presidency under the pandemic, one of my ambitions was to multiply the number of CCI delegations abroad - in the end we only travelled as a group twice, and twice to Laos. It's a real regret, as we had imagined returning to Singapore, but also going to Hong Kong, Shenzhen or Indonesia.

"It's an aborted ambition that I call on the incoming team to renew, we need to connect our French business community in Cambodia to other ecosystems in the APAC region."

I also think we could have done better in Siem Reap and in the provinces. I'd like to thank our local elected representatives for their efforts, but there's still a lot to be done to develop the CCI's presence outside Phnom Penh.

Will you remain involved in the CCIFC? Do you have any other associative - consular projects, or are you going to concentrate on your professional activity? Or will you be taking some more personal time off?

I've always been involved in associations since I moved to Cambodia, via Anvaya, then French Tech and finally the CCI. It remains to be seen what the future holds for me, but it's true that there's no shortage of professional projects, and I have no doubt that my partners will be happy to see me less involved on all fronts.

"In any case, I hope that our company Confluences, and its various components, will continue to be represented on the boards of the CCI, as well as other business associations in our ecosystem. Commitment to our community is part of our company's DNA."

What advice would you give your successor?

I wouldn't like to give him any advice. In any case, he'll have in his hands a fine tool - we've never or rarely had so many members, our finances are very healthy and sponsors are ready to follow us, and above all our Cambodian friends, whether in the government or the private sector, are very well disposed towards us. The momentum is perfect, and it's now up to my successor and his team to write a new page for the CCI.

During a press briefing, the lack of company memberships was raised, and justified by Cambodia's still fragile image with European groups and other frequently cited problems (infrastructure, labor, certain red tape). How do you feel about this?

You're touching on two subjects in one. It's true that not all French companies and entrepreneurs in Cambodia are members of the CCI. They're simply wrong - I regularly hear people ask us what the CCI will bring them, but without wanting to be an American, I think they need to ask themselves what they themselves can bring to the community.

"Cambodia needs to attract more major groups. The arrival of a new generation in power will help in this respect, and we can already see a difference in perception, but a lot remains to be done.''

So Cambodia needs to work on its basics again and again: transparency and efficiency of its administrations. The country is doing a lot to attract new investors, but it's just as important, if not more so, to keep those who are already here.

You seem to have won the hearts and minds of the members of the board. What's the secret of this cohesion?

Over the years, I've worked with dozens of people, on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, and seen four successive directors. I'd like to thank each and every one of them for their efforts, and I think we can be proud of what has been achieved.

"Cohesion is created and maintained. There have been moments of great tension and crisis, but I have always been able to count on the support of most, and many have become friends."

I would like to take this opportunity to wish those who are standing for re-election the best of luck, and hope that our members will vote for those who have the collective interest at the heart of their project.

Finally, I'd also like to thank Christophe and the Cambodge Mag team. I've written several times in these columns - often too long, I'm sure - but it's important to underline the importance for Cambodia of having a French-language medium of this quality, and congratulations once again to the initiators.

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