Muygech SOK is the Principle Architect and Founding Director of BMK Architects. Muygech is the finalist of the Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia 2020. Muygech started her own design studio based in Phnom Penh in 2016, BMK Architects, after she completed her master’s degree from the UK. Her vision is to bring betterment to your life through good design.
[Below is translation of the interview that is edited for clarity.]
Q: Hello! How are you?
Muygech: I am doing good.
Q: You are very busy.
Muygech: Yes, I am quite busy recently due to COVID-19.
Q: It is interesting. You are busy during the COVID.
Muygech: Some of my clients want to get their designs done to start their project after COVID-19.
Q: What are you working on these days?
Muygech: I am working on many projects.
Q: I know who you are, but some audience may not know. Can you introduce yourself?
Muygech: I am Sok Muygech, the founder of BMK Architects. It is an architecture company.
Q: When did you start your company?
Muygech: I started it in 2016. After I completed my master’s degree in the UK, I joint my friends to run the company.
Q: What did you study for your master’s degree?
Muygech: I did the Master of Architecture.
Q: Why did you choose that subject?
Muygech: I was born in the early 1990s. I did have a dream career. People saw only accountant, banking and so on. I grew up with some relatives who are working as accountants. I once wanted to be an accountant. When I grew up, that was when I was in high school, I knew there were many other options for me. I am creative. I was good at math. Then, I chose to study architecture because it is what I love to do.
Q: I heard that most men study architecture. Were there many female students in your class?
Muygech: I had a small class. There were only ten students in my class. The number of women and men was almost equal; there were 4 women and 6 men. I was born in 1990. I started my undergrad in the late 2000s. In general, there were not many female students studying architecture subjects.
Q: What did you do after you finished your undergrad?
Muygech: I worked for 2 years. Then, I got a scholarship to the UK for my master’s degree.
Q: I will ask you about your master’s degree in the UK later. I would like to learn how you decided to run a company after returning from a master’s degree.
Muygech: I always wanted to run a company. I have worked in another company because I wanted to earn more experience that prepared me to run a company by myself. I run an architecture company; it is less challenging for me in terms of capital investment. I sell my services. When I run the company by myself, I have more freedom to express my design concept. I can choose what type of project I want to work on. I can meet the clients directly to discuss their needs. I am an architect. My job is to make the living of others healthier.
Q: Is that difficult to run a company by yourself?
Muygech: It is a long story. After I came back from the UK, two of my friends asked me to join them. Actually, a few groups were asking me to join them to run a company. In 2016, there were co-founders. We started from scratch. We rent an office which cost us $150 a month. We had projects then we recruited a few more employees to help us. We built our portfolio from zero. A few months later, one of my co-founders decided to leave us. In late 2017, another co-founder left me. I was alone.
Q: How difficult was it? Why did your co-founders leave you? How did you overcome that?
Muygech: I never thought that gender would be a problem in business, speaking as an architect. Whether you are a man or a woman, you are capable of doing a job. In general, I think we have different perspectives in running our business, so that we decided to separate.
Q: What is the problem of gender?
Muygech: Partly, it was about personality. It was not about who’s right or wrong. We could not work together; we decided to separate. I am a woman; I am a family-oriented person. Sometimes, I felt bad for my business partners. I always supported my family if any issues happened. I was not entirely in the office to help my partners. Even if I run a business or work for others, I am still a family-oriented person. If my family needs me, I have to support them; other things come second. I felt guilty for my business partners because I have not fully supported them.
In the beginning, I was the one who wanted to leave the company because I have not seen any progress to work with another co-founder. To make it easier to understand, when we co-founded a company, it was like we got married. We needed a person to be a husband and another one to be a wife. I meant that a person needs to know how to make money, and another person needs to know how to manage money. When I worked with that person, I felt like we did not operate the company according to the principle that we should follow. In short, we had different perspectives; we could not work together.
Q: After your co-founders left the company, what did you do firstly?
Muygech: Firstly, I needed to have money to buy their shares. I restarted from zero in early 2018. I rebranded the company and recruited new staff because some staff moved to other companies and followed my co-founder.
I was an outstanding student when I was in school. I won a national competition. I used to go abroad for the exchange programs and got a master’s degree from abroad. All of these have built my credibility. Mostly my clients ask me to help them so that I can choose what projects that I want to work on. From the beginning, my clients are mostly my friends who know me and my capacity. My friends also help to refer me to other people who need the service.
