The Dynamic Durongdej Siblings
While mostly known for their water resource management and water solutions business Mazuma, which was founded by their father Rittichai in 1993, the Durongdejs’ commercial interests actually cover a number of sectors. For this issue we caught up with Max, Fay and Kaimook to talk about what it was like growing up in a mercantile family and how the quintet of siblings is now working together to extend their parent’s legacy.
Fay, the third child, smiles. “In a way it feels like we are separated into two different generational groups because the spread of years between us is quite broad—at least six years between the eldest three and the youngest two.” Aged between 35 and 48, of the five siblings the eldest, Max, was the only one to attend famed boarding school Vajiravudh College, while the rest of his younger brothers and sisters attended schools first in Thailand and then the United Kingdom and New Zealand. “Even when we were all together at home in Thailand in the early days we didn’t get to see Max often because he was boarding,” Fay continues. “We would see him occasionally at long weekends.” But then each of the younger siblings were packed off to schools abroad when their time came, reuniting during the summers. Fay chuckles, “I still remember coming back from New Zealand during school break to play with young Kaimook and Mick.”
As for university, the quintet followed their own interests albeit with their father’s influence. Max explains, “As the firstborn I was very close to my dad and the family enterprise so I was always interested in running my own business. When the time came for me to choose a degree subject, I realised that many successful business people owned industrial factories, so I decided to apply for industrial engineering in order to learn how to manage my own factory.” In 1993, a year after Max entered Chulalongkorn University, Mazuma was established. “My father saw that clean water would be a good sector to get into because water is essential for life,” the oldest son continues, explaining Mazuma’s decision to focus on making water purifying systems. The other siblings remember the official launch of the company well. “It was held in 1994,” Fay chuckles. “I flew back from New Zealand to attend it and even modelled for the products.”
Around the same time, second brother Win joined Max at Chulalongkorn University and a short while later Fay took up a place at Massey University in New Zealand. Max, graduating in 1996, immediately left to study for a master’s in business administration at Clark University in the US. The subsequent years became a period of extended study for the three eldest siblings, with Win later going to MIT and Fay staying on at the University of Auckland to do her master’s in commerce. Blessed with a head for numbers, she admits she initially wanted to study fashion. “But my father didn’t like the idea so I went in for banking and finance instead.”
We really try to do right by our stakeholders, namely customers, employees and partners.
— Onchuma Durongdej
While his younger siblings were studying, Max, who finished his higher degree in 1999, came home to help his father with Mazuma. “I was the factory manager, in charge of the quality of our products and much more. Back then the modern trade approach was beginning to trend in Thailand and I had to ensure all our products were quality-driven, in keeping with the times.” Fay also returned following her master’s and became a financial consultant before shifting to investment banking. She worked outside the family business for 10 years before joining Mazuma full-time. For a few years Win also worked for external businesses such as P&G, where he specialised in operations management.
In the early 2000s, three years after stabilising the factory following the 1997 economic downturn, the business was once again growing and Max was rotated to the sales and service department. He laughs, “We were showing great potential with projects to provide clean water systems to the real estate and hotel sector, which were booming. In fact, we were in danger of becoming swamped!” Fortunately there were siblings to help—Fay stepped in to look after sales and accounts when needed and Win left P&G to look after the factory. “Enterprise resource planning was his role at the time,” Max explains. “While he worked on logistics and sourcing quality materials, I took over the sales department.” Over time, Fay joined the family business permanently and the eldest three siblings slowly assumed responsibility for the company from their father, with Max now at the helm.
As for the youngest two, Kaimook smiles, “Because my elder brothers and sister are all grade A students, I felt a lot of pressure to achieve. But I was different in terms of my subject strengths, more artistically inclined.” All three siblings laugh at this. “I’m not as strong in business as the rest but I have always been their best supporter,” says the fourth child, who went on to study food science at the University of Nottingham in the UK. The youngest of the bunch, Mick, chose to study computer science at the University of Bath in southwest England and worked at Accenture for a time.
