Mr. Surapong Laoha-Unya
Chairman and Executive Officer of BTS Group
Thailand can grow even more with cross-border supply chain linkages among ASEAN nations. Mr. Surapong Laoha-Unya, Chairman and Executive Officer of BTS Group, discusses joint venture plans, Thailand's entry into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and future expansion plans.
"Education is one of the most important factors contributing to a successful business world in Thailand. I have noticed a change in the Thai education and feel that the younger generations now have access to very good educational systems. One example of this is that now there are many more international schools. There is an increase in the number of graduates coming out of university that are prepared to be a part of a skilled workforce."
FDI Spotlight: What are your earliest memories in which you began to think about businesses you could create or opportunities as an entrepreneur?
I was always a man with many dreams. I chose not to follow the family way and instead paved my own path in life. I was almost 30 years old when I became the main promoter of the Puma brand. I transformed the brand using new marketing strategies and branched into other types of clothing other than only sports styles.
FDI Spotlight: What do you consider are the key ingredients to the success you have had so far?
It has always been very important to always remember that we work as a team in order to build and maintain the businesses. Another main point is our determination to succeed and never giving up; even when other companies did so during and after the financial crisis.
FDI Spotlight: It has been discussed that entrepreneurial spirit is something Thai culture needs more of. As a self-taught entrepreneur, do you believe education can create a more dynamic Thai business culture?
Education is one of the most important factors contributing to a successful business world in Thailand. I have noticed a change in the Thai education and feel that the younger generations now have access to very good educational systems. One example of this is that now there are many more international schools. There is an increase in the number of graduates coming out of university that are prepared to be a part of a skilled workforce. However, this number could always be improved if we hope to meet the demand of the international standard.
FDI Spotlight: How did the difficult times of the Thai financial crisis change you and also change Thai business culture as a whole?
The 1997 financial crisis was very serious, affecting all sectors of Thailand’s business world. We knew when going through these hard times that we must ensure a high level of integrity and always benefit the people of Thailand.
FDI Spotlight: Your recent venture with Suncity shows how important strategic partnerships are. In what ways do you feel that the companies complement each other and what will the venture mean for the future of the landscape in Bangkok?
The meeting to discuss the partnership with Suncity required all of 30 minutes. It was so immediately clear that a strong and practical partnership would emerge from it. This is due to knowing your company’s strengths and weaknesses, and identifying those in your potential partner. For example, BTS has strength and money however it does not have an established brand. Therefore a partnership with Suncity was ideal because their brand is their strength. We need each other and work together very well, it is a symbiotic relationship. All launched projects since the partnership was established have sold almost instantly.
FDI Spotlight: Do you have future joint venture plans or plans of expansion of lines?
Our future plans always start by finding a suitable business partner that is already a leader in their field. We see our business as having four main routes: media, transit, property and services. We try to always expand upon each of these aspects, for example, every hotel has approximately a 50:50 joint venture with local businesses.
Our 5 year plan involves doubling our current lines. At this moment, there are many products being transported across Thailand using trucks and roads. This is very unreliable and often slow. We therefore hope to expand the railways and begin more freight transportation.
FDI Spotlight: You are already quite a prominent business man in Hong Kong, and are known for bringing these business plans from there with you to Thailand. Do you think Thailand is ready for the AEC?
I think that Thailand is definitely ready for integrating into the AEC. All business sectors will benefit substantially which will in turn promote Thailand as a nation.
FDI Spotlight: What do you hope to be your legacy for Thai businesses as a whole?
It is most important to BTS that high standards are maintained. BTS is now not only a publicly listed company, but also a part of a social utility company. The people of Bangkok are coming to rely on BTS as their main means of transport and therefore we must always provide not only a high standard of service, but also a reliable one. I hope this business philosophy will reflect in the service provided and that this will be our legacy to other Thai businesses.