From being KIDNAPED to doing business in Asia
Hey guys, welcome to this new video. Today I'm going to interview someone who has been living in Asia for more than 40 years. I was even not born yet when he started his journey here in Asia. He got captured by the Khmer Rouge people. Back in time in Phnom Penh. Then he was also
initiating the first joint venture in Vietnam, when Vietnam was not that open for foreign related companies. So he has a lot to share about Asia in emerging countries as well as in Japan and he going to share with us. His all Journey being living here in Asia.
Let's get started. Hi Frederic. I'm very happy to have you here on the YouTube channel to share to my community about your experience, and your story in Asia. Can you start by telling us, why did you choose Asia? Your discoveries and your journey across the different countries.
Good morning, thank you very much, indeed. I'm quite happy that you were interested in my story. Well, I hope it's interesting, but I think what is much more interesting. Hopefully, is the fact that I've spent, as you said so many years in this part of the world and always on jobs, During which I had to travel in Asia, so that has given to me a view of these last. I would say 40 years plus of almost every country. I've been
as few as you know, expatriate is in a number of countries, see six or seven or whatever. I spent some time also in South America and this was also a good benchmarking to see what I liked best. And where I saw that I could have something to do in my life so well, first maybe it could be interesting to know that I originate from Marseille. Say okay, so must say although your French I'm French you speak English today so that still, we all know, french-speaking are not that Marseille has very big Harbor with a number of stories. It's a great city originally, but what is interesting is the fact that marks a has always attracted people from all over the world. But specially of course, from North Africa, the rest of Africa, the Middle East and not to forget the Far East.
And this is where my small story is starting. I was a kid in Marseille. I was often wondering under the harbor, looking at vessels dreaming of traveling, like many people do, but when I was seeing all these ships, you know, with very exotic names to me at that time, especially Laos and Hai Phong and whatever I say. Well, one day I would like I would like to go. So why did I choose the Far East rather than other countries? I think simply because I wanted to go very far and this was very far definitely.
So my view was that as soon as I would be graduated, if I could catch an opportunity to go abroad preferably in Asia, I would do it that that has been the starting point. Now where things are becoming more difficult? Is that when I I went to what was called cooperation (cooperation) at that time which means that what is more or less the equivalent to V.I.E. called Volunteer International in Companies now and on top is now, which means that when you are graduated, if you find a company or at that time, it was more Ministry. Okay, it was more for Education purpose than it is. Now, if you could find that, Kind of possibility. You had to go abroad one or two years.
So I've been looking for this and I was given the opportunity to go to Cambodia so it's some very exotic to me already of course but it was not a real gift because it work we are talking about 74 and 7475 as you know, has been the harshest period of the war in so-called Indochina and So nobody, in fact, wanted to get a position in Vietnam or in Cambodia or in Laos. There were very few and the moment I said I'm volunteered to go to Cambodia. Well, of course, there was not a big choice of people, not to be choice of positions themselves. The way I left and this is the way, the story started.
Interesting. Can you maybe develop a little bit to what happened in Cambodia? I mean, everyone knew about the Khmer Rouge taking the power and control over the country And not that exact time you where you will base their you were walking the especially for the French ministry, right? So you were a little bit the most vulnerable person and the most maybe targeted person. Can you share with us a little bit? What happened there? Well, Cambodia was involved in a war and Became more and more isolated to give you an idea.
When I was living in company, in 74, as I said, 74 until 75. We could not even have rice from the country or from Asia, we are receiving. We were receiving rice which was sent through planes over the city of Phnom Penh was completely isolated and every day the Khmer Rouge, we're getting closer. The city.
So that, unless you were completely blind, you could see that the situation was becoming desperate. And you could see it also and know about the situation because numb pain, which was a shitty, which would have been, you know, something like 300 or 400 thousand people normally inhabitants, normally became a city, by the end, which was at least of a million people because these people were coming from the countryside, and they were Fleeing the Khmer Rouge. Because we knew when we were in Phnom Penh and we knew that when the Khmer Rouge were arriving, they were catching people. They were killing those supposedly intellectuals and much more than this in a horrible Manner.
