Leila Rostom, Commercial Manager of COVA Thinking Cambodia


Originally from Mauritius Leila Rostom is a Commercial Manager at COVA Thinking Cambodia. In this interview, Leila tells us how she has fallen in love with Asia and why better training opportunities could help young leaders of the future.


How did you end up sitting where you are today?

Four years ago, my husband decided to pack 'our' bags and move to Cambodia for a new job. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into as I was happily working as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor in Cape Town where I studied.


From being reluctant to move (supposedly for a year) to falling in love with Asia, I have been challenged ever since to look at things from a different perspective. With a booming economy and vast construction prospects in this Kingdom of Wonder, becoming a Commercial Manager last year was something I did not envision.


What gets you excited about your industry?

I have always been passionate about numbers and working in the quantity surveying sector is personally both challenging but also riveting as every development is unique throughout its project life cycle. From early design stages where I often discover new concepts, to exploring rapidly changing construction practises, this field requires constant interaction with project stakeholders to solve ongoing issues and mitigate risks.


It may be stressful at times (in fact, most of the time), but it is such a great source of satisfaction to work as a team and deliver projects successfully.


What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I was once told not to linger on minor details and, instead, to enjoy this short life with a more positive attitude. This has helped me in both my relationship and my career, where I learnt to accept things I cannot control and let go of negativity.


In these current unprecedented times, I see myself regularly being reminded of how blessed I am to have a caring family, friends and a job that I love.


What, or who inspires you?

Although we may be miles apart, my younger sister and older brother inspire me in my daily life.


Looking at how self-determined and ambitious my sister is, gives me so much hope for the younger generation. In addition, having the smartest brother ever (a power engineer) who is also the most loving father to my adorable nephew, makes me want to strive to be better.


My parents have always supported me with any decisions I made. They are also an absolute inspiration in everything I undertake.


How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?

Apart from the usual browsing through LinkedIn posts, I admit that I seldom make time to research on the latest advancements in construction. However, I occasionally receive interesting news through online subscriptions to construction newsletters.


Networking events are also an interactive way to connect with people in the industry who often increase awareness of innovative products. Being a member of professional bodies (RICS, CIOB, PMI, etc.) is also very helpful for regular updates.

What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?

When I first moved to Cambodia, I was assigned as Deputy QS Manager on a design and build project of 330,000m2 awarded to the lowest-bid contractor at a staggeringly low construction rate. This has, by far, been the most challenging project I worked on, where all the critical success factors relating to cost, quality, and time were at stake.


However, it was also a rapid learning curve that eventually became the stepping stone to improving my commercial skills. I was also simultaneously completing an MBA in Construction and Real Estate, which made it all even harder.



If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?

I used to think that if I could change the past, I would not have repeated the same multiple mistakes, but honestly, these got me to where I am today.


However, retrospectively I wish I got married and had kids earlier while moving the focus on my career to later in my 30s. Eventually, as banal as it sounds, I believe that everything does happen for a reason even though sometimes it's hard to comprehend why.


You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

I would invest a third of it, build our dream house close to the beach in Mauritius (where I am from), and use the rest to establish an upbeat business promoting sustainable building practices. My husband would not have to work anymore, so I think he would be the happiest man on earth!


How do you switch off after a day at work?

Making time to cook dinner with my husband and watching anything on Netflix is my favourite part of weeknights. I also try to go to the gym at least twice a week for stress relief or playing badminton with colleagues after work is quite enjoyable.


If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

From my personal experience, I wish there was an increase in government policies relating to construction regulations in Cambodia. Together with new technologies, this would instigate construction professionals to collaborate on better planning and not rushing into delivering projects at the lowest price that would eventually compromise quality standards over the life cycle of a building.


Also, considering the young workforce in Cambodia, better training opportunities should be provided by professional bodies and construction firms to graduates who will ultimately become leaders in this industry. Wishful thinking but worth a try!


How should people connect with you?

You can contact me via my Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leila-rostom-a4530532.