I was invited for a working trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to witness the opening of the Sarpino's Pizzeria, a franchise owned by a company in which I am an independent non-executive director of. Although some may say a working trip is a nice gesture by the company, as an independent director, who get paid to call every judgement (bad or good) that a company makes, the liabilities that come with it is no child-play. An independent non-executive director is like a prefect overlooking any misconduct by the Board of Director in a public listed company.
The working trip was a first for me as I have always ensure an arm-length relationship with the management of the company. So, most of the time while I was in Phnom Penh is to actually look at other food businesses being conducted by other Malaysian companies which among others are KFC and Tutti Frutti. There are also other obvious business interest such as banking like Public Bank, Maybank and CIMB Bank; and not so obvious such as Axiata and maybe a few others which may not use the same brand name as the one in Malaysia.
Of course, as an independent director, I will have to ask probing question whether the company expect to make money and what is their expansion or the exit strategy for the business. What I like about the food business is that it is a cash business which bottom-line is about cost management against marketing. It may not be a popular work but as the saying goes "It maybe a dirty job but someone has to do it".
Sarpino's Pizzeria is founded in Canada. They seem to be expanding either in Malaysia or in Southeast Asia like countries in Vietnam and Cambodia. In Malaysia, specifically in Klang Valley, they have a branch in Subang Jaya and in Singapore, they are at 20 locations. In Cambodia, they now have 2 locations and there are more to come. All
Sarpino's is more of a gourmet pizza than fast-food. Our company only holds the master franchise in Cambodia for now. With this new venture, I hope it will generate new income for the company. As much as food business is about food, McDonald's founder's quote about franchise business is more about "real estate" than anything else is something we need to remind ourselves.