One woman who has been actively involved in the development of Cambodia’s business climate is Janet Lueckenhausen of Functional Engineering.
She’s been working closely with Cambodia’s biggest foreign-owned companies since 2008. Now she’s shifted in her role from executive director of International Business Chamber of Cambodia to a member of its executive committee.
IBC is the organisation that represents the greatest number of multinational companies in Cambodia and provides involvement with the development of Cambodian government policy through the government-private sector working groups. The IBC meets every month in private sessions at one of Phnom Penh’s hotels, often with guest speakers and updates the members on the progress of the working groups.
Lueckenhausen described the IBC as unique among organisations in Cambodia, with members being companies, not individuals. IBC has a joining fee of US$1,200 and an annual subscription fee of $600. When Lueckenhausen’s company Functional Engineering joined in 2007, the IBC had a few more than 30 members while today it has grown to 85 company members.
The designates, or people who attend the meetings on behalf of the member companies, must be senior management of the company, she said.
During her service as executive director, Lueckenhausen assisted in creating a successful IBC investment conference last October at the InterContinental Hotel and was regarded well enough to be elected to the IBC executive committee.
“The IBC stands alone as being non-national and non-sectoral. It is also the only foreign voice in the working group process,” she said. “Because of that, it is a great resource the government can rely on. Rather than hire a consultant, they can get information from the IBC for free.”
Lueckenhausen says international standards and best practices are part of the criteria for IBC membership and that engagement with the Cambodian government is steady, significant and quantifiable.
“We hope to be able to assist businesses in general to raise the standards of doing business in Cambodia and the results of the efforts of the IBC and similar associations are quantifiable: We can refer to the IFC’s survey conducted in 2009. They identified a savings to the private sector of $70 million owing to the streamlining of processes that resulted from government-private sector consultation,” she said.
Lueckenhausen says the IBC gives its time to engage in consultations with the Cambodian government with the purpose of improving the regulatory process and doing business in Cambodia.
“The IBC also goes out of its way to assist foreign direct investment in the country which is a significant component. We offer assistance to embassies and encourage foreign direct investment. We do country briefs and organise focused networking events,” she said.
The chairman of IBC is American lawyer Bretton Sciaroni. The vice-chairman is ACLEDA Bank CEO and president In Channy. The treasurer is Craig McDonald of KPMG Cambodia Ltd. Other executive committee members include John Brinsden of Jardine Matheson Limited, Simon Perkins of Hello Axiata Company Ltd and Rami Sharaf of RMA Cambodia.
Born in Manila in 1952, she’s the daughter of a Chinese father who worked as a shipping clerk and stock broker and a Chinese mother who ran embroidery factories.
“I have 100 per cent Chinese blood.”
Growing up in the Philippines, and a citizen of that country, she attended an all-girls school called the Assumption Convent which was “run by French nuns looking like penguins”.
She got a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1973 from the same school before joining the private sector with a conglomerate called Bancom.
Next, she went to work for a British firm called the Institute of International Research, with a larger salary that offered enough money to pay for her tuition at the Asian Institute of Management where she got a master’s degree in 1984.
In 1985 she arrived in Brunei to work for a Thomas Cook joint venture. That’s where she met the love of her life, German-Australian Bill Leuckenhausen, who ran a security company that installed camera systems for banks and other clients called Functional Engineering.
“He was so large I couldn’t see past him.”
To illustrate the kind of guy he was, she said he never proposed marriage, but rather invited his best friends to dinner and announced that we were getting married.
“I said OK,” she laughed.
The two were married in 1985 and had an eventful life in Brunei together for the next 16 years until Bill’s unexpected death of a heart attack in 2001.
The widow Leuckenhausen, having inherited her husband’s company, stayed on in Brunei until moving to Cambodia in 2006. The Brunei office still employs 17 people and Leuckenhausen has given 80 per cent of the ownership back to the senior management.
She’s done the same thing here in Cambodia, calling herself a “founder’s representative” now as a job title.
“I did it out of selfishness because I want to see Functional Engineering go for another 30 years. It wouldn’t have been possible without them. I wanted to reward them and see the company go another 30 years, and in my view the only way to do that is to give the trust back to the people.”
Leuckenhausen describes herself as an “obsessive-compulsive organiser” who takes on the roles of systems and compliance.
As for the future and IBC, Leuckenhausen sees Cambodia as a place full of opportunities with a transformation underway from a donor economy to a business economy.
“Cambodia is exciting for those who have the vision, the will and the resources to invest into the country,” she said. “Because Cambodia has been so donor-dependent, the way forward can only be through business as the catalyst of sustainable growth. The IBC’s work is expected to significantly foster the development into an operating system that has international standards.”
She says that process is the most interesting reason to be in Cambodia, but she’s realistic about how long business climate reforms are likely to take.
“I think this is going to be a very protracted process. There are many issues to be dealt with and all of this takes time and patience and the will to actually make it happen. Three things are necessary, the vision, the will and the resources. And I think the resource will come if you present the vision and the will correctly.”
The Government-Private Sector Forum was originally funded by the International Finance Corporation and the government of Australia through AusAID, which ended in 2010. Meetings are held twice a year and chaired by the prime minister.
Under the umbrella of the forum are nine working groups including: agriculture and agro-industry, tourism, manufacturing and small and medium-sized enterprises, law, tax and good governance, services, including banking and finance, energy, infrastructure and transport, export processing and trade facilitation, industrial relations and rice.
Each of the working groups is co-chaired by a minister of the Cambodian government and a member of the private sector.
The IBC serves as the secretariat for the working group D on law, tax and governance, with IBC chairman Bretton Sciaroni serving as co-chair alongside Cambodia’s Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
“Naturally the IBC came in support of that working group, so we provide secretariat assistance to that working group,” Leuckenhausen said.
When the IFC exited as coordinator of the Government-Private Sector Forum, after 10 years in the role, the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce inherited the mandate to coordinate the process.
Other IBC involvement includes ACELEDA Bank’s In Channy, IBC’s vice-chairman, as co-chair of the Working Group E on banking and financial services. The secretariat to working group E is the ABC, the Association of Banks in Cambodia.
“The process of the Government-Private Sector Forum has been lauded worldwide as an effective one. The IBC is involved with the law, tax and governance group which cuts across all the sectors of business in the Cambodian economy. We’re really in grand central station on this one. Others come to us on these issues.”
In Leuckenhausen’s new role as a member of IBC’s executive committee, she created a new subcommittee on working group coordination.
“This is not a complaint hotline,” she said. “We have a platform to raise issues, but we need a filter to make sure the issues are relevant to business in general.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]