And what was very tough for us was that some people including some journalists at that time? Wouldn't believe it or didn't want to believe it, and they were making a genuine confusion in the approach between Vietnam and Cambodia and the Viet Kong, although they were not easy people as we will see when we talk about Vietnam, still it was they never again, systematically organized, a genocide as the Cambodian people to just one more word about the situation. Once the Khmer Rouge have taken over Phnom Penh on April, 17th 1975, they took most of the people to camps over there. The Population of the country was probably around five million people. And in four years time, they killed about two million of them. Okay. So when you think about Cambodia has to keep in mind, the horrible word, which is not sufficiently used, I think of using this case, I mean, of genocide, it was a real genocide as far as I'm concerned.
It's matters much less, but because I didn't want to go away from my students. When I still had the Trinity to fly out of the country. I refused I stayed there. And when the Khmer Rouge came over, they took a number of foreigners, including myself as hostages, and we were kept in, very difficult situation for one month, without knowing what would happen next.
So, you can imagine all kinds of reactions. You have some you, when you put a thousand people together and you know, they expect that they may be killed at any time. families being pulled apart Etc. I recommend That you see a movie, not yet, but some of the people listening. Now, may not have her watch that movie called, The Killing Fields, which was translated into French in "La Dechirure" Okay. It's a very, very interesting movie really, in my view very close to the reality have lived myself and after one month for some Unclear reasons which we'll all be.
Always be unclear, we were put on trucks. I was put at the last guy on the last track, volunteer lie again and we left, we were taken to closest city at the Thai border and that was the the end for us, at least of a terrible drama. So that's, that's the way I went to Cambodia. We are very far away from my dreams on the viewport in Marseille looking at advice. Whole.
But at the same time, although it was, of course, a terrible experience. It has probably been one of the greatest if not the greatest experience in my life regarding people, how people react, how they behave, what Fair of being killed the next day of the same day is and at the same time, even in such a terrible situation falling in love with one country since I will return to Cambodia. A number of Times.
Yeah I guess it was a tough time at that period to be living in Cambodia with all the story. We know about the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime, a little bit. After you've been going to Vietnam and you were in charge of developing the first joint venture between the country and private French company.
Can you share with us about that Journey? How did you get started in Vietnam? Okay, so after Cambodia had no choice and I had to go back to France, right? In the conditions. I told you, I wanted to go back close to Cambodia, is there was an opportunity and I was working for a big chemical and pharmaceutical group called Rhône-Poulenc which then was splitted in two different companies. And again, to make it short, the health division of that group is now basically, what you Sanofi. Okay. So I was proposed by Rhône-Poulenc at that time.
To they were again like Cambodia. They were looking for a volunteer and again, there were not too many volunteers to go to Vietnam that was in 79. Right? When I was posted posted there, there were not so many volunteers to good to go there. Of course, they told me they were had to rush up my did, you know, hurry up deciding whether I would accept the job or not. Because He was waiting in the company to go there. Well I you know I I discovered easily and very quickly that nobody wanted to go there at that time so that it's a detail.
But it's very interesting when you see now the very strong attraction there is on Vietnam and the fact that at that time nobody would want to go there. Anyway it was almost impossible to go there for a number of years in, I mean, two to three years, my two, or three years, I stayed five years old together but my two first. Years in Vietnam, they were basically no industrial or commercial company. So what happened is I was proposed to go there and the reason is the Vietnam made a kind of code of Investments. It was you know one page in which basically in a very poor French very poor English which meant that although they have people who can speak.
Good french a good English. They wouldn't utilize these people who are From the south and the north was really, you know, grasping everything and trying to handle, everything basically, for political reasons, but they had no idea about business because they were living in a socialist system, which plus was that were during the war. So you couldn't, you know, the people we were from another planet, and they were from another planet to. But still, they said, okay, let's make a code of investment and in a very naive way. Probably, they believe that many people, many companies would like to come and invest into Vietnam.
Now, why was Rhône-Poulenc interested. Probably one reason is that we had a pharmaceutical Factory in Vietnam and we didn't know what had happened. In other words, we didn't know whether we were nationalized.
