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Lone ranger

Cambodia is the land of plenty for Envotech CEO, Finn Viggo Gundersen

By Philip Heijmans
When Finn Gundersen arrived in Cambodia more than 20 years ago, he knew the Kingdom would be a land of business opportunity. Sitting in one of the many plush leather chairs in his Phnom Penh office, the CEO of Envotech Cambodia – which produces high-end protective gear and construction equipment, and is the sole distributor of Land Rover – recalled his first job in Cambodia as a UN election supervisor in the early 1990s, and how, at the time, the country struck him as a blank canvas.

Photo by Sam Jam.
Finn Gundersen, 66, graduated with a degree in engineering in Norway before working in the aviation sector for nearly 20 years in Saudi Arabia. Today, he is CEO of Envotech and personal security firm subsidiary Envostar. Gundersen is shown here wearing a VIP security vest made by Envostar in Cambodia

“When I came here in 1992, I knew this was an interesting place to work because they needed everything,” he said, comparing Cambodia in those days to the United States and Europe, where it had become hard to create niche markets.
Following his stint at the UN, he established vocational training centres with the European Union.
“What Cambodia needed was skilled workers, so we started off with a lot of activities in handicraft work and ceramics – that is the way it should have been, but you cannot expect to sell a country that way, so we began training car mechanics, engineers, television and radio repairmen and so forth,” he said.
For Gundersen, success was all about playing the odds in a long-game that required first and foremost developing the fundamentals. His experience in building skilled labour in Cambodia would prove vital in his next endeavour: founding Envotech.
“In the experience I had [here]… and as a consultant – just to be here and spend other people’s money with no proper follow up on how the money is spent – you see how a road is built and it washes away. I felt I could do something better so I started a company,” he said.
In 1996, Envotech began teaching clients how to use specialised construction equipment, before forming a production line of its own. Soon after, Envotech spawned a subsidiary company, Envostar, and expanded into personal protective equipment designed to assist with removing mines left behind from Cambodia’s long civil war.
With 30% of his employees disabled mine victims, the firm makes shielded helmets, fragment protective vests, glasses and armoured shoes to reduce the number of accidents that continue to injure Cambodian deminers.
His business has gone from strength to strength and now his protective products are available in 44 countries.
Becoming the sole distributor of Land Rover vehicles in Cambodia in 2005, Gundersen has seen the auto industry expand at a steady rate. His sales have increased about 20% in recent years, with at least 2,000 Land Rovers roaming Cambodia’s roads.
“The businesses of dealing cars and [protective gear and equipment] are very similar, so when we took on this stuff from scratch we had a very good start, and now… the business continues to grow,” he said, adding that despite the heavy presence of a grey market in Cambodia’s auto sector, the firm can still spin a profit.
“The grey market for the sales of new vehicles is difficult, but the grey market is also good in some ways,” he said. “With grey dealers, you buy the vehicle and business ends. With us, you buy it and the business starts because we have to service the vehicles and that is what people don’t realise… cars need servicing regardless of where they are purchased.”
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