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From part-time real estate agent to general manager – Sopha’s inspiring story of female leadership

How it all began

While studying for her Business Administration degree, Sopha worked part-time in real estate. During one of her viewings, she landed herself an opportunity of a lifetime. Impressed by her presentation and communications skills, her client offered her a new job as General Manager of Sela Pepper, the first pepper processing plant in Cambodia to use modern technology.

The offer came as a huge surprise and Sopha couldn’t believe she was being offered such a senior position without any previous experience. Doubt filled her mind as she thought about the offer. As general manager, she would need to juggle managing the head office, the factory, working teams, and the administrative demands of the company all simultaneously. The CEO understood her concerns, and reassured Sopha that he could see her succeeding as a manager – and that he was willing to give her a chance. Deciding to fake it until she made it, Sopha took the job.

The hard and lonely path to leadership

Without much experience to draw on, Sopha found the role very challenging at first. She was tasked with overseeing the construction of the factory. In a rural area 200km from the nearest city, there was no electricity in the factory. As she was there alone, Sopha had to learn to manage her own generator and necessities.

Additionally, as the company was in its early stages and didn’t have any middle management, Sopha would travel to the pepper farms to meet directly with the farmers and provide them education and training. Her CEO was often travelling during this early stage, so she was left to manage these processed by herself.

While she was happy in her role, it was a lonely experience. Her non-stop schedule kept her very busy with little time for social and family life, and she started to isolate herself. She was unable to talk about this with her family, as they were unsupportive of her role and the amount of time she spent away from home.

Looking back on personal and professional growth

As a young and inexperienced woman in a senior role with big responsibilities, Sopha faced a certain amount of resistance. She worked hard to remain focused on her work and to ignore the negative behaviours of others. After six years in the role, Sopha looks back at how far she’s come – and the effort it took to get there. She is now firmly established as the General Manager and, with years of experience and great results, her family better understands her work and has come to fully support her. For Sopha, who always wanted to be a successful businesswoman, it feels like she’s fulfilled her dream.

Continuing to grow as a female leader

Whie it was a hard path to where she is now, Sopha is grateful for all the opportunities it has brought her: from speaking with government and industry leaders, to expanding her global network, and lifelong learning. Moreover, she finds her work extremely rewarding - she gets to engage and work with people at all levels of the value chain from farmers, government, and organization leaders. She feels that she has learned so much and will continue to learn and share from everyone no matter their position and title.

Her hope is to see more women come into positions of leadership, particularly in agriculture. She hopes, too, that her story will inspire and enable others to be confident in taking risks and putting in the hard work to achieve their goals and dreams.

pepper plant
Sopha's pepper plant

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