We didn't know whether this was still a plant and if it were a plant, which raw materials where they're using because they were supposed to use ours and we had no other nothing. So I think Rhône-Poulenc just wanted to see if firsthand, you know, go having someone there trying to see if there was something to be done or just give up because the situation was that terrible. So it was a kind of pioneers job. I would say although they were before existing structures but they didn't know what was going on but even for such a in fact simple project with virtually no investment in the beginning, even for doing.
So it took More than two years for all pool and headquarters in France, to catch a deal with the Vietnamese Ministry of Health and during these two years, the question was, what am I going to do? Because they thought it would go very fast, and I will go to Vietnam. So I spent one year in the Philippines for Rhône-Poulenc, you know, working as part of the team but it was a fantastic training for me, more than a training. You need to see what real business life was. And then after one year, it was still not opening. So I was sent to Taiwan where Rhône-Poulenc was studying, develop to develop nicely, a number of operations.
And finally, after these two years, which were also very interesting, but you can imagine so young. I already had lived in a number of countries, so it was a very interesting experience for me. And finally, I could go to Vietnam where I spent five years. So the situation there. Was as you quoted a joint venture in the worst case in my view in the worst case which is 50% belonging to the foreign partner and 50% to the local partner. We were bringing some or we were supposed or could bring in some know how some experience because we had all we knew very well.
This plant, we had made it okay. And we certainly be of help in order to develop Health to a certain extent because Health in Vietnam was a major issue with very few medicines and very few qualified people. In fact, remember the boat people excetera a number of people would be in jail or would not be allowed to work, or would try to flee the country so it was really completely disorganized is organized country, but on the Vietnamese side, there we are not Not, they had 50% of 50% of, what were they bringing in? You know.
Okay, maybe not much not. Okay. Now let's say not not not so much. So the what I of course, so that after a few months, the very first conclusion of the French headquarters was to say, there is nothing to do there because unless we provide free of charge raw materials, they are not going to produce anything.
Obviously have, which could be a priority in a developing country. Was definitely not a priority for Vietnam at that time. And so why are we were, why are we going there? Even if we have Frederick and he's a young chapter is not too expensive, but still, you know what, what's the point? But my my view, although I was a beginner, but my view was important or I tried to give it some importance to the headquarters, Because I was the witness. I was there. I was in charge and my view was maybe what we cannot sell through a joint venture involved in Pharmaceuticals, which was not the right target unfortunately, but it was. So for the Vietnamese maybe we'll could be a kind of what the word didn't even exist, or teach wouldn't be used in Vietnam, a representative office.
I said, what about a representative of his, but it didn't exist and You could make a deal in Vietnam, we had the only deal but legally speaking, you could make a deal in that country. Only if you had a partner but there is no partner in the rap of his rap office, you know, it's give making promotions is giving prices but is not selling it's not a business unit, right? But I thought that we have so many things to do to sell. I mean, so many products being a huge group in France, or in Europe, and even in some number of other countries. I said, well, why don't we? Try to approach the other corporations because sales were made by some Childish. Alright, corporations.
So we could approach, Etc. And the problem is that legally, I was not allowed to do this, but there was no real written low if you like so, and I didn't have too much to do in the pharmaceutical field for the reasons already explained. So what I did is I tried to introduce myself in different places, just talking about health saying, trying to show, we are our investment. We are the example of a good foreign company, which is investing in your country and you know, when you start being part of the landscape and it you are easily recognized because there is no one else almost, you know. So when you do this then, And the Vietnamese are smart.
So once you have created to a certain extent, a certain Trust, They some of them thought but maybe why don't we try to get commercial information through this guy through some companies. And I was lucky because I sought if I try to get information from France, Etc is going to be take a lot of time but we have subsidiary in Singapore. So I instead of working with France, I was working with our French-subsidary in Singapore because they could give me quotations much more quickly, and I could even ship because there were still some shipping companies few but still some from Singapore to Vietnam and it was shorter, rather than trying to find some vessels coming all the way through France, etc, etc. So that the way we started, but I had to try that taught me a lot on how to keep headquarters patient by explaining the situation. And after two years we starting I'm making we started making business and believe it or not. We after three years we had paid in cash about 80 percent of the current daily foreign trade of Vietnam was with us, not only for chemicals or pharmaceutical.
