This week we introduce The Phnom Penh Post’s Hennessy Success Story. Every fortnight on a Monday we track down and interview some of the most outstanding business personalities in Cambodia.
The Hennessey Success Stories distil the essence of entrepreneurship. The people profiled in this series come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but the common thread is their unique personal journey to the top.
Some rose from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge period and started with little more than the clothes on their backs. Others, although from less humble beginnings, had to struggle to make their way and to overcome seemingly impossible hurdles to reach their own pinnacle.
This 13-part series is proudly sponsored by Moët Hennessy Asia Pacific Pte Ltd (Cambodia).
Chear Ratana was born in Phnom Penh in 1967, the son of an agriculture professor and school director.
Like all the rest of the young boys during the Khmer Rouge regime, Chear Ratana was sent to the countryside, in 1978 to Pursat where he cut natural fertilizer in the mountains. He never saw his father again.
“This was a difficult time for me,” he said. “My mother was a widow at a young age and she struggled a lot.”
Chear Ratana is proud to be taking care of her now, like many Khmer sons do for their ageing mothers. “Now she has a happy life.”
In 1979, the family moved to Kien Svay in Kandal Province. There, he worked the streets selling cake, toast, different foods, ice-cream and groceries. He left Kien Svay in 1986, arriving in Phnom Penh to be a soldier in the Cambodian Army.
“At the time they had the army people on rubber plantations,” he said.
Chear Ratana stayed in the army for nearly a year and then returned to Phnom Penh to study English and French at a private school.
During this period beginning in 1988 he helped his mother selling groceries, worked as a bicycle driver and later was a motorcycle driver and also a taxi translator.
Near the Central Market, he got a job as a cashier at Toni Chicken for six months, working 12 hours a day. Later, he worked for a travel agency arranging package tours.
“Family is very important. If a man is going to be successful, the family must also be a success.”
Chear Ratana has a beautiful wife, Ly Ly Heak, a daughter, Chear Lucky, 17, who attended school in Singapore and now is enrolled in International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP). The couple has a younger daughter Chear Sophea, 13, and a son, Chear Sok Sambath Ratanak, age 8.
“They are my assets,” he said.
After service as a tour guide, Chear Ratana began to teach English at a private school and passed an examination for the teaching of English.
Then, on March 16, 1994, at the age of 27, he joined Union Commercial Bank, starting out as credit staff and working his way up gradually to credit officer and eventually senior manager.
During this time he attended a lot of seminars put on by people from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. He’s been at UCB for 18 years.
Some of Chear Ratana’s work includes servicing accounts for garment factories, real estate, agriculture and trade finance.
“I can assess for loans,” he said.
When he first joined UCB, many of the loans went to local people followed by garment factories.
“Now we are spread across the spectrum and all the sectors of the economy are growing. We have five branches including head office and we are an issuer of Visa and MasterCard,” he said.
Commitment is the key to success for Chear Ratana.
“Whatever we want to do we must honour our commitments. For a banker important thing is credit. We have credit and we must have our commitment.”
He thinks success does not only come down to the quality of the people involved, but also to the quality of the surrounding environment. In that department, he’s happy that Cambodia has grown better and better each year.
“The country gives us opportunities and then we can act as we want to act,” he said.
“We have good leadership in Cambodia which can provide us political stability, and peaceful means inside the country. This environment provides us with opportunities. With these key points I can put myself in the country and can grow with the environment that the country provides.
“However clever you were, who could possibly have been a success in the Khmer Rouge regime? Now with this political stability, we can all grow. The key point is to honour all your commitments. What you say and what you do have to match.”
HE Dr Chear Ratana was made an advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia on January 30, 2009, with the rank of minister. “This is an honour for me,” he said.
“I believe that Cambodia in the future will grow faster than now. Why? Because starting from 1979, everybody started from zero and until today. Cambodia grew up very fast. In the future we will have a lot of human resources, people that have studied overseas, so I believe that Cambodia will grow faster.
As far as challenges go, Chear Ratana thinks traffic in Phnom Penh needs to be improved.
“We need to think about the next step; otherwise we cannot absorb the increase in growth. Whenever you increase, you need to change. Not only government, but all the people in the whole country need to take care. When the roads are good, people need to be educated about traffic laws. The government cannot do it without the cooperation of the people. All the people need to join.”
He’s also a big proponent of education.
“The people need to join the government like it was a boat in the water, in order to develop Cambodia. The important thing Cambodia needs is to grow the education of more people, so they can learn more.”
As far as corruption goes, Char Ratana thinks the government is trying to reduce it.
“All the countries in the world have corruption and I think they can reduce corruption. Poverty is the same. We can reduce them step by step. Poverty and corruption will be reduced as the country grows up.”
Name: HE Dr Chear Ratana
Education: Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration and Philosophy: Chamroeun University
Occupation: Director and Senior Manager, Union Commercial Bank
Family: wife, two daughters and a son
Interests: the economic development of Cambodia