30 Most Influential CEOs to Watch 2020


Cellcard: Cambodia’s Longest Serving Telecommunications Company

Telecommunications sector has completely revolutionized the way humanity communicates all across the globe. But when it comes to the South East Asian country of Cambodia, Cellcard has been the most crucial company in the telecom space. Its relevance increases manifold if you consider the unparalleled services provided by it and its leadership when it comes to 5G.

Cellcard’s company culture is deeply rooted in Cambodia’s tradition. It is headed by a prodigious leader, Ian Watson (CEO of Cellcard) who is a true telecom pioneer. We interviewed him recently to seek his opinion on what makes a leader great. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Q. What would you say are the top skills that are necessary to be a successful business leader?

I think awareness of your limitations in terms of both personal and professional, in terms of the company and how you need to drive is forward is important.

It is also important to have effective communication. You have to communicate effectively and empower people to do their own thing. My job as a leader is to steer the ship, bring the team together, and help them cooperate. So, even though I am the CEO, I rely on the team to actually drive the strategy forward for the company.

Q. What do you think is the single most influential factor for your business’ success?

The single most influential factor, I think, is the creativity and innovation. In my point of view, innovation is the difference between a leader and a follower. We’ve got to be creative and also we’ve got to be innovative at the same time. And in this ever changing world the mantra I always adopt is: It’s not the biggest who survive. It’s those who can get there the quickest.

And I think in today’s digital age, it’s very important that we meet the needs of all the different business units so that we are delivering a consistent service across Cambodia.

Q. When you started out over 20 years ago, there weren’t many other players in the industry in Cambodia. Was that a challenge or a blessing for your company?

Both. When we started over 20 years ago what helped us was that there wasn’t a great deal of fixed line penetration. This was an enabler for people to go straight to mobile voice calls rather than fixed voice line calls like in a lot of other countries. But it was also a challenge because it was new. Although it gave us an opportunity as it allowed us to do things which nobody else had done before.

Q. What kind of initial hurdles did you face when you started off in the telecom industry in Cambodia?

Basically, it had to do with understanding the local markets. We wanted to get a real understanding of the local market. But as we were starting to understand the local market, we wondered how we can become hundred percent a Cambodian company.

Now, we’ve managed to do that, especially in the last four years. Today, we drive the company forward to meet the needs of the local Cambodians.

We’ve won 40-odd awards. So, what I will say is – we’re here for everybody. We built a network that no matter where you are, in any province, you can access our network very affordably.

Q. How do you retain the trust of your subscribers?

Well, it’s a mixture of everything. My own view is that a brand is a promise to others. And we are passionate about the brand. The Cellcard brand is well recognized in Cambodia.

We’re very transparent. We share our vision and purpose with our customers. So, they feel that they are an integral part of the company. We have a saying in terms of the brand quality: You can’t be Cellcard on the outside, until you Cellcard on the inside. These are the brand values which we adopt. They are very important to us, not just for the outside world, but internally. Our company culture is all about being open, honest, intelligent, and hard working. And this applies to everyone right from the top, right down to the security guards in front of our stores.

Q. What would you say is your greatest fear and how do you manage it?

I’m 57 years old now. So, in this digital world, that is moving so quickly, my greatest fear is keeping up with all the changes and everything else in terms of how we can make sure or how I can make sure that I stay relevant.

I am accountable for my actions. I don’t want to delegate everything to the people. I make sure that my commitment and compassion is still there. The inspiration for hope is around me. I also make sure that even though we’re in the fourth industrial revolution, I’ve got this vision and purpose to deliver what the company needs to make sure that we remain at the forefront of the digital revolution in Cambodia.

Meet the Leader

Ian Watson, CEO

A respected leader in the telecom circles, Ian is known as a sharp businessman. He has been with Callcard since 2012. He moved to Cambodia to set up Refresh Mobile, the very first provider of virtual commerce platforms in the country. Prior to his stint at Refresh Mobile, he was the Chief Operating Officer of a Texas-based company, Iris Wireless. He has held key positions at Orange where he started out as the Head of Sales & Distribution. His last held position was the post of COO for Orange PCS Ltd. He has also served Brightpoint Inc. as its Vice President of Operations.

Under his leadership, Cellcard has won various awards including Fastest Mobile Network in Cambodia at the Ookla Speedtest Awards 2019, Outstanding Customer Experience & Mobile Operator Cambodia 2019 IDG ASEAN.

Ian is a MBA graduate and currently resides both in Cambodia and the UK.

"Even though I am the CEO, I rely on the team to actually drive thestrategy forward for the company."

“We’re here for everybody. We built a network that no matter where you are, in any province, you can access our network very affordably.”