Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Who’s Who: How Ann Sothida went from garment factory worker to director at a Fortune 500 firm



Who’s Who: How Ann Sothida went from garment factory worker to director at a Fortune 500 firm

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
CBRE Cambodia director Ann Sothida during a site visit of a mixed-use development under construction in the capital’s BKK 1 neighbourhood. Moeun Nhean

Who’s Who: How Ann Sothida went from garment factory worker to director at a Fortune 500 firm

Ann Sothida has come a long way, from a garment factory worker earning $50 a month to the country director of a multinational Fortune 500 real estate firm.

From her plush office on the 9th floor of Phnom Penh Tower, Ann Sothida has a view up Monivong Boulevard to the gleaming steel and glass towers that mark the capital’s most expensive crop of commercial real estate. But it’s the plastic green netting that catches her eye. It’s everywhere.

“The city is covered in green-netted buildings,” she says. “There are 150 high-rise buildings under construction, which is a major change for Phnom Penh compared to when I first joined the property sector in 2010.”

The capital’s transformation is as remarkable as her own.

At 36, Sothida heads Cambodia country operations for CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firms. The US-based company, with 450 offices and 75,000 employees worldwide, handled over 85,000 real estate transactions last year, executing over $126 billion in sales.

CBRE’s footprint in the Asia-Pacific region continues to grow, and the region now accounts for about 12 percent of its annual $14.2 billion revenue.

Here in Cambodia, Sothida and her staff handle sales and management for some of the capital’s swankiest commercial and residential addresses, including Phnom Penh Tower, Maline, Embassy Residences, Keystone Office Tower, Diamond Twin Tower and Exchange Square Tower.

It is an impressive appointment for a woman coming from humble beginnings, and a journey she attributes to perseverance and a focus on continual skills improvement.

Cyclists pass by Phnom Penh’s Exchange Square Mall earlier this week.
Cyclists pass by Phnom Penh’s Exchange Square Mall earlier this week. Pha Lina

The youngest of three children born to a mid-level government official and his wife, Sothida was raised in Chbar Ampov on the outskirts of the capital, an area she says was flood-prone agricultural land until 10 years ago but is now flush with townhouses.

Despite their modest means, Sothida’s parents prioritised education for their children. But with only a few years separating her and her two brothers, they struggled to afford the costs of university.

“It’s not easy for a family where the breadwinner is a government official and has to support three children pursuing university degrees at the same time,” she says.

After completing her high school diploma in 1998 Sothida enrolled in vocational training courses for administration, computers and English – though it would be years before she would have a chance to apply these skills.

She landed her first job at a garment factory a few months later, working as a finishing clerk on a production line for just $50 a month. It was a gruelling schedule, waking up at 4 am and commuting 10 kilometres on an old Chaly moped each day to start her eight-hour shift at 6am.

“I was never late,” she recalls, “and I never left early either as I had to make the transition to my colleagues who worked in the shift after mine, which meant staying on until 4 pm or 5 pm.”

After working at the factory for about a year Sothida had saved enough money to resume her studies. Then 18, she enrolled in the National University of Management to pursue a degree in accounting, attending courses each night after her factory shift ended – a routine she would maintain for over five years.

After graduating with bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2005, Sothida found work as an accountant for a local logistics firm. Newly married and with her first child, the office job afforded her a chance to apply her accounting skills and to spend more time with her family.

Accounting came natural to Sothida, who always excelled at sciences and mathematics, and describes accounting as “an innate skill”. And the company seemed to notice too, promoting her in quick succession.

But eager to improve her skills, she enrolled in an ACCA program in CamEd in 2008. It was while completing this international accounting degree that she saw CBRE Cambodia advertising a vacancy for an accountant.

“I was very interested because CBRE is an international company and has many branches around the world,” she said.

But CBRE Cambodia’s lone opening also attracted dozens of highly qualified candidates, and Sothida admits she was a bit surprised to learn that the company selected her for the position.

When she first joined the company in 2010, CBRE Cambodia was a small operation with just three staff: one country head, one property manager, and her – the only Cambodian – as an accountant. But with Cambodia’s real estate market heating up and the first Grade A properties coming online, more staff were added to handle property valuation, sales and management.

Within three months, she was promoted to office manager. Two years later she became the associate director. Both positions allowed her to leverage her acumen for accounting, which she says has proven an invaluable skill for both property valuation and business development.

In 2015, Sothida received word from the board of directors that she had been appointed as the director of CBRE Cambodia – the first time ever for a Cambodian to hold the prestigious title.

She now manages a staff of nearly 50, including seven foreigners – with the local market’s growth fuelling the company’s plan to add a dozen more staff by year’s end.

“We are aggressive in property management services since this is the core part to operating property,” she explains. “Developers need a quality firm or team to run their building smoothly.”

It is a position she is proud of, and one that makes her one of the most influential figures in the Kingdom’s property sector. And it also connects her to the forces at work beneath the green-meshed buildings she sees from her office that are transforming Cambodia’s skyline.

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed Ann Sothida's appointment as director of CBRE to a decision from the parent company's board in the US. It was in fact, the board of CBRE Cambodia.

MOST VIEWED

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement