One proud Australian in Phnom Penh is Tom Kimson, Managing Director of Agrotech Vita, one of the few companies that won an ASEAN Business award last year.
While today he is a successful businessman known throughout Phnom Penh for his work in the pharmaceutical, agriculture and scientific testing equipment businesses, he never forgets that Australia accepted him and his family as refugees from Laos in 1978 and encourages Australia to provide more assistance to develop hospitals and schools in Cambodia.
“We are proud to see Australia providing assistance to Cambodia. The relationship between the two countries is very good. I would like to see the Australian government consider providing more assistance in health, such as building hospitals and providing doctor and nurses training,” Kimson said in an interview this week.
In the wake of disasters like the Diamond Island bridge tragedy two years ago, Kimson says there’s a need in Phnom Penh for more good hospitals that can handle disasters and accidents.
“As the country develops accidents do occur; disasters do occur and we should be ready for all the summits coming here and foreign leaders and tourists who come here; they need good health services for medical cases.”
Kimson says Australia providing assistance in Cambodia’s health sector would be money well spent.
“I think the Australian government could direct some funds into these facilities and assist hospitals to expand their facilities. There is a leakage of people going to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to get medical treatment. I think the Australian government can look at this.
“We as the private sector are ready to be the bridge to do something with the government. I was a refugee, so I know how tough it was, and we you are at the low end, how you feel, so we should not forget that. The really poor cannot travel.”
Kimson was born into a Chinese family in Vientiane, Laos. The family survived in the early years, but in the wake of the Vietnam War, when the country changed systems from the constitutional monarchy they were accustomed to, the situation got worse and by 1978 Kimson, his mother, wife and daughter were refugees in Thailand looking for a third country to accept them.
It was Australia that took in Kimson and family. They landed in Sydney in May 1978 when Kimson was 28 years old.
“We were put up in a hostel and given clothing and some pocket money to settle down and the government gave us some unemployment benefits to help us.”
He landed a job as a process worker on plastic injection molding at a telephone factory for $125.75 per week, after taxes. After a year of factory work, he took a warehouse job as an overhead crane operator for a manufacturer of aluminum window frames, Comalco Fabricators in Sydney.
He later opened an Asian grocery store with a partner, and after the partnership dissolved, he had a big break going to work for an Asian food import company.
“We brought in rice, packaged food, soy sauce and all kinds of Asian groceries from Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore,” he said.
That’s where Kimson learned the business of international trade. At the time, Sydney had about 30,000 Asians, a mix of Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian people.
“I was ordering and building up a network in Southeast Asia with suppliers, and building relationships with clients in Australia. We serviced the Indochinese community, and slowly influenced the Middle East population and other ethnic groups on Australia and also supplied Asian restaurants with seafood and other food products.”
In 1988, Kimson, thanks to his good relationship to his boss, began taking trips to Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam seeking more opportunity, because he saw Asia as the future. He spent time in Hong Kong in 1989 and Vietnam in the early 1990s and ended up in Cambodia in 1992.
Eventually, he got into business with a partner and today Kimson leads a team of more than 160 people in a variety of industries; pharmaceutical, agriculture and scientific testing equipment.
And he never forgets Australia for taking him in and providing him the initial assistance to get started.
A member of ABAC, Kimson says the association does good work and is in a good position to enhance the relationship between the two peoples and the two business communities.
“I hope more Australian companies will come to invest in Cambodia,” he said.
Kimson is often seen having lunch at the Almond Hotel and other favourite places around Phnom Penh.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]