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From manager to scavenger

111021_09
Mean Luch poses with a stack of recyclables.

In Phnom Penh, few are the reports of well-paid managers dropping their jobs to scavenge refuse. Mean Luch, a former employee at several international companies, did just that. Mean Luch was president of programs at the International Republic Institute and marketing manager at a detergent company between 2004 and 2009. In 2010, he held a managerial position at a European construction company, earning US$2,000 per month. But Mean Luch left the position this year to manage his own scavenging startup where he scavenges and buys refuse in Phnom Penh and sells to companies for reuse. Phnom Penh Post reporter Sieam Bunthy spoke with Mean Luch this week about his unconventional transition.

How did you start your business?
I started this business at the end of 2007 with about US$2,000 capital and two motorbikes to transport scavenged goods. My sister helped out when she had free time.

In 2011, I resigned from my [construction] job to manage my business, which, by that time, had $100,000 in capital, five trucks and 30 employees.

Why did you decide to start your own business?
I think opening my own business has been very inspiring. People say that there are many opportunities in our country because it is developing and it is highly progressive. When economies develop, more goods need to be [produced]. I have plans to export iron and rubber to foreign countries and will also be building a plastic processing plant soon.

What did your friends say when you told them about your decision?
When I decided to start this business, my friends heard about it and most of them laughed. They were trying to belittle me because the idea was novel and strange. Later, they appreciated me.

Why didn’t you start a more conventional business such as a restaurant?
Because I didn’t have enough capital to start that kind of business. Opening a restaurant requires more capital but, if done right, brings higher returns. With scavenging, we face the least amount of risk because we are dealing with recyclables. They are in high demand. Young people can start these kinds of businesses with a small amount of capital and expand as they earn money and cooperate with others in the business.

Can you compare running your own business to holding your previous job?
Running your own business means taking responsibility and making big decisions. No one tells you what you need to do on a daily basis. No one tells you how to invest your money or if the expenses will be profitable. And when we make a mistake, we are losing our own money, or future and our time. It’s more difficult than other jobs because you are not under the pressure of someone else. When you work for someone, you are always being told what to do. When you work for someone, and you make a mistake, you still get a salary.

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