The CEO of RMA Cambodia says Cambodia can become a diverse manufacturing hub because of the right combination of a supportive government and a young workforce.
“Cambodia has all the reasons and the resources to soon be a diverse industrial hub where more investment is attracted,” says Rami Sharaf, 44, a Palestinian who is the CEO of RMA Cambodia that represents not only leading automotive brands like Ford , but also John Deere Tractors, JCB heavy equipment, Kohler Power Generators and food franchises like The Pizza Company and Swenson’s Ice Cream.
“I’m a firm believer that Cambodia is the right place to invest in. There’s a very welcoming atmosphere, with zero discrimination between local and foreign investment, and very supportive regulat-ions by a government that is trying with open arms to attract investors.
“One of the best resources and differentiators for Cambodia compared to other Asian countries is the strategic demographic aspect, as the average age of the Cambodian population is in their 20s, which is considered among the youngest population in this part of the world.
“Investors always seek a workforce that is young and at the peak of its productivity. Today, the average age of a worker in China is 30-plus.
‘’We have seen lately some good examples of leading industries in the process of moving their plants to Cambodia, realising the high potential for the country to replace some conventional hubs, encouraged by the competitive wages, the young workforce, high productivity, special economic zones and the investment welcoming regulations “
“In Cambodia we have a growing middle class who could be the potential future affording buyers of high value products like vehicles.
In addition to his role as CEO of RMA Cambodia , Sharaf serves as chairman of Cambodia Automotive Industry Chamber (CAIC), an association of authorized automobile dealers aimed at advocating public safety and regulating the automotive industry in Cambodia.
“Initially, this is to differentiate authorised dealers from all the unauthorised dealerships in the grey market where the customer pays huge amounts for very sophisticated luxury cars, but those shops never warranty or service these cars once they come out of those yards,” he says.
CAIC consists of 17 authorised dealers including Ford, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Honda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Great Wall from China, and others.
Sharaf says the association will soon include many motorcycle dealers as well.
“This will also strengthen the chamber as the automotive chamber, keeping in mind the millions of motorbike users on the roads of Cambodia,” he says.
“The number-one priority on the agenda is to work collectively on traffic safety awareness, and this will include some activities like walks and crossings that can show that there is a gap we need to bridge together in dealing with traffic safety and public safety,” Sharaf says.
“I can compare Cambodia today with some neighbouring countries 10 or 15 years back; if we look at Thailand, for example, it wasn’t as regulated and developed as it is today, and they went through different stages to reach the level where they are now.
“Cambodia is moving rapidly and steadily in the same direction.
“There are many joint issues and concerns among the authorized automotive dealers in Cambodia. These mainly are related to reg- ulations, safety, quality of service and paying back to the public.”
Sharaf also serves as a governor of the American Cambodian Business Council and, as the volunteer chairman of AIESEC, a global youth leadership association.
Sharaf says Cambodia right now is the right place to invest in at the right time, citing the example of RMA, which started its operations in Cambodia in the early 1990s and grew steadily as Cambodia has grown.
Today, RMA has 750 employees, the majority located in Phnom Penh.
“RMA is here to stay, and we are ready to give any advice for any firms who need partnership or support to settle new investments in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Sharaf says.
“We are a good example of a company that has a major-ity of local management and we have three divisions: infrastructure, automotive and food.”
“Our infrastructure division includes John Deere, JCB heavy equipment and power generat-ion. For agriculture in Cambodia at this stage, we feel that there is remarkable growth, with many international players entering. They are investing not only with the most popular crop which is rice, but other crops. Cambodia is an emerging market and the key players and the government are moving forward in agriculture,” he says.
“If we connect that with the increasing cost of commodities worldwide, some of these crops are becoming more attractive and inviting more investors. Our role as RMA is to help in this process by offering our expertise, world-class equipment like John Deere, and most important is the service and after-sales support which is behind all this process.”
Sharaf says the food business is a good indicator of a growing middle class, as evidenced by the success of the recently-opened Swenson’s Ice Cream brank in the Paragon Centre.
“Food is a good indicator of the growing middle class in Cambodia that seeks quality or that enjoys the experience of multinational food chains and they are ready to pay for that,” he says.
Sharaf says Cambodia’s young population is going to need leadership and training.
“I want to reach the young population, and that’s why RMA is a very strong suppor-ter of the youth of Cambodia. This is why we are champ- ion supporters of AIESEC,” he says.
“Since RMA is a role example of a successful corporate, I’m a firm believer in playing our the social responsibility by contributing and this is why we are champions of AIESEC in this global young leaders program where these youth are picked out of top universities in the country , they get groomed and they are given the chance to take part in some real life business plans competition, then we offer them internships and help.
“These youngsters are the seeds of the future leaders who will continue this story of the success of a country that insisted it wanted to be on the map despite its horrible past, and surely they will.”