But any product because we I said well we can make it activity of trading. Okay, so that's the way we started. And I think it opened up the way for other companies and it opened up also to a certain extent, The View for the Vietnamese that they could do more better. If they could open the door, at least a little bit in the beginning to other foreigners. And that the way that the way we that the way we did it, but let me add the following. It was a fantastic business adventure and she can see it was even it was even a case, you know, which was considered by a number by a number of companies.
And what I did is very few journalists were coming to Vietnam but when they were coming more and more, they heard about this French company doing something and we had many interviews and I even say to the to the Vietnamese, you know, you should promote what we do. Not only with Western journalists. Why don't you send me other journalists? I can invite. I was lucky. I had a house, you know, I could manage to have a house, Etc.
So I could receive more easily. So officially only foreigners because contacts with local Vietnamese were officially banned. Officially, you know that every many things can be arranged to a certain extent. And and this is a way we you know, people started to know outside Vietnam about our experience. In Vietnam, and we even represented some unofficially for the reasons.
I said there was no repositories but we represented some companies non-french companies also, we are making promotion for them and the business started. So this is what we're doing, but as I said, it was very interesting business case, but from a private point of view, you had to end your no electricity every day you I had to import generators from Thailand. Otherwise, you know, you know, you live there how hot it can be, installing the special in the rainy season. So humid excetera, we had curfew at eight o'clock every night. Plus, you know, of course, limitations of traveling. Even in, I mean, inside the countries and we had only one flight a week to get out of Vietnam.
So if you accept to live in such conditions and you'll actually, if not, you have to give up, but you find some excitement about it. Well, them is a fantastic story. And this is what likely happened to me? I'm not sure, I would do it again today. Japan is much more comfortable but I'm glad I did it after a certain period of my life. Yeah, it's interesting to see how you were already a billion a year in the trading and how from the beginning, you were a representative office, and finally, you were taking care of some Import and Export Distributing French project in Vietnam.
I heard that after you left for Indonesia, right? And over there, you were more dealing for the private sectors. Can you share me to? About the differences between Vietnam and Indonesia at that time. But this came up to the president of Rhône-Poulenc at that time, I see you could go to another place where we have many projects, many things are happening, but we have big problems with our partner and you are a man solving problems.
Okay, I'll say well, alright, I'll try and that day. I went to Indonesia and spent four years in. Indonesia, and Indonesia was very interesting. Because of course, it was not that it is still not developed country, but it was not completely at least in some areas because probably the potential of this country. But it was not completely a developing countries.
There were many units of Productions in many fields. Run prank was very involved in Pharmaceuticals in some of their products. And at the same time, all plank made a number Effect positions again in the pharmaceutical business and also in the agrochemical business. And you know, the of course, there are many agriculture Indonesia is an Agricultural Product country, so of course, they were many also opportunity.
So for me, it was a way to have to try to solve problems with Partners. It was a way to find new partners, and it was also to see what the private Market was because Vietnam, of course, Was clearly a state market. So for me, it was one more interesting opportunity to do different things and learn things and be in Asia, which privately was what I thought was best, or what I like, what I like best. So in Indonesia, I learned all many. I try to solve many issues which I told you there was a number of expatriates working with me. We started having Units.
So, for me, it was a very different scale in Vietnam. It was almost a one-man show in Indonesia. It was. Fortunately, for many reason, much more than one man show at it was very interesting. Then what happened is after four years, in Indonesia quality of life, will be much better than Vietnam. The X might the excitement was big, but less, and I said, well now that At, you know, I'm I was thought I was turning 40.
I say now, I think I should try to go if possible in Asia again, but I should go into a more developed country. Interesting to know that Indonesia at that time was more developed and since were more organized than in Vietnam after that you've been living in Japan, right? And everyone is talking about Japan has a good mix between tradition. And Innovation, can you share maybe about the differences that you observed between the emerging countries at that time and what you found in Japan about that.
So, here we are for the first part of the interview. As you see, Frederic talks a lot and have a lot of things to share about emerging country Cambodia, Vietnam, and his next opportunity that he was about to share in Japan. I hope you guys enjoyed the video. Feel free to leave a comment below to share with Frederic about what you feel about his journey and don't forget to thumbs up the video, I will ready appreciate it. And then the next episode will be below so you can check in the description so you can watch the other part of the video. Thank you.