Mid-size enterprises often have one person who ensures the business is a success – in some cases the talent of that individual can even build a company and hold it together.
For Deam Computer International, one of Cambodia’s leading providers of managed service and integrated software solutions, that person is its Singaporean CEO and founder, Michael Kwek.
Established in Cambodia in 1995, Deam relies on the entrepreneurial Kwek, who has the rare talent of bringing and holding things together that would otherwise naturally crumble.
“Fifty per cent or more of the company relies on my presence and management,” Kwek says.
There is no hint of pride or hubris in his voice – with good reason. Kwek’s business is about trust. Within the 20 years his company has been operating in Cambodia, Deam has provided safe IT infrastructure for the most sensitive high security areas: the Immigration Office thumb scanners at Phnom Penh International Airport, for example, are the handiwork of Deam. The company also provides the backend security of many banks, where millions of Cambodians entrust their savings, allowing them to sleep peacefully at night.
As if these complex security systems alone didn’t demand the highest degree of client trust, Kwek and his team too need to believe in the ability of Deam’s many international suppliers to come through when they say they will. Relying on others in building highly complex security systems is necessary for a mid-size IT company.
Therein lies a challenge. Kwek admits: “The hidden costs and complexity of managing many different suppliers in one single project can be very difficult!”
He goes on and explains that he needs to understand each supply’s skill set, if they keep up with the compliance of the law, as well as hold up their end of a contract.
“Sometimes suppliers can’t deliver what they promised when they promised, missing critical deadlines in the process. But of course we need to claim ownership of such problems.”
If suppliers don’t deliver on time or if they deliver shoddy components, even if it’s a snag way up the production chain, it’s still Kwek’s problem. This is an inherent issue many businesses face, and a difficulty Kwek has only one answer to: “You need integrity in this business – this is the spirit of Singapore.
“When you say you will fulfil a task, you will do it.” To fulfil his promises he does everything he can to make absolutely sure that all the company’s suppliers are genuine, consistent, hardworking and solvent.
To build the trust Deam needs to successfully operate, Kwek needed to integrate a multitude of suppliers into the production chain that he leads on and represent.
But trust isn’t the only intangible asset inseparably tied to Kwek. He also is a capable integrator of human resources. With a mix of Cambodians and Singaporeans employed at Deam, he forged a successfully operating team that many people in Singapore thought was impossible in 1995.
“Many back in Singapore told me Cambodia was a risky country to do business in. Then I came for a visit and realised that the Cambodians were friendly and honest people. I thought there is great potential here. I saw that in the people.”
Kwek remembers his first contact with Cambodia, the country he now calls home. The potential Kwek saw in the Cambodian people didn’t match the skills and work ethics he was used to in Singapore, however.
“It is not easy to hire highly skilled people here.” Kwek says. “But with patience everything is possible. The people are very willing to learn.”
Patience may well be something Kwek learned in his 20 years building a company in Cambodia. The tendency to procrastinate or the desire leave before an important task is complete are other challenges Deam faces on a daily basis.
“It can happen that employees go home at 5pm even when there is an urgent proposal that needs to be finished, for example.”
In Singapore, Kwek says, employees would stay and finish the proposal. However, he adds: ”But as long no harm is done to the company, this is generally OK.”
By ensuring the economic well-being of Deam, Kwek found a way to integrate different work attitudes and maintain a consistently running and even growing business.
Even in his private life, Kwek is an example of successful integration. “I have a local family and my children are half Cambodian and half Singaporean.”
And when asked to define his company culture Kwek says without hesitation: “Both our cultures and a spoken ‘Singlish’ identity make us Singabodian!”