Stéphane Bigorre, managing director of LBL International, outlines the key achievements in the company’s 30-year journey to becoming a leading construction firm in Cambodia.
How has LBL contributed to the expansion of Cambodia’s infrastructure?
Having been on operations for 30 years, LBL has both benefited from Cambodia’s development and participated in it through numerous infrastructure projects.
Involved in work for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in the early 90s, LBL was involved in developing some of the first infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges.
We have been involved in numerous sectors such as hospitals, with the construction of the Faculty of Pharmacy for the Ministry of Health alongside Fondation Fabre-Merieux; schools, with the renovation of the Institute of Technology and Royal School of Administration; and culture, with the refurbishment of the museum at Wat Phnom.
LBL has played a part in telecommunications with the installation of fibre optic cables from Phnom Penh to Poipet for the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications with Alcatel, and road works with the construction of sections of road and bridges for USAID.
We have also participated in the energy sector with the provincial power supply project in Kampot in 2004 and the Sihanoukville power plant project more recntly, and worked with the Ministry of Defence on military compound construction and renovations.
But I would say that our biggest contribution has been to mass transit through our deep involvement in the construction and continuous upgrading of Cambodia’s three main airport terminals, in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
We have contributed to a significant extent to the development of these airports, either as a sub-contractor for Vinci Construction Grand Projets or a direct contractor for Société Concessionaire des Aéroports, either for design-and-build or build-only projects.
What has been LBL’s mantra over its three-decade success story?
LBL has always endeavoured to deliver high-quality products to its customers, and our corporate image has since the early days always been associated with the mantra “strive for excellence”, something we always sought to achieve.
I joined the company in 2014 and while the LBL journey and commitment to the highest standards started more than 22 years earlier, at the end of 1991, it wasn’t a problem at all for me to adhere to this motto as I share the same vision and objectives.
We consider ourselves to be first and foremost customer-oriented. And these are not just words – it is conditioned in our way of doing business and our interactions with our clients. It is all related to integrity and reliability – two core values that we defend every day and showcase systematically.
We have strived to have our name come naturally to mind when a client is seeking reliability, timely delivery and high-end results – and from the feedback we get, we can say that this has been successfully attained.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for most sectors since the outbreak of Covid-19. How has LBL been navigating the pandemic?
We were lucky enough to have secured a substantial amount of work before the pandemic struck – 2020 would normally have been our best year ever – and this helped us tremendously in keeping afloat during the worst times of the pandemic.
Being in a position where we had continuously jobs in hands was a real advantage, as we could concentrate our focus on how to mitigate and deliver in the context of these very special circumstances, rather than having to look for business to survive.
We took the Covid-19 issue completely seriously since the very beginning and were proactive in the implementation of preventative measures on all our sites and with our internal policies.
In such a long-lasting crisis like Covid-19, there are always multiple events with various concomitant effects and consequences succeeding one to another. The difficulty was in anticipating as much as possible and always being well prepared for the next possible event.
Before the first cases affected our company, we were ready to cope with such inconveniences and we didn’t have to take emergency decisions – each and every action we took was well thought through.
We knew that we had to protect our best assets – our workforce – as we were very much exposed, working on sites with hundreds of workers, with many interfaces with other companies and sub-contractors, thus multiplying interactions and contact.
All these obstacles obviously led to major delays and a significant rise in expenses, but we managed to keep most of our team.
During the successive lockdowns and the stoppages of our sites due to positive cases, we always supported our employees and did not lay off any of them, nor did we revise their salaries.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the direction of the construction sector?
Covid-19 is still lingering and affecting our daily living and operations, even though the worst might hopefully be behind us. One thing is for sure though, the pandemic has had an adverse effect on the construction sector and halted its momentum.
The sector was growing rapidly and less than two years ago all the signs were pointing to further expansion. But the harsh reality is that the number of projects in Cambodia has dropped drastically since February 2020, beating all low records of the last couple of years.
Many investors have indeed postponed their projects or put them on hold, waiting for further certainty and greater clarity on the consequences of the crisis, and how it will affect their plans and prospects in the short, middle and long term.
Hopefully, it won’t take too much time before a reasonable level of confidence is restored and business can resume in a more normal way.
On our side, we have noticed that as soon as quarantining requirements for fully vaccinated persons entering the country were lifted in November, we immediately received more inquiries and we hope that some of these will soon materialise.
We will need more time to observe in hindsight whether the pandemic has only disrupted a trend temporarily, or if its effects are more nagging and will have initiated profound changes in the construction sector.
How is LBL positioned with increased competition from other players in a crowded market?
Our longevity, which comes with a large portfolio and a proven track record, as well as deep-rooted knowledge and understanding of the local market and its context, are certainly our best assets in a competitive market.
Having more than 400 completed projects to our credit in Cambodia – most with very reputable clients ready to recommend us – is our best advertising. An effective commercial tool with prospective clients is to simply have them visit completed and ongoing projects.
They can then witness firsthand the results they can expect for their own project as well as get a glimpse as to how we are organised and how we manage our construction sites.
Being one of the most well respected companies in the industry definitely helps to make the difference when we are in discussions with clients.
We have reached a point today where observations and back analysis can be made, as well as conclusions drawn. We are now in a position to use these real references to highlight in comparison the substantial differences and added value we can provide.
Last but not least, LBL International’s compliance to all legal and operational requirements, which are steadily changing and strengthening, is an additional advantage we possess.
We have elected to be fully compliant, and while there are obviously some inherent costs associated with this decision, we are convinced that this will pay back in the future as we will enjoy the advantages of having already implemented the proper internal procedures to address their application.
LBL has successfully completed over 400 projects. What does this say?
This impressive number shows that we are building our legacy project after project with the same passion and perseverance that we use daily in all our construction activities.
But it’s all about the people who made this great accomplishment possible, and I would like to use the opportunity of this platform to convey our sincerest gratitude to all of them.
To our clients – thank you for trusting us for so many years and making us a leader in our industry. We are honoured to have your trust and will carry on tirelessly with our work to continue deserving it.
To our employees – I am much obliged for the opportunity to work daily with all of you. You are talented, dedicated and passionate co-workers, and your commitment to put our customers first and to adhere strictly to our corporate values have been decisive in LBL’s progress and success over the years.
To our partners – to be in business for 30 years, we recognise the importance of establishing collaborative and fruitful partnerships that can bring astounding value to both LBL and our clientele.
We thank all our partners for their commitment, expertise and skill in helping us serve our clients and complete all of these projects together.