Modern-Day Renaissance Man Joe Horn-Phathanothai Is Also An Expert In China
Joe Horn-Phathanothai is very much a citizen of the world. The son of a sinophile Englishman and a Thai mother who lived in China for 14 years as a ward of Zhou Enlai, he attended primary school in Beijing, completed high school in France and earned master’s degrees in maths and pure maths in the UK at Oxford and Cambridge Universities respectively.
Experiencing a proverbial baptism of fire at the start of his career as an investment banker when he joined Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in Singapore on the day the baht was devalued, he chuckles when he says, “It was a crazy period but it taught me valuable lessons in how to raise capital in tough times, which was a benefit when I started my own investment advisory firm.” He is referring to Strategy 613, which he established in 2000 to provide cross border investment and M&A advice to companies looking to get into Chinese markets. “It was a challenging economic climate in which to start a business but I felt at the time the banks here simply weren’t offering a good enough advisory service and that we could do it better.”
The business went well and pretty soon blue-chip firms with specific China-related investment issues were approaching the boutique consultancy. “They really needed us. I joke that there are no ladders in China, only snakes,” the 44-year-old laughs, “but we are proud to have represented the likes of Kasikorn Bank, Siam Cement Group, Minor International and Bangkok Hospital Group, among others, with their business forays into China. Of course, in recent years China has been looking outward to invest, so increasingly we are involved in the sale of foreign-owned assets to Chinese companies. Internally China has cheap labour and good infrastructure but it can’t replicate that so easily in overseas markets. It needs to adapt and we’re here to help.”
China obviously has a special connection for Joe. He travels there more or less weekly and maintains a home in Beijing, where Strategy 613 has an office. “Chinese is almost my mother tongue. In fact, I speak it by default with my mother and both my sons are getting to grips with the language. Actually, mirroring my own childhood experience, for a while the boys went to the same local Beijing primary school that I attended,” he says.
Which brings us nicely to education and its importance to Joe. A little over 12 years ago, he and his brother Leo established the ChangAi Foundation to build schools for children from the mainly Dai and Kachin minorities in rural southwest Yunnan and to provide training to their teachers and microloans to their parents. He is also a co-founder of the Oxford Thai Foundation, a non-political entity that gives grants to Thai Oxbridge graduates wanting to make positive changes in the country through better public policymaking and the way those policies are administered. It is these initiatives that saw Joe invested with an MBE for services to educational development by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth earlier this year.
When he isn’t on his frequent travels, the multi-lingual businessman will probably be found at home in Bangkok teaching his sons—seven-year-old Paul and four-year-old Dan—to swim, or supporting wife Napawong Snidvongs with her family-centric community mall Bambini Villa. His other passion, one he says really helps him to switch off, is photography and tinkering with photographic equipment. To date, he has put his maths skills and enquiring mind to good use to design and 3D-print his own special light and lens attachments for one of his vintage cameras.
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