Education is often mentioned as the key to success. But in Cambodia, it is a common belief that if you come from a poor family and have no connections in government, then you will be doomed to remain unemployed or poor.
And even if you buck the trend to attend university and get a job, you will never rise up the ranks to become someone to be reckoned with.
Not true says Ly Tayseng. The publisher and CEO of The Phnom Penh Post epitomises a rag-to-riches story and one that’s sprinkled with hard work, grit and the wherewithal to turn a deaf ear to his detractors.
Tayseng says: “I came from a peasant family from Saang district in Kandal province. We were very poor, and from childhood, I often heard senior members of my village say to me: ‘Tayseng, you don’t have to study hard.’
“Your future won’t be brighter because your parents are poor and you have no relative who holds a high ranking position in the government.
“Others said the government does not practice meritocracy. Only the offspring of rich and powerful families can secure good jobs, so it is pointless for you to study hard.
“Of course such words hurt. But deep down I believed what they said was untrue because if I studied hard and excelled in my education, I too could be successful. Besides, I wanted to prove all those villagers wrong too.”
And that he has achieved. In 2000, Tayseng graduated from the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) with a double degree in law – a Cambodian bachelor of law from RULE and a French bachelor of law from University Lumière Lyon II in France.
The same year, he got a scholarship to pursue graduate studies at Nagoya University in Japan, from where he earned his Master of Law in 2003.
Tayseng also received a certificate of leadership in a law firm from Harvard Law School and a Business Management Certificate from Auckland University.
But the road to success was not easy for Tayseng. Moving to Phnom Penh in 1995, he shared a rented room with his friends from his hometown for over two years.
In late 1997, when they could not afford to pay rent for their shared room, Tayseng moved to live in an orphanage association called Aspeca.
One of his friends moved to live in a shared room inside his University of Health Science while another had to give up his studies and return to his hometown due to financial difficulties.
Tayseng says he felt their common pain, and especially that of his friend who had to give up his education due to lack of funds.
“I was determined this should not happen to me, so I struggled on and earned a meagre income from translating letters written by orphans to their adoptive parents in France and Belgium. I also took up a part-time job to support my studies and living expenses,” he says.
The years passed quickly, and on July 22, Tayseng, who is also the managing partner of HBS Law and HBS Notary Public Office, graduated from King’s College London (KCL) with an advanced Master of Law (Executive LLM) degree. KCL is among the top 10 UK universities and top 25 in the world.
Tayseng says KCL and the International Bar Association provide the Executive LLM, which is a two-year part-time distance learning course which offers a range of unique content. It is designed to equip talented lawyers with advanced legal, commercial, and policy knowledge as well as sectoral expertise.
This course blends online modules with five immersive weekends based in London to build commercial knowledge, deepen specialist expertise and broaden international professional networks for regulatory lawyers.
Despite his busy commitments practising law and running The Phnom Penh Post, Tayseng keeps pursuing his advanced study of law, business management, media and foreign languages.
He speaks fluent English and French and can converse in Chinese and Japanese.
A top corporate lawyer and notary public in Cambodia, Tayseng is also a law lecturer, an arbitrator, a journalist, and a bookworm. He regularly buys and reads books on law, politics, management, leadership, history and philosophy, and journals and magazines.
In his spare time, he teaches senior government officials at the Royal School of Administration, resolves disputes at the labour arbitration council, and provides comments on draft legislation and regulations.
‘Learn as if you live forever’
Before opening his law firm and notary office, Tayseng worked for various public and private organisations including the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the UN Development Programme, the Royal School of Judges and Prosecutors and the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
He has also done extensive legal work for the Supreme National Economic Council and the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Tayseng sits as a member of the board of directors at various institutions including the arbitration council foundation, a commercial bank, and other associations.
“I often remind myself of Mahatma Gandhi’s advice – ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever’,” he says of his philosophy in life.
He says he rarely spends his free time without reading books. His library is filled with the thousands of books he had collected over the years, and he says they are his only treasured assets.
“I view books as a very valuable asset as they provide one with knowledge. That’s why when others from rich families save up to buy the latest car on the market, I save up to buy knowledge-giving books,” he says.
Tayseng believes that a road to success “is to never stop learning”.
So what is his advice for Cambodian youths?
“Never give up on your hopes and dreams just because some of you are born in poor families. I am a living testimony of this, so keep learning and one day, your dreams too will come true and you will be successful in your personal and professional lives,” he says.
Tayseng turned 41 this year and is married with two children. While he lives a modest and happy life, he often travels abroad to attend meetings and conferences or make study tours as part of his continued education.
In conclusion, he says: “I have made learning my lifelong hobby. I can easily spend my day with my books and a few cups of coffee, free from stress and anxiety.
“Keep learning by reading more. The more you read, the more you will want to know.
“Naturally, this is how our youths can gain more knowledge and skills. And this will be their journey to success,” he says.