Dan Pathomvanich On Why He Backs Plant-Based Food Production
Raised in the US and educated at the prestigious Hawaii Preparatory Academy boarding school, Dan Pathomvanich, CEO of condiments and sauce business NR Instant Produce, developed a keen interest in finance and economics at a young age. “When I was around 10 years old I had a good friend whose father was a famous art collector and dealer. He had a gallery in LA and loved to play the stock market. He would get us boys to scour the business sections of the newspapers for investment tips and opportunities. He taught us about the markets and made picking stocks and shares fun and finance and business exciting. I’ve been hooked on it all ever since,” the seasoned entrepreneur explains.
Dan enjoyed his time in Hawaii and only returned to Thailand for infrequent summer holidays. In the end his father asked him to come home and finish off his schooling at Ruamrudee International in Bangkok. “He stressed the importance of knowing the culture here, of knowing people, of making friends and establishing connections. I think he was secretly afraid that if I remained in the US any longer I might never come back,” the son laughs. In the event Dan’s homecoming in 1991 did catch him slightly off guard. “There were obvious cultural differences for a teenager coming from Hawaii where the concept of fun was hanging out at the beach with no alcohol involved. In Thailand everyone seemed to be going out and partying,” he laughs. Maintaining his focus, he completed school and moved on to pursue a degree in finance at Thammasat University, graduating in 1997.
An internship and then first job at Arthur Andersen followed but a year later Dan found himself going back and forth between Bangkok and Hong Kong trying to launch a venture capital fund. “It was sheer stupidity, not to say blindly ambitious,” he chuckles. “I was young with no track record. A friend and I were trying to invest in early internet companies but then the dot-com bubble burst, so I decided to focus on finishing my master’s degree in international economics at Chulalongkorn University.” Graduating in 2000, Dan worked at Celestial Asia Securities Holding in investment banking for a few years but his desire to strike out on his own surfaced again. “I wanted to get into technology,” he chuckles, “probably one of the early mistakes of my life. The business made decent money, but when I had the chance to get back into finance—my true calling—a couple of years later, I sold it.”
His return to the finance game came at Hatton Capitals and eventually led to Dan becoming CEO of NR Instant Produce in 2017. “It took almost 18 months to close the deal to purchase NR Instant and part of it was that I became CEO, although in truth I didn’t really want to run the company. I preferred to be low profile,” he chuckles. That said, he applied his stringent work ethic over the next two years to transform the company—earning Tatler Thailand’s 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year award along the way. “In October last year we listed the company and had the second-best IPO opening of the year,” he says with obvious pride. It was a far cry from the situation when he first took control of the company. “When you buy a business there are always skeletons in the closet, things that people didn’t tell you about. So ironing out those humps took time. We also discovered that the fastest-growing products were plant-based, so I told my board and other shareholders that this would be our focus, not only for nutrition reasons but also for carbon-offsetting and sustainability reasons.”
To boost the market for plant-based condiments Dan helped set up one of the world’s largest accelerators, a fund to invest in alternative proteins. “Everybody laughed at us but we successfully established a 15-million-dollar fund with backing from the likes of Tyson Foods and have enabled investment in almost 40 food-related startups,” he explains. And to improve NR Instant’s core manufacturing business Dan spent two years securing a 50-per-cent stake in a successful OEM manufacturer of plant-based foods in the UK.
The highly successful 46-year-old is now a father of two and has much to say about his personal growth and journey so far. “I’ve thought a lot about finding purpose in life. At first I thought it was important to be tremendously wealthy, wealth being a mark of success. Now I think my main purpose is to be happy and that means leaving a positive mark on the world socially, a legacy my kids can be proud of,” he smiles.