As a youngster, Yang Thearith dreamed of being a doctor, but a change of direction saw him become an engineer with a focus on the health and safety of his projects
It is a national holiday and the morning sky is filled with black clouds, signalling a rainy day ahead, but Yang Thearith, managing director of GBC Engineers, is cycling to his office on Street 331 in Beung Kak II to finish some work and get some exercise at the same time.
Health has always been very important to the 34-year-old, who as a boy dreamed of becoming a doctor. Although that dream was not fulfilled, the engineer, who two years ago co-founded a multinational company still considers himself a “healer” – not of people but of buildings.
“After more than 10 years working in this sector, I can say that like a doctor, an engineer is mostly sought by customers when a problem happens,” Thearith says. “But an engineer not only cures, but also shapes the destiny of a structure.”
The third son from a poor farming family in Battambang, Thearith has always valued hard work. Although his parents didn’t receive much education, they encouraged their children to study and do well at school. Their dream for Thearith was to see him as a doctor, examining patients in a hospital, wearing a gown and a surgical mask.
“Unfortunately I was not accepted into medical school after I finished high school in 2001,” Thearith says. “So I applied to Institute of Technology of Cambodia, and was accepted in their three-year technician training program.”
Disappointed but not downhearted, Thearith set his sights on the ITC’s Department of Engineering by becoming a top student in his current program. After a year of hard work – which involved frequent struggles to stay awake overnight to study – he achieved his goal. A major bonus was discovering a love for the subject, especially designing engineering.
“I always loved maths, but engineering is not just about solving equations,” Thearith says. “It is also practical and technical, which I really love.”
Upon graduation in 2006, Thearith spent half a year working as an engineer for a paper factory in Sihanoukville and another six months for ILI Consulting Engineering , a German company. In 2007, he was awarded a postgraduate scholarship from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
After receiving his master’s in 2009, Thearith, then 25, returned home and resumed working for ILI. In the next six years he had worked on many major projects, most notably the ACLEDA building in Phnom Penh.
Despite his success, Thearith quit in 2015 to found a company with two German colleagues. The huge risk make him nervous, but also excited to put not only his engineering and design skills to work, but also test his management and marketing abilities.
“It was a huge risk using my life savings on the venture, but we wanted to see how far we could go on our own, he said.
“In addition, I had got married and was not getting any younger. I really needed something of my own for my family before it was too late for me to do anything.”
With a head office in Berlin, Germany, GBC also has international offices in Cambodia and Vietnam.
In GBC’s Phnom Penh-based office, there are more than 30 employees – both Cambodian and German, working on engineering services such design, consultancy, supervision and building assessment.
In the past two years, GBC Cambodia had been assigned to many major projects including the civil and structural concept designs of Mercedes-Benz Autohaus and the 21-storey Diamond Apartment Building. Its biggest project is the Novotel Hotel Palace’s nine-storey building, over 16,600 square metres GFA in Sihanoukville, with construction possibly starting in mid-2018.
The main reason behind their success, according to Thearith, is their priority on building safety, focusing on minimising danger or risk of harm by strictly following international standards.
“Many investors expect lower prices and quality from local engineers and designers although they actually have similar academic backgrounds and experience to their foreign counterparts,” he says.
“I believe this is a very big obstacle for local engineering students, despite the country’s booming construction sector, and one of my lifelong missions is to improve the skills and also perception of my Cambodian employees.
“Many investors and engineers here focus only on the look of the project, but our principle stands on 100-percent safe buildings,” Thearith says. “We will not compromise anything for safety.
Thearith says he always makes sure that designs from his company matches the abilities of the labor force as well durability of materials used.
“High-quality materials and human resources are needed for great projects,” he says. “So while our fees may be high, what investor receives will be what they really desire.”