The Malaysian behind the success of the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise in Cambodia is Benjamin Jerome, 36, who comes the town of Papar, just south of Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia.
Jerome arrived in Phnom Penh on August 27, 2007, and by July 2008 had two KFC restaurants open and running. Today there are 10 KFC restaurants in operation in Cambodia.
“We will be looking at 30 to 40 outlets in the next five to 10 years,” Jerome said.
All that rapid growth comes down to Jerome’s early leadership in the KFC franchise business, starting in Kota Kinabalu.
Jerome is the eldest of five children in his family and both his parents are school teachers. He graduated with a degree in international business from the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS) in Kota Kinabalu in 1999.
“After I graduated, I went for a walk-in interview at KFC on June 22, 1999.”
Jerome was hired as an assistant manager trainee in Kota Kinabalu which had 24 KFCs at that time and today has 45. He started in management and has remained in management ever since then, rising more rapidly than most of his colleagues.
The KFC franchise worldwide is controlled by Yum Brands of the United States. Yum Brands is also the franchise holder for Long John Silver’s seafood shops, Pizza Hut, A&W and Taco Bell.
In Malaysia, the licensee for the KFC brand is QSR brands of Malaysia. They also have the Ayamas brand name, a brand called Life which makes tomato, chili sauce and mayonnaise, Bakers Street confectionary and Zippie, a water brand name. QSR Brands is the largest fast food holder in Malaysia.
When Jerome started at that first KFC in Kota Kinabalu, he was trained in a management programme to get to know all the different departments in a restaurant: the lobby, the cashiers, the supply base and the cook area.
“We were rotated between three training restaurants for a period of six months. When you open up your self to look through the eyes of the staff you can manage them and understand why the staff do this in such a way. You can understand productivity by understanding the workflow.”
Jerome and the other management trainees were given tests and moved on to a restaurant management program where they learned how to actually manage a restaurant, including stocks forcasting, sales projections and what marketing activities are suitable for that particular shop.
Jerome thus become a Certified Assistant Restaurant Manager and was the first of his group of 7 management trainees assigned to manage a KFC restaurant, until 2002.
Jerome’s ethnic background is from the Sino Kadazan people, a subgroup of the Dusun people, and together they represent the largest ethnic group in Sabah. Jerome happens to be of the Roman Catholic faith. His wife, Tarsilla, also Malaysian, lives here with him in Phnom Penh and takes care of the house.
His next assignment was a more challenging one, transferred to another shop to increase performance, and he did it in a span of nine months. That got the bosses’ attention.
His next assignment was as a marketing training officer in Brunei, taking care of the nine KFC outlets there. A year later he became area manager, for all the KFCs in Brunei, heading up training and marketing.
Jerome learned a philosophy on the way up in the KFC hierarchy: treat people the way you want to be treated.
“When you start to build your people capability you are actually building your own capability as well. When people develop their soft skills -- you enhance your company ability even more. Even for the simple position like a cashier. If you go to a KFC restaurant in Cambodia, our cashiers are friendly, smile more, and make you feel at home.”
Jerome likes to give the KFC workers hope.
“If they have hope it will motivate them to achieve more. It came from my upbringing and some of the learning I get from motivational books,”
He also attended a session with success trainer Anthony Robbins, “and I got a lot out of it,” he said.
By 2006, Jerome was in Sabah as operations manager for Sabah and Brunei, for 45 KFCs with four area managers under him.
On the 3rd of July in 2007, Jerome received a call from his boss in Kuala Lumpur, asking if he was interested in coming to Cambodia.
“I said let me think about it, he said OK I’ll give you 3 or 4 days to think it over. I said OK let’s do it.”
Jerome arrived in Phnom Penh on 27 August 2007.
The KFC introduction to Cambodia was a new investment consisting of a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group, with a 35% stake and the Malaysian QSR Brands with a 55% stake. Ten percent of the shares are held by an investment company based in Hong Kong called Rightlink Corporation. The company is called Kampuchea Food Corporation Co Ltd.
“We partnered with the Royal Group because of their good reputation and many successes with their other business ventures like in trading, telecommunication, and banks,” Jerome said.
Jerome and company rolled out the first two KFCs, on Monivong and at Souvannah by July 2008. By 2009 five more outlets were opened, including ones at Riverside, Kampuchea Krom, Norodom, City Mall and Siam Riep. Outlets at Chabar Ampov, Attwood Center and Russian Market bring the total to ten outlets, employing about 350 staff.
“We train our cashiers to be fast. For the core product, we will guarantee the customers that it will be ready immediately. I have three trainers for my operation team – one training executive and two training officers.” All the KFC outlets have free WIFI for customers, with the passwords printed on the receipts. About the future of Cambodia, Jerome is optimistic.
“You can see there is a lot of reform by current government. They have improved the civil service and you can see they have introduced good programs like the social security funds for the benefit of the employees.”
Workers start out at KFC at $80 per month for trainees. They soon get pay raises to $120, plus overtime.
“This is a great place to work and you can be promoted to a supervisor level with one year and to a manager level within two years.”
“If you hire a person for a task, say computer executive, you don’t expect the person to know everything. You must give him time to breathe, time to learn. You must compromise during that period. Once he is given the training, you can see he can perform very well.”
“The most important in a person is the character. You must have a certain set of standards. Once you get the character right: honest, hard working and willing to change, then the rest of it will fall in very easily.”