Back at Mazuma, Fay found that she struggled when it was her turn to manage the sales and marketing department. “I got quite stressed because coming from an exclusively financial background I was suddenly in unfamiliar territory,” she chuckles. “Our systems are pieces of sophisticated machinery and I found it hard to get my head around the technical aspects.” Max grins in agreement, “Our products are specialised works of engineering, so only true enthusiasts gets the specifications.”
The management rotation system implemented by the Durongdej patriarch was a clever form of insurance, as Fay explains. “After a period of time we could all switch our positions, which meant that if something were to happen, the risk to the business would be low. While Max knows all about the workings of the factory, so does Win. If I rotate to look after finances, I know someone else will be able to manage the sales and marketing perfectly well.” Max concurs, “It’s a good method. It really helps us understand each other and our roles. And we are always helping one another. Our father really laid out his plans well. It’s a good way to spread the family business to the next generation.”
I was different in terms of my subject strengths, more artistically inclined.
— Chutima Durongdej
In 2009 Kaimook returned from her studies abroad and looking to take on new opportunities, decided to enter the Miss Thailand Universe beauty pageant. She earned first place and joined the family business after. While working in the entertainment industry Mook assisted the family business with public relations and communications activities as well as taking charge of the CSR programmes held regularly throughout the year. In 2010 young Mick joined the crew, putting his computer science degree to good use alongside Win by managing digital marketing in the enterprise resource planning systems department.
It was also around this time that the family was introduced to Iceland Spring, a healthy spring water with distinct and unique properties: a naturally high 8.88 pH and unparalleled purity. “Max always had trouble with allergies and nothing seemed to help until he drank this water for a few months,” explains Fay, “We were really impressed with the results so we flew to Iceland to learn about the brand, discovering that the source of the water is a glacier thousands of years old and filtered through the country’s basaltic lava rock known to possess the highest pH level in the world.”
“With our findings, I asked Fay to manage the brand,” Max chuckles. Fay continues, “We began testing the product within the family and noticed significant health improvements and decided that it was too good not to distribute.” The water’s naturally high alkaline content is a benefit to all no matter the condition or age. “My entire family drinks it. It helps to neutralise acidity in the body, calcium recovery and bone strengthening for the elderly, pregnant women and babies,“ she says.
In addition to providing clean water and clean air solutions the group’s latest project is Z-touch, an anti-microbial protection pad that kills bacteria and germs. Fay says, “We really try to do right by our stakeholders, namely customers, employees and partners. Our business grows only because of the quality we adhere to.” Known for its strong after sales services, with dedicated premium service centres placed all over the country, Mazuma’s excellence extends further than just the product stands.
Now in its 28th year, Mazuma has gained much international recognition and is now the exclusive distributors of renowned brands such as Honeywell, Ariston, BWT and Toray. “Honeywell is known for its air purification systems onboard the space station and Toray for its waste water managment systems, so having these brands recognise us is a big responsibility,“ says Fay. Covering the essential elements of life, what their father Rittichai began with clean water has grown exponentially to include clean air and more under the siblings. “Today we want people to know that we cover everything from the low to high-end market and provide only the best product and service offerings in each class. If a window of opportunity opens for a project and our team can deliver, we will do it,” Fay states. Locally, Mazuma has also won several awards, the most prestigious being a Prime Minister’s Industry Award in 2017.
From the outset the head of the family Rittichai instilled in his children the idea that profit was not the core of their business. Rather, they were to focus on making quality products that can fundamentally enhance people’s lives. Inheriting their father’s lifestyle dedicated to hard work and perseverance, the siblings pooled in their different skillsets to pass on the legacy of their father’s vision for quality of life. Max explains, “This is the family’s vision, our father poured his all for the family and the business so we in turn, are giving it our all for the customers. Looking ahead, whether they want to join the family business or not, we hope this vision will continue to be a guiding light for our children and future generation of successors to come.”
Related: Take A Tour of Power Couple Onchuma Durongdej and Pitipat Preedanont's Stylish Pad
- Photography Chaiwat Kangsamrith
- Make-Up Ithigorn Luksameejunporn
- Hair Anya Choompalee
- Location Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River