Michelle’s Story – Divine Pizza & Ribs, Phnom Penh

Michelle Murray Pic Along the journey of delivering the Entrepreneur Life Program, we established a number of important connections with locally based expats who had a passion for mentoring young Cambodian business leaders and those who could assist with training on topics relevant to ethical business management. Among those we connected with was Michelle Murray an American missionary who had been based in Phnom Penh for approx. 13 years at that time. When we first met Michelle, she was managing Divine Pizza & Ribs restaurant based at the Phnom Penh riverside night market area. Michelle was a vibrant personality, 100% passionate about developing leaders and keen to be involved in our program! In this blog post, we profile Michelle and some of the lessons learnt while managing Divine Pizza & Ribs restaurant in Phnom Penh. This post forms part of a series showcasing real examples of social enterprise leaders based in the SE Asia region.

For some background, Divine Pizza and Ribs was set-up as a mission-through-business model in 2010 with financial support coming from a US based mission organisation, Marketplace Ministries Worldwide (MMW). Michelle was involved in the business start-up phase and managed a local Cambodian team of up to 8 full time staff. The restaurant offers customers a great selection of pizza, ribs, and burgers that appeals to both the western/expatriate tastes and increasingly to local Cambodians as well. The restaurant has since been relocated to the popular Russian Market area, enabling the business to connect more intimately with a close-knit community including many expats who lived close by. Michelle remains an advisor to the local Cambodian team at Divine Pizza & Ribs in Phnom Penh.

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We recently asked Michelle to complete our Emergent Enterprise Leader Survey; her responses below include some key learning’s from her time managing the Divine Pizza & Ribs business:

Describe how you create value through the business – in particular, how you create value for your customers, staff and shareholders/ stakeholders.

It is the work that the profits allow us to participate in that adds the value. In Cambodia we would over hire to bring in some girls that come from an at risk background. This would typically reduce our profits but positively affect those girls and potentially their extended family.

What strategic leadership decisions have been made that you consider to be defining moments on the journey of growth?

Change of location – we were originally in a high tourist location and moved to a smaller neighbourhood where we have gotten to know our neighbours – which made a huge difference.

Can you describe any personal leadership crises that you may have experienced on the journey to date and any key leadership lessons you learnt as a result?

Learning is a constant thing. Most of the lessons learned have been culture related. I have excellent leadership skills but often times had a difficult time applying them in culturally appropriate ways. i.e. public praise needs to be group oriented not individual in Cambodia – it is more motivating to the team.

Describe any significant transitions occurring currently within your business / social enterprise (or in your market) and what you are most excited about when considering these transitions…

We have transitioned to a Cambodian Manager who is doing a great job. It was hard to let the business go to someone I knew would run it entirely differently than myself, but potentially better – because she understands the culture.

On the topic of leaders learning how to fail-forward / fail-fast: Can you describe any failures you may have experienced over the years – those that you now look back on realising you actually gained or learnt something significant from the experience.

I fail constantly, and try to learn from it. In terms of big mistakes, I would say it would be showing my anger in public and then having to ask for forgiveness from the local team. In a culture like Cambodia, neither of these things is typically done, but as a Christian it was a chance to show a different way, because of my faith. So showing anger was not good, however the process of reconciliation and forgiveness I could honestly say was invaluable.

Describe what brings you the most joy and satisfaction currently in your role as an emergent business / enterprise leader

Training young people. Allowing them to make decisions that sometimes work and sometimes fail but we walk through them together. I enjoy being a cheerleader and helping people to move toward their goals, dreams and potential.

I love Michelle’s honesty in the above responses. Michelle’s ability to self-reflect on her management behaviours (in this case, the difficulties she faced in dealing with her anger at times) and her willingness to proactively seek out forgiveness from her staff is truly counter-cultural (and transformational!). I have no doubt that the ability to self-correct and heal potentially damaged relationships will be a key to her ongoing success in developing leaders across many nations.

In my experience, many expatriates seeking to lead a business in developing countries like Cambodia find adjusting their management style the most difficult aspect of culture transition. Many expat leaders who struggle to make these adjustments run the risk of not sustaining a positive leadership legacy over the longer term – resulting in strained relationships, unmet expectations and limited business tenure. The art of effective leadership in cross-cultural settings comes down to simple things such as: being open to feedback, seeking to learn from failure, being willing to self-reflect on how your own behaviour contributes to problems, and in taking time to build relationships based on mutual trust and respect. These attributes will help sustain and grow a leaders legacy in most cross-culture settings.

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