“You’ve got to find what you love,” says Chy Sila, the 35-year-old entrepenuer who runs Phnom Penh’s home-grown restaurant empire including BB World, Pizza World and T&C World. It has been nearly twenty years since Chy Sila began his upward climb in the business world. His first job was as a tour guide in the early 1990s. He began to save money during his two years giving tours through Phnom Penh and Siem Riep, but soon decided that the job did not offer the freedom or opportunity for upward movement that he wanted. His next career move was to an advertising agency, which he says provided holistic advertising consulting. There he learned how to create a brand, a skill that would be very useful when he began to build some of the most recognizable companies in the city.
In 1997, he began his first business, with his partner Kouch Sokly. Their first shop was venture was CD World, a shop that specialized in selling boot leg CDs and DVDs. While many critics have questioned the legitimacy of this first business, Chy Sila defends his sale of pirated material. “I am not worried about rich artists in developed countries, they already have millions of dollars. I have never sold a bootleg copy of a Cambodian artist,” he explained.
CD World would become the foundation for Chy Sila and Kouch Sokly’s CBM Corporation, which currently operates 9 cafes and 8 fast food outlets throughout the city, as well as a more recent IT start-up called CIDC which has ambitious goals of bringing together Cambodia’s Internet Service Providers to receive internet from sources within the country.
While the opportunist is now one of the most powerful men in Cambodia’s service industry, success was no guarantee. Born to a father who owned a garage and a mother who worked as a journalist for a Chinese language newspaper, Chy Sila says that his parents were great role models but his aptitude for business came naturally. “I was just born with it,” he says when asked how he developed his business savvy.
Not only has Chy Sila never been to business school, he didn’t even make it to his second year in the architecture program at the Royal University of Fine Arts and he has never gone back to get a degree. “I don’t think I fit in that profession. It wasn’t what I wanted, so I quit,” recalled Chy Sila, who is still passionate about architecture despite his premature departure from university.
While he bypassed a formal education after high school, Chy SIla has never stopped learning. With a compact Leica camera and an Apple’s MacBook Air, he frequently travels to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore to understand how fast food companies are being run throughout the region. He enjoys attending conferences, absorbing new concepts from the Web and digging into ideas buried in books ( Pour Your Heart into It by Starbucks owner Howard Shultz is one of his favorites).
For the middle-age entrepreneur, getting a new startup running is not difficult, but to making it profitable, scalable and sustainable is the real challenge. He says that it is particularly difficult in Cambodia, where a culture of efficiency has yet to take hold. “Changing my employees habits is not easy. They like working 5 days a week and 7 hours a day. Performance in Cambodia is outclassed by those in the neighbouring countries.”
Chy Sila says that due to a lack of experienced candidates, and a general disregard for the service industry among those Cambodian’s who do have management experience, much of his upper management is foreign, but he hopes to begin training Cambodians to fill those positions.
Asked what he would give freshly-graduated business students, self-made man Chy Sila didn’t hesitate to advise that “You’ve got to know your passion; you need to know the person who you are and be the best at that.” LIFT
Building a world of service from the ground up Tharum Bun | Publication date 24 February 2010 [Published in The Phnom Penh Post]