While financial gurus and motivational speakers are nothing new when trying to capitalise on Cambodia’s burgeoning spirit of entrepreneurship by pitching career advice to the next generation of business leaders, there is only one foreigner worth mentioning within the niche market of real estate: Dutch national Alexander Evengroen.
As senior vice president at Key Real Estate, Evengroen, who has lived in Cambodia for five years, aims to help people navigate the murky waters of the city’s property industry. And as gurudom can make a great deal of money in the process, Evengroen claims he is “the real deal”. In 2011 he started Global Skills Ltd, according to his LinkedIn profile.
However, while motivational speakers in Cambodia lack a formal standard – as is the case for the larger part of the world – anyone who claims to be an expert can market themselves without much scrutiny, with charisma as the sole benchmark.
In a growing field that has propelled figures like Say Savuth, Khim Sok Kheng and Sim Dara into high profile speaking gigs attended by CEOs and staff across the board, Evengroen banks on his long history of business ventures as a model of success.
He said after starting his career with a PhD in marine biology, he worked in China as an advisor to the industry in 2000.
From there he went to Africa and worked in the hotel business, which was also real estate-related, “because there were a lot of land deals going on between embassies,” he explained from his office in Tuol Kork.
“Then I came back, went to Thailand and Singapore, buying hotels and things like that,” he said. “But my background is in business development.”
Formerly working as chief advisor to the Cambodian Valuers’ Association (CVEA), Evengroen is keen to stress his credentials and the ability to network.
“I hear from everywhere what’s going on. I’m very close to many people in the government, people in the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and the European Chamber of Commerce, and if you combine that all together, it’s like I’m everywhere,” he said.
Evengroen talks a good game with plenty of charisma. And while he is naturally bullish on the future of Cambodian real estate market, he remains realistic on a sector that has grown with little to no oversight.
“I would be the last one to say there is no bubble in Phnom Penh property,” he said.
“There is so much development going on that at a certain point, the government is going to have to keep a very good eye on the situation in terms of what is being approved and what [is] not.”
“The government is working together with the CVEA and communicating very closely with them, so that only the projects that are fully licensed by the government with all the proper documentation are moving ahead,” he said.
Despite the close collaboration with the government, the CVEA are also trying to clamp down on unlicensed agents and formalise legal developments after repeated calls of a construction crackdown by the Prime Minister. Evengroen, nevertheless, is blasé about where the source of much of the money fuelling Phnom Penh’s construction boom might be coming from.
“People work hard, and people work smart. I don’t think it’s up to us to say if it’s legal or illegal money. A lot of people are very smart about how to invest their money and how they get it,” he said, adding “Khmer people are very clever at doing business and very clever at getting good deals done.”
Despite misgivings about Evengroen’s credentials, as his personal Facebook page is awash with motivational quotes, envelopes stuffed with cash and a line-up of keys for luxury cars for different days of the week, there is no denying that he is an energetic and enthusiastic character – one who brings a certain joie de vivre to life in Phnom Penh.
The courses his company offers, while focussed on real estate, are really based on the idea that the most important thing to concentrate on is selling.
“Selling is a skill,” he said. “The core idea and the essence of the training we give is training people on how to sell, because selling is not [just] selling. Selling is creating a need.”
“99 per cent of people don’t know that. And most of the people within the real estate industry don’t have that skill.”
Asked directly about pictures on his Facebook page that appear to show him being endorsed by US management guru Anthony Robbins, and presenting viral-prone TED X talks, Evengroen is cheerfully dismissive.
“It’s not a con. It’s marketing,” he said. According to him, his last motivational seminar drew a crowd of 84 people, which he said he personally financed.
“If you have people that you work with, you have people as your mentors and [Robbins is] one of them. In marketing you don’t say anything bad.”
“I learned a lot from him. I’ve spent the last 25 years not only listening to his tapes, but we did things together, and you can use that in marketing,” he claimed.
And he is remarkably optimistic that although he has yet to walk onto the TED X stage, someday he will.
When it comes to the art of the sale, management advice and motivational speaking, Evengroen is perfectly attuned to what he is supposed to do. He loves Cambodia, and he loves real estate. And, in the words of one of his mentors, Zig Ziglar, an American salesman, author and motivational speaker: “You don’t look back! You’re not going that way!”