TFC's new China specialist Bill Pho's job is bringing businessmen together. He talks to China Business about how his job involves more than just breaking the ice.
There is no straight way to go into business, says Pho Keosambath (Bill Pho to colleagues) when asked what business means to a Cambodian like him. That and the potential in everything serve as a green light for go-betweens like him to enter the picture.
A recent addition to Trade Financial Corporation's Philippine corporate team, Pho was assigned to the consulting firm's Manila office to lend his expertise in bringing Chinese investors into the country. Exactly what he did in Cambodia last year.
Pho has trained his gaze on the country because of its population of 90 million, and the existence of other resources just as valuable. The Philippines has rich reserves of gold, copper, manganese, and chromite. He believes that these show as much promise as those in his own country.
Cambodia's mining sector is at an early stage of exploration. The country is currently focusing on its untapped oil and gas fields. But the Philippines, Pho says, is a much bigger market because of its geography and land area.
Pho compares his job to that of a matchmaker—in this case, between Chinese investors and the Philippine mining sector. But it's actually more complicated than that. Pho facilitates negotiations between parties, making sure that they eventually close the deal. In the realm of dating, that is equivalent to hitting it off. In industry, it could mean billions of dollars in investment.
Pho says that like Filipinos, the way the Chinese do business is mostly dependent on guanxi, which means 'relationship.' Unlike Americans and Europeans, who tend to conduct businesses by a set of rules and legal systems, the Chinese rely on personal connections.
“Chinese investors would love to have a very good relationship with their overseas companies because this is a culture that values good relationship, and everything can be settled,” says Pho. Relationships, both personal and in business, “are important because problems will arise when you don't have good relationships with your people.”
While getting investors together is a task easier said than done, he does believe that his education serves him well. Pho has two university degrees. One in hotel and tourism management and a degree in business management from the Dali University in Yunnan, China.
He says his university education has taught him the many facets of customer service. “Service is the soft power for all enterprises,” he says, stressing the need to develop keen attention to detail and learning to be flexible.
Flexibility, in fact, is a big player in all types of transactions, especially with the Chinese. “The Chinese are very flexible as many Asian countries are. They might say yes, and mean no; they might say no, but mean yes. When they go out, they want to control the project of the company. But that doesn't mean that they want to take over the whole company itself,” he says.
How to interpret mixed signals then? Pho says the key is establishing trust. “I feel that it’s all about trust, satisfaction, and rapport with who I deal with. It’s like negotiation; I have to know as much as possible about the other side.”
Asked about his personal plans, Pho says he dreams of going back to school for a masters degree in finance. He adds that he wants to go over to the other side of the fence in the next 10 years. His dream, he says, is “to be a great investor in Asia, in mining, technology, or real estate.”
Print ed: 06/10