Working Relationships: 5 Husband & Wife Business Partners
1/5 Disaya & Danai Sorakraikitikul, A-List Corporate
They say that high school sweethearts, when their relationship works out, really are love’s young dream. It is a sentiment manifest in Danai and Disaya, or Aom, Sorakraikitikul of A-List Corporate. Married since 2005, their history goes way back to when they started dating at the age of 16 while studying together in the UK. During the period of their engagement between 2004 to 2005, the couple established A-List Corporate. “That was in 2005. Aom had always wanted to be a fashion designer, so eventually I became interested in starting a fashion and retail business,” says Danai.
The two separate their responsibilities with Disaya in charge of design, sourcing and buying aspects and Danai and his team taking care of the financial and marketing functions. “It’s really important to set clear boundaries on who is responsible for what,” says Disaya. “The good thing with having known each other for so long is that you know what your other half’s strength is.” Danai agrees. “It’s as Aom says, if it’s something I’m good at then she leaves it to me and vice versa.” Which helps to explain why the two rarely see each other at work— their schedule being so packed with their different responsibilities. “We see each other at the office only about once a week. Aom has her design team meetings while I deal with my own team.”
Working together means that they both share the same intensity of emotions when it comes to the success of their company. “Despite being in charge of different departments, we speak the same language and we work with the same people. A-List is like another child to us [the couple have an 11-year-old daughter called Nathasorn] because we’ve nurtured it and been through the ups and downs together. So when we achieve a milestone we both feel it equally strongly without having to explain it to each other in words,” Disaya smiles.
Danai also emphasises the importance of really knowing one’s spouse to the core before becoming business partners. “I think we’re lucky because we’ve known each other for so long and we’ve grown with each other along the way. With marriage, you have to make adjustments to make it work, so it becomes an extra burden if you become business partners without really knowing each other well. By this I mean some people have only known each other for a year or two before deciding to get married, and they may not know each other deeply yet. I think it’s important to really take time to learn about each other before deciding to team up in business.”
2/5 ML Ploynapat and Apichat Leenutaphong, Sharich Holding
Known as Kwan, ML Ploynapat and husband Apichat Leenutaphong, or Nut, are adept at separating the roles of married couple and co-worker. The CEO of Sharich Holding, Apichat has been married to ML Ploynapat for 14 years. The couple met through ML Auradis Snidvongs, an older sister of Kwan and friend of Apichat. Prior to becoming the co-founder of Sharich Holding, she taught at Chulalongkorn’s Faculty of Arts.
“I started working at my family’s business and then imported Ducati bikes. Kwan, however, was a professor until 2007 when she quit her job to help raise our son, Theetat.” Their business partnership formally began when the two became interested in vacuuming robots. “At the time it was a new concept in Thailand and when we became the distributor of iRobot in 2011 we had to find a way to market it as the price was significantly higher than other normal vacuum cleaners.” In stepped Kwan to help establish the brand and develop a marketing strategy. “That was how Kwan and I ended up working together,” says Nut.
As for the pros and cons of working with one’s significant other, Kwan understands the importance of separating the roles of wife and co-worker. ”There are many couples where the woman has more power in the house in terms of deciding how they run the household and look after the kids. However, you need to understand that men don’t like to be bossed around in their workplace,” she laughs.
“That’s why I keep the two roles separate. At the office I view myself as one of the company’s employees and I respect my husband’s role as the chief executive officer. It also means that you feel truly confident in your relationship—when your husband is getting home from work very late, you know what he’s been working on.” Apichat nods in agreement. “Respecting each other and separating personal and work life is important. For me, it is also crucial that I respect Kwan’s opinion—as a spouse, you know that you can trust your partner and that they want the best for you.”
3/5 Wannaporn and Ratiwat Suwannatrai, Openbox Architects
Wannaporn and Ratiwat Suwannatrai, known as Prang and Nui respectively, both studied at Chulalongkorn University where Nui was an architecture student while Prang was a landscape designer. Although they knew each other, it wasn’t until after graduation when they met again in Singapore that they became close. Celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary next month, Prang and Nui started their architecture design firm in 2004.
Reflecting on their dynamic work and personal relationship, they explain that their journey hasn’t always been easy. “When we started we couldn’t separate our work and personal lives at all. We didn’t plan things that well because we decided to start our business in a home studio,” Nui explains. “I think it’s in the nature of architects to start from home, and at first it was efficient because we didn’t have to battle the traffic to get to work—which is very useful when you have a spark of idea and want to get straight to work on it.”
