Focus Asean interviewed Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Axiata to discover his inspiration, drive and advice for those set to follow in his footsteps
Since mid-2008, Thomas Hundt has overseen Smart’s transition from a telecommunications startup through to its current position as one of Cambodia’s largest telecoms operators
What, in your opinion, makes a great leader?
It’s not a quick answer. In various countries it’s different. In Cambodia it’s different from the US or Europe. What I’m trying to represent to our company is that I completely believe in the company’s vision. I put my signature behind what the company is doing. I provide inspiration to our employees to develop ideas and have the drive to support the strategy. Whilst it’s not always easy, instigating self-initiative and drive amongst our employees is one of the main objectives.
The company can only be as good as the team, so I’m the coach of the team, and like in a football team, the coach gets fired first, but he inspires and sets the strategy and tactics… My door is always open, even [on] a personal issue. I might not be able to help every time, but the message is that employees can come for my advice, or help, or support.
On a personal level, what drives you to succeed?
The true belief in the vision of the company. I came to Cambodia ages ago and was practically the first employee of the company. Many came on board – some I fired personally – and I put the team together. Sometimes there’s heat amongst a team, that’s normal and can be productive.
If you could meet your younger self, what would you say?
Number one: nowadays you cannot plan your life. It’s not as stringent as it once was. In Germany, 40 years ago, it was common to start with a company [and] you’d finish with it when you retire. That is impossible in most cases today. So don’t plan your life too straight. Be opportunistic. Look around and see what opportunities are coming along. Don’t say, ‘at 25, I want to have this job, and at 30, achieve this’. Second: nothing is for free. You need to work hard and be passionate. You need to have an inner drive.
What would be your best piece of advice for youngsters who aim to become the future business leaders of the Asean region?
Well, I appreciate the drive to be entrepreneurs, but my concern is there are too many entering ventures without thinking about it enough. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. There needs to be workers, too, but that doesn’t mean you’re not successful if you don’t own your own company. You need to look at your real skills and strengths, as many [who] are seeking their own business are falling on their noses.
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