Q: I want to ask you about your first project. What was that? How did you feel to get your first project at that time?
Muygech: That was a renovation project on the National Road #6. That was the first project that I worked on it independently. My client liked my concept. That client continues to use our service. I just designed a ten-stories building for that client. I don’t have many clients, but each client has two or three projects. They enjoyed working with us. I am happy to see that because I can serve their purposes.
Q: The civil engineering or architecture is mostly dominated by male professionals. As a young woman, have you experienced any uncomfortable situations?
Muygech: My family is proud of me because I am working in a field that has fewer women. When I was in school, my male friends could stay together overnight to complete a school project. I could not do that. My family called me to come back home at night because they worried about me. That was the difference between my male friends and me in school. There is nothing that women can not do. I did well in school even though I didn’t have much freedom as them [men].
Regarding my career, it was difficult when I started working. Some construction workers didn’t listen to me. When I joint a business meeting with my co-founders, some clients did not look at me. They may have thought that I was an assistant. Those clients talked to my male co-founders. I overcame that by building my credit step by step. I don’t face this type of problem anymore. The clients who choose our services know that I am an architect.
Q: How do you build your credit as a female architect?
Muygech: Firstly, I tell myself that I can do it. I am capable of doing what those men do. Hard work can outperform talent. If you have the talent and work hard, you can progress. When I was in school, I studied two majors—English literature and architecture. My family is proud of me because some people could not complete the architecture subject, but I finished both majors. I always joint competitions when I was in school. Sometimes I won competitions, and sometimes I lost. Even if I lost, I learned from it. If we work on something, we learn new things. If we don’t work on it, we learned nothing. Losing is not a failure; it is an experience. I always make time to join the competition even though I was busy. When we won an award, it became our credit. I always worked hard because my hard work always pays off. This is what we have to remind ourselves if we want to be succeeded in a career.
Q: Have you ever thought about giving up your company?
Muygech: Yes, I have. I wanted to sell my shares to another co-founder and walked out of the company. I was so stressed at that time. I thought I was not capable enough to do the job. At that time, my comments were not accepted by others. I thought I was not competent enough. I wanted to give up and to start something new. When we started the company, my co-founders were more experienced than me. I just completed my master’s degree. They told me that this was undoable, and that was undoable. I didn’t know what I could do because my concept was undoable. I thought about quitting because I was exhausted. If we are physically exhausted, but we see the results, we have the energy to move on. But, when we think that we can’t do anything, that is the zero point.
Q: How do you motivate yourself?
Muygech: Many architecture graduates work in different fields. Women are more likely to give up their career after they get married. That’s the reason that women are encouraged to stay in this field.
Back to your question, you should make sure that you love that field. I love my career because it is not boring. I don’t work on the same things. When I get a new project, I come up with new stuff because my work demands creativity. Sometimes, I work on the hotel project, villa project, or flat projects. It requires me to think creatively. I want to bring what I think to reality.
Q: Do you have female architectures in your company?
Muygech: I have more female employees in my company.
Q: How do you have more female architectures in your company?
Muygech: One factor is that employees learn who is the owner of the company before they apply for a job. They learn about the company’s history and what projects we have. I think the employees do not just come to work for me, but to learn from the company to earn experience. Usually, they have their goals to go in—what they want to do in the future. Mostly women, who are interviewed, get the job. Those women want to learn from me so that they can run their own company in the future. In my company, there is no division between employees or an employer. We work as a team. We come together to address issues. If anyone has the right idea, we follow that.
I am a family-oriented person. My employees can take leave if they need to be with their families. My employees are responsible; they know what they need to achieve. We do not work on Saturday and Sunday. I encourage them to spend time with their family. This makes my company different from others.
Q: Have any of your employees started their own company?
Muygech: There is one person who has worked with me since 2016.
Q: How do you feel when a woman working with you can run her own company?
Muygech: I am happy to see that. I fully support my employees to run their company. Running the architecture company is uneasy. We must have a strong foundation and confidence. We must have some reserved budget for anything that may happen in the company.
Q: Do you have any messages for young people?
Muygech: For young people who want to study architecture, you should ask yourself whether you really love it. You should expect to sleep less, and sometimes you need to spend your money on some study projects in the provinces. It requires our patients. If you really love, no matter how difficult it is, you can overcome it.
Q: I have only that. Thank you very much for your time joining me.
Muygech: Thank you.