Prang adds, “On the good side, we saw how the big picture can be much clearer when the architect and landscape designer understand each other and work closely. However, our personal life was going up in flames because of that proximity—we seemed to be doing nothing but work all the time. Maybe it was because people told us that it would be hard for spouses to work with each other, especially from home, and we kept thinking perhaps it wasn’t going to work out so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The time came when the two almost decided to close their firm. Searching for contentment, they moved to rural Kanchanaburi thinking they could lead a simple, sustainable life. There they reflected on their goals together and discovered that they still loved designing. So they returned to Bangkok with a clearer vision of how they would proceed. “One of the things we learnt was that if we were to live and work together, then the personal and work space should be clearly separated,” says Prang. They also defined their positions with Nui as the design director and Prang taking on the management role. “After our hiatus, not only did we separate our office from our home, we also now follow a more clear-cut role at the firm.” Whether at work or at home, the two enjoy the company of each other. “I feel like we really complete each other,” Nui smiles. “Now that we have everything in balance, life is on a much more even keel as a result.”
(Related: The Natural Sophistication Of Openbox Architects)
4/5 Debby and Chotipong Leenutaphong, Foodie Collection
Chotipong and Debby Leenutaphong of Foodie Collection have known each other since they were 12 years old. Both students at Ruamrudee International School, the two were middle school friends from seventh grade before their paths separated when Choti, a cousin of Apichat, went to high school in the United States. Meeting again at a reunion the summer before they started university, the two were finally married in 2006. “Foodie Collection was dreamed up while Debby and I were living in London, but it took a while to become a reality,” Choti explains. After completing their undergraduate degrees the pair decided to pursue MBAs. Choti attended the London Business School while Debby took up a course in luxury brand management in Monaco. “Because Debby’s course was only one year while mine was two, after she finished she returned to London.”
It was then that the couple started working towards their goal. “At the time I was studying and also trying to establish an online travel startup,” says Choti. “But living in London, where the food and beverage scene is amazing, and having the opportunity to travel around Europe and try things out, well we soon realised that what we really liked and were interested in as a business was food.” We are chatting in the duo’s first brainchild, the popular Vesper cocktail bar on Soi Convent. “It really is like a child to us, “ says Debbie. “We worked on it together every day—on every single detail.” Foodie Collection has expanded into a restaurant group with outlets including La Dotta La Grassa, La Dotta Pasta Bar & Store, il Fumo, Via Maris and 80/20 EP 2.
“The good thing about working together is that we can bounce ideas off each other. I can say that we’re like two halves of a whole—there are some things I can give advice on and other things which Choti knows better than I do,” Debby adds. “It’s comforting to have a business partner you really trust, someone who will honestly tell you what you’re doing wrong.”
(Related: Chotipong Leenutaphong Whips Up A Gen.T Cocktail)
5/5 Sopana and Opras Lavichant, Pacifica Group
“We’ve been married since 2004,” say Sopana and Opras Lavichant with a smile. “Fourteen wonderful years.” The couple met when Chulalongkorn graduate Sopana went on an exchange programme at UC Berkeley where Opras was studying. “At first Sopana worked for her family’s business while I was focused on expanding Pacifica Group,” he says. It wasn’t until 2013 that Sopana joined Opras as Pacifica’s marketing director. “We would discuss marketing strategy and expanding the business, and because Pacifica’s main interest is in fashion and retail, we realised the importance of having strong leadership on the marketing side—someone who would be truly committed to the company.”
For the couple, sharing the same vision and dedication is key. “I think the great thing about working with your life partner is that you understand each other deeply. The trust is there and you know that he or she is committed to the same things as you are,” Opras explains. Nodding, Sopana adds, “We have differences of opinions but it never gets personal because we know that when we don’t agree on something about work, it still boils down to each of us wanting the best for our company. The most important thing is that both of you share the same vision, values and goals,” she smiles.
“Working with your significant other, you don’t have to worry or be reserved about you opinions, and because you know your partner well, it means you move forward faster without all the workplace politics,” Opras continues. “It’s important, however, that you keep your marriage separate from work. That’s why we rarely take our work home.” As parents, away from the office the pair focus their energies on creating quality time with their children Matthew, Kaitlyn and Nate.
(See also: Meet Asia's Most Stylish Ladies Of 2018)
- Photography Add Wimolrungkarat and Chaiwat Kangsamrith