Inheriting The Buck: The Offspring Of Major Thai Family Businesses
The CEO of luxury watch importer PMT The Hour Glass, Narun Thamavaranukup operates the company under Blue River Diamonds, which was founded by his mother Wiphada and late father Narong.
Prior to joining the family business, the Oxford graduate in physical science and chemistry spent three years working in investment banking in Hong Kong. It wasn’t until the passing of his father that he returned to Thailand for good. “Although it was never forced on me, I always knew I would become involved in the family company somehow, but I wanted to create a business of my own and not work directly with my family day-to-day, so PMT The Hour Glass was a great solution. Reviewing the business portfolio one day, I noticed my father had started to import a few luxury timepieces in the early 90s, but nothing much had been done in the meantime. So it was an opportunity given the growing interest for timepieces at the time. Having inherited my father’s passion for watches, I wanted to take on his nascent portfolio and grow it,” Narun says.
Thus, what began in 2006 with a team of nine people is now a leading player boasting 10 branches in Thailand and representing over 35 luxury watch brands. The perks of working with family for Narun include emotional support and transparent advice. Nevertheless, he adds that success doesn’t come easy. “We started off as a middle-income family,” he says. “I know all about the values of hard work and the level of dedication it takes to succeed.” For this reason, the 39-year-old executive has a very ingrained work ethic. Never one to sit back and relax, he regularly takes workshops and executive business courses for his own improvement and the benefit of the company. While he speaks fondly about work, looking ahead, he also hopes to give back to society, particularly in the field of cancer research and raise awareness of the disease.
Deputy managing director of real estate enterprise KE Group, developer of the high-end Crystal housing and retail developments, Kavin Eiamsakulrat always planned on joining the business founded by his parents. As a student, summer internships at the company helped to prepare him. After earning a bachelor’s degree in financial economics and a master’s in real estate development from Columbia University, he returned to Thailand raring to go.
“When I first joined the business, I was looking for new investment opportunities in shopping malls and housing projects among other things,” says Kavin. Today his latest role means his hands are fuller than ever. He is adding new energy to the company as he leads its latest real estate investment trust (REIT), which seeks to bring together community and neighbourhood mall assets. Kavin is also in charge of KE Group’s latest office building project. “In addition, I’m overseeing Crystal Solana, our luxury housing development and looking for investment opportunities in real estate focussed start-ups. I keep busy,” he laughs.
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In terms of pressure, Kavin says most of it comes from within. “For me the biggest challenge is to manage the business into the next wave of growth. That and managing people. It is not easy joining an established company where you find yourself younger than many of your colleagues, who have years of experience on you. You have to learn fast.” While he might be considered young, as the eldest of three siblings the 25-year-old came to know responsibility at an early age and shows an impressive confidence in his role. “It is a duty, if you like, to take what my parents started and try to grow it. I want it to be known as a business run with integrity, as Thailand’s leading real estate investor and asset manager,” he says.
Aradhana Lohia Sharma
Daughter of industrialist Aloke and Suchitra Lohia, Babson College graduate Aradhana Lohia Sharma joined the family’s Indorama Ventures—one of the world’s leading producers of petro-chemicals and a manufacturer of polyester wool yarns, in 2008. Today the 34-year-old holds the title of vice president and works mainly in the company’s wool manufacturing division.
Early stints in Indorama’s corporate strategic planning and communications departments, among others, enabled her to absorb as much as possible about how the business was run and the industries in which it operates. “I definitely felt pressure when I joined,” Aradhana says. “For me, it was about finding my own voice and identity and not being distracted by the whole boss’s daughter thing. I used to worry if I was up to doing what my parents have done but I quickly realised everyone has their own style of work.”
That said, the young entrepreneur seems to have inherited the drive of her role model father and she readily admits that “having family around at work relieves the pressure.” If there’s one thing that her parents have taught her though, it is to show empathy, kindness, compassion and humility, all of which permeate work life. “The company and I are a work in progress,” says Aradhana, adding, “It’s important to keep learning and evolving and not become complacent. Years from now I hope the business is continuing to create value for its stakeholders and the people who work for it. We want to be an enterprise that people are proud to be associated with.”
Away from the office, Aradhana serves as vice chairwoman of the IVL Foundation, which focuses on children’s healthcare, education and environmental sustainability. Married to Kevin Sharma, she also sits on the board of his company, Thai Plaspac. The pair have an 18-month-old son “and so working for the family means the luxury of more flexible working hours,” she smiles.
After having served as B Grimm’s vice president for the past decade, Caroline, daughter of chairman Harald Link is now vice chairman of the company’s executive board. She oversees human resources for the whole group and is in charge of the industries, healthcare and real estate businesses. “I also look after a variety of corporate activities such as strategy for the non-power groups and work on communications and CSR projects,” says the 37-year-old.
Thai-based international enterprises have been run by the family for over 140 years stretching back to the 1880s and helping to maintain this long legacy is a labour of love that Caroline speaks about enthusiastically. A graduate of the European Business School in Spain with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, she also gained varied work experience prior to joining B Grimm in 2008.
Mainly based in Hong Kong now, where her husband’s business is located, Caroline travels to Bangkok almost every week. She’s a mother of twin boys and with another baby on the way but remains dedicated to the family business. She is adamant on safeguarding and continuing the company’s philosophy of operating with compassion. “I want us to keep strengthening this business culture, which lies at heart of what we do here,” she says. “I was made aware from early on that giving back and contributing in some way is a core value for our family and this is also embedded in B Grimm’s values.” The company was instrumental in ushering Thailand into the modern business age and Caroline hopes that along with an already high social engagement commitment, the business will remain a beneficial role model and positive influence in the Thai economy.
Looking ahead, she also hopes to pass on the family legacy to her children. “I think it’s a natural wish,” she smiles. “And the beauty of the company is that it encompasses so many different areas so they will have a free range of choice.”
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As 28-year-old Tanyatip Chearavanont—more commonly known as Tanya—demonstrates, continuing a legacy is about family values and the drive for success, irrespective of what the company does. The daughter of CP Group chairman Soopakij Chearavanont says, “My siblings and I have been very lucky because we were never forced to work at something we weren’t passionate about. My grandfather always encouraged us, however, to become entrepreneurs and to develop a 360 degree overview of the business and know how it works from end to end. Everyone else in the company looks to you for direction, so you should have the best understanding possible of what your business does in its markets.”
Raised in Hong Kong and educated in the United States, she initially never planned on moving back to Thailand permanently. In fact, after graduating with a degree in architectural design and art history from the University of Pennsylvania, Tanya says it wasn’t until she nailed a job with a real estate firm that her passion for the sector began to develop and she started to seriously consider a career in this industry. Today she is the chief executive and founder of One.Six Development, which is responsible for The Strand condominium, one of Thonglor’s innovative upscale residential projects.
Having always had a boss and then having to step up to a leadership role has meant a steep learning curve for the young woman, but her vision for the company is clear. “Ultimately, because we are responsible for the city’s skyline, we want to be the kind of company that builds cautiously and meticulously. It’s important that we construct buildings that are not only beautiful but timeless,” she says. Maintaining her family’s philanthropic streak, Tanya is also the director of the Build Foundation, a non-profit organisation established by her family that contributes funds and practical assistance to charitable projects for underprivileged youths in Thailand.
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