When members of Pily Wong’s family fled the country in 1974, they left behind the nation’s sole Mercedes-Benz dealership, which his grandfather founded in 1953. Wong’s parents returned in 1991 and reopened the dealership, and Wong himself returned in 2003 to be executive director of Hung Hiep (Cambodia) Co Ltd, a Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai dealership on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh.
In January, Wong, 32, also took on the role of general manager for Microsoft’s new market development program, which is working with local Microsoft sellers to increase the software giant’s presence in Cambodia by providing tutorials and technical support for Microsoft software users.
Wong spoke with The Cambodia Daily’s Stephen Kurczy recently about Microsoft’s viability in Cambodia when legal software can cost upwards of $300, and pirated versions go for $5 in the markets.
Q: What are the reasons for Microsoft establishing an office in Cambodia?
A: They had a very big success in Vietnam and the market is still growing in Vietnam. And, logically, the first country in the region after Vietnam you would think of is Cambodia.
Q: What was the effect of opening an office in Vietnam?
A: I think the market is 8 to 10 million US dollars annually, whereas before it was zero. [Microsoft opened its first Vietnam office in 1996.]
Q: How does piracy in Cambodia compare to piracy in Vietnam?
A: The piracy rate is higher here. I would say [it’s at] 98 percent.
Q: At the official launch of Microsoft on March 25, Cabinet Minister Sok An said that pirated software is absent from all government ministries. Do you believe that to be accurate?
A: I do, because we’re in the [World Trade Organization] now. I believe everybody must respect intellectual property rights, starting with the government, of course.
Q: People at the launch laughed quietly after Sok An made his comments. Why would people be hesitant to believe that government offices are free of pirated software?
A: For a lot of them, they don’t know where to buy genuine software in Cambodia. Maybe they wonder, “If I don’t know where to buy it, how could the government find a place to buy all the genuine software?”
Q: Considering that few people in Cambodia are particularly wealthy, is it a bad thing that cheap, pirated software is available?
A: It has a good side and a bad side. It gives access to poor people. But, of course, it also brings a lot of viruses.
Q: It also doesn’t make any revenue for Microsoft. Isn’t that another downside?
A: No, actually, we are looking toward long-term development. People who are using Microsoft—even though it’s not legal—they are getting used to the software, the interface, so it’s a kind of education. In the future those people, when they get the chance, maybe will buy legal software.
Q: Considering 98 percent of the country uses pirated software, how is Cambodia a viable market right now?
A: We have a lot of big companies here now that can afford genuine software. Those companies need technical support; they need to have virus-free CDs, and, also, when they face the outside world they need to show they respect [intellectual property rights].
Q: Is the Microsoft market development program targeting piracy?
A: No, not at all. Targeting piracy is not Microsoft’s mission. It is the role of the Business Software Alliance, which is like a consortium between all the big software companies….
A lot of people cannot afford to use genuine software. We will try to bring an added value to the people who can purchase the genuine software. We do training. We have technical support here.
Q: What has surprised you the most about intellectual property rights here?
A: Before I joined, I didn’t believe there was a big bunch of customers buying Microsoft products. Before I joined, I also didn’t know where to buy genuine software. I was like one of those people in the public during the launch ceremony.