For Malaysian Lity Yap, a finance director with the Attwood Group, developing countries like Cambodia are much more suitable for her character than the big cities of developed countries.
“I like those countries that are least developed. I cannot stay in those developed countries; that’s just me. I places like Cambodia – I don’t know why.”
She especially enjoys – and is good at – growing new businesses.
“When you develop something – you make it grow and you make it a success story. For example, for the Attwood Business Center, you can make dreams come true. Attwood center now has a KFC, a Campu Bank, a Maybank and a Philips products center,” she said.
In her capacity she often serves as a troubleshooter for Madam Lim Chhiv Ho, the founder and leader of the Attwood Group which is the agent in Cambodia for Heineken beer, Moet champagne, Hennessy cognac and Philips electronics. She also owns and operates the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone and has the Stung Hav Port Project which is now under development near Sihanoukville.
“Madam Lim has very big dreams for her country, so I am like a compliment to her to fulfill her big dreams,” Yap said.
“She wants to help the country, make the country proud. She’s a good boss and we can be proud to help her fulfill her dream especially in a country like Cambodia that came out from war. You cannot measure richness only in dollar amounts. Money is not everything,” she said.
As far as Malaysia goes, she’s proud of her country and of being Malaysian.
“Malaysia has developed like Cambodia. We have the twin towers. We need to improve more. I wish that Malaysians can become more like Japan, always on time with good public transportation. Not only in material things, but the people have to become more civil-minded,” she said.
Even though she’s ethnic Chinese, she regards herself as Malaysian first.
“My great grandfather came from China, but I’m a Malaysian. I don’t think of myself as Chinese. I want to treat myself as Malaysian and I have confidence in Cambodia. I’m sure with their eagerness and their willingness to work Cambodia can become as developed as Malaysia, even better than Malaysia,” she said.
“Our ex Prime Minister said we can – I want to give Cambodia the same kind of confidence that says I can too.”
Born in Kuala Lumpur, Yap was the youngest of five children, with one brother and three sisters.
Her father is a “very English educated man” who worked in the timber industry, often traveling to remote parts of Malaysia as well as Indonesia.
“My father used to always travel for work because he always went to the provinces, to the outstations. I stayed in Jahore and different parts of Malaysia. I always attended different schools and was always on the move,” she said.
When she started thinking about an overseas education and the possibility of studying in Australia, she had to keep it a secret from her traditional Chinese-style father who tended to think a girl ought to marry a suitable boy and be a good wife.
Yap, however, had other plans.
Because my father is a very old fashioned man, he would never want a girl to travel overseas. He wanted to marry off his little daughter, be a teacher, be a little girl – but that is not me. I had to apply for all these things secretly,” she smiled.
She remembers her father crying in the airport when she left to study in Australia.
She worked her way through university, as a councilor the English center, as well as selling clothing, belts and sunglasses in the market. She graduated with a degree in business from Wollongong University, located south of Sydney.
Once Yap returned to Malaysia “and I couldn’t find a job that satisfied me” she went to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea where she followed her father’s footsteps in the timber business – and also set up her own business selling reconditioned Toyotas. She got a taste for the Wild West and sometimes dangerous atmosphere of New Guinea.
Later, Yap worked in Hong Kong for about three years for a computer software company that created Chinese-language WordStar. Yap helped that company go public with an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
She first visited Cambodia in 1995 because she wanted to see what was happening here.
“Adventurous people like me cannot stay in a modern city,” she laughed.
When she arrived to work full time in 1995, she found the atmosphere very relaxed, but “there was nothing here. There were no cars, no traffic; everything was just a sleepy town. The best thing was you could have a siesta for lunch.
She helped manage the Casa Hotel, spending half her day at Attwood and the other half at Casa Hotel.
“At the time everybody wanted to learn but they couldn’t speak English and there was no email, but I enjoyed working in the challenging environment. At the time everything was paid by cash, so there was no such thing as paying by check. People didn’t trust banks. Slowly, people started to trust banking more. Because we came from a modern world, everything we deal with is checks and credit cards. It was a big challenge to go back to the old way.”
One of Yap’s characteristics is her adaptability – to notice changing circumstances and adjust to them as appropriate.
“I do marketing and most everything that I can to help the company. I’m like a troubleshooter. I love to solve problems. Of course there are problems in every company,” she said.
Yap has just returned from a trip to Nepal aimed not only at sightseeing, but spiritualism and connection to other people.
“Every year I want to go to two or three places that I’ve never been in my life,” she said.
In addition to her work at Attwood Group, Yap is also active in the Rotary Club of Phnom Penh which coordinates volunteers to bring in donated dental equipment from Taiwan, volunteers from New Zealand and putting on events for the benefit of orphans both inside Phnom Penh and in the provinces.