The Internet has fundamentally changed the human world. It has revolutionized communications, to the extent that it is now our primary means of everyday communication. We use the internet today to accomplish most of our everyday tasks. Buying a television, sharing an intimate moment with a friend, ordering a pizza, sending a picture over instant messaging. Before the introduction of the Internet, if we wanted to keep up with the news, we had to walk down to the newsstand every morning to buy a newspaper reporting what had happened the previous day. But today with just one click we can educate ourselves about the events happening not just locally but all around the world. And that is updated to the minute.
The Internet has itself changed. Once the purview of big corporations and governments the availability of mobile data has made it accessible to people and businesses big and small. People and businesses today use it to connect with each other and exchange goods and services in a format which is accessible and easy to use. Mobile data especially has been a boon to every person in the world. Mobile payments, climate forecasts, emergency services, remote healthcare etc. have allowed us to improve the lives of every person in the socio-economic strata. One cannot overstate the revolution, mobile data services have brought to our world.
Cellcard, Cambodia’s longest serving telecommunications company has been one of the leaders of this revolution. From launching the first mobile payments services in 2010 to the introduction of telemedicine using 5G technologies in 2020, Cambodia’s only 100% locally owned operator has been providing crucial services to the Khmer people for the past 22 years. Quality mobile services are therefore of even greater consequence to the people of Cambodia.
Naturally we were curious about what it entails to shoulder such a responsibility. Make no mistake, it takes a special person to take on the challenges. When you are a leader of a company whose services people depend upon to connect with their loved ones, it is bound to give sleepless nights to any conscientious CEO. Consequently, we talked* to Ian Watson, CEO & CMO of Cellcard about his personal values and his leadership style. Factors which are crucial to the the success of any large enterprise.
Mobile payments, climate forecasts, emergency services, remote healthcare etc. have allowed us to improve the lives of every person in the socio-economic strata. One cannot overstate the revolution, mobile data services have brought to our world.
Aspioneer: Since we are in the middle of a COVID-19, we think it is important for us to ask you about the steps Cellcard has taken to alleviate the increased workload faced by healthcare professionals.
Ian: This pandemic has shown the world how useful telecommunications can be to break the chain of transmission. It has also proven that private enterprises can greatly contribute in solving our present problems. Fulfilling our social responsibilities is one of the most important values of Cellcard. We have taken a number of steps to assist our brave frontline workers who are currently engaged in battle to keep us and our families safe. We are continuously increasing our network capacity by making investments in 5G and fibre networks. We are also directly assisting healthcare professionals by providing COVID-19 tracking and tracing services, by providing free calls to nurses and doctors.
On a more premises level we are taking all precautions in order to prevent the transmission of infection. This consists of following social distancing guidelines, using work from home models in applicable fields and the use of masks and hand sanitizers.
Aspioneer: These are good steps indeed. Speaking of people, what kind values do you like to encourage among your employees?
Ian: I tend to think of my team as my family and not just employees. I value personal relationships greatly. It is important for me to foster a sense of community and camaraderie among my team members. We follow an open-door philosophy at Cellcard. Anyone and everyone can approach senior team members with ideas or feedback. Not only this kind of collaborative approach improves team spirit, it is also a smart and strategic decision. The best way to do so is by soliciting feedback from your team. I am constantly inspired by the dynamic energy of young people. Today’s youngsters are brimming with fresh approaches to doing things. It is important to me that I create space for their ideas. This kind of collaborative approach will unlock great dividends not just for our company but also for our customers.
“We follow an open-door philosophy at Cellcard. Anyone and everyone can approach senior team members with ideas or feedback. Not only this kind of collaborative approach improves team spirit, it is also a smart and strategic decision.”
Aspioneer: You seem to suggest that a good leader needs to continuously improve existing approaches or replace them with something new. Do you think this kind of adaptability is important for businesses?
Ian: Absolutely! The world has become so dynamic these days. Working in the field of telecommunications where information is exchanged at the speed of light has made me particularly sensitive about this stuff. Old outdated ideas don’t last long in today’s world. All over the world we are seeing supply chains shifting, new technologies upending the old ways, and geopolitical realities forcing businesses to reconsider their decisions. Strategic flexibility and adaptability are qualities which every company must emulate if it wants to survive and grow. Trying something and failing is also a very important quality one must cultivate.
Aspioneer: You have raised an interesting point here. We are hearing a great deal about the changing relationship between China and the United States. Some people are calling it a New Cold War. Do you think a New Cold War is upon us? What do you think businesses should do to prepare?
Ian: Politics have always played a part in how businesses make decisions. However, that doesn’t mean we are in the middle of some Cold War. The world of today is very different from that of yesteryears. Small amounts of trade and political friction is a natural part of the relationships that exist between nations. It doesn’t mean a return to great power competition. It is true that some new issues are cropping up between the US and China. However, I believe cooler heads will prevail eventually. Both countries are mature states and have wise leaders. The problems which exist between them will be solved by talks. I am certain of it.
Aspioneer: Let’s talk a little bit about you. What kind of person you are and what kind of value system you subscribe to? How would you like to be remembered, not just as a person but also as a CEO?
“Well I love to travel, understand other cultures. Maybe that’s what drew me to Cambodia. The people here are so friendly and hardworking...While their rich traditions have been a part of their lives for hundreds of years, I love the fact that they are also forward thinking and progressive in their views. It is really quite inspiring.”
Ian: Hmm.. That’s a tough one. What can I say?… Well I love to travel, understand other cultures. Maybe that’s what drew me to Cambodia. The people here are so friendly and hardworking. Almost sixty-percent of the population is below the age of 30. I love how enthusiastic the youngsters are. What is remarkable to me is that despite their enthusiasm and the energy, they are extremely humble and group oriented. While their rich traditions have been a part of their lives for hundreds of years, I love the fact that they are also forward thinking and progressive in their views. It is really quite inspiring.
Aspioneer: You still didn’t fully answer the question.
Ian: However, I think if I want to be remembered for anything it would be for my integrity and my ability to get things done in a measured and controlled way. It is my hope that I am remembered as a person who is loyal and is someone who respects his team. I also love to laugh and I hope people enjoy my sense of humour (laughs).
Aspioneer: Thanks for not dodging the question Ian. Our readers value honesty. Let us conclude with one last question. What is your vision for Cellcard?
Ian: In short to medium term we want Cellcard to continue making new investments in communication technologies. 5G especially, is a game changer. It will unleash the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the Cambodian people and provide new opportunities for us to expand our service portfolio.
Aspioneer: Thank you for speaking to us Ian.
Ian: You are welcome.
*This is an edited version of the video conversation between Ian and us.
Ian Watson is the Chief Executive Officer & Chief Commercial Officer at Cellcard. He has been CEO of Cellcard and CEO of the Royal Group ICT Division since 2012 following his successful turnaround of Cambodia’s leading specialised bank, Wing Money.