Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi And Life In The Fast Lane
Established 86 years ago by Phraya Bhirombhakdi, Boon Rawd Brewery—makers of Thailand’s iconic Singha lager—is the country’s oldest beer maker. Today its main subsidiary, Singha Corporation, oversees more than 50 affiliated businesses encompassing food and beverage, packaging, property development, logistics, energy and venture capital. Simply put, in eight decades it has grown to become one of Thailand’s largest conglomerates.
Which all goes to explain why 29-year-old Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi, son of Boon Rawd Brewery executive vice president Chutinant and his wife ML Piyapas, can be forgiven for feeling some trepidation when he joined the business in 2016 as a financial analyst. A fourth generation member of the founding family, he says he was very much aware of the legacy built by his forbears and the need to perpetuate their achievements.
Recently appointed head of the CFO office of Boon Rawd, Naiyanobh’s responsibilities include overseeing the company’s financial and risk management strategies and he admits that since his promotion life has been hectic. But it wasn’t always so for the youngest of three siblings, who spent much of his early life abroad. Describing himself as a third culture kid, at his own request he was sent to boarding school in the UK at the age of nine.
“Both of my sisters were already in school there and our home in Bangkok became too quiet,” he laughs. After attending Cothill House and Harrow, he later relocated to the United States where he earned a degree in financial economics at the University of San Francisco. A year back in the UK at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst followed. “When I returned to Thailand, I was commissioned into the Thai army for three years before I entered Boon Rawd,” he says.
With his sisters Chitpas Kridakorn and Nantaya forging careers in politics and fashion respectively, the onus was on their young brother to join the family business and while some might construe his entry to its management echelons as being dished up on a silver platter, for Naiyanobh it was a move loaded with nerve-wracking pressure.
“The first, second and third generations of the family have brought us this far, so it’s actually quite hard to come in as part of the fourth generation knowing you not only have to protect that legacy but also build on it,” he says, adding, “In fact, it is precisely because of my family name that I feel I have to drive myself that much harder. It is important to me that people don’t see me as simply an entitled family member. I want to be treated as an equal, a competent professional like the rest of my colleagues.”
This desire to prove himself among family and senior colleagues isn’t without its challenges though. “Of course there are disagreements between us,” he chuckles, “but it is essential to be able to separate the personal from the professional and to understand the importance of teamwork and having the right people in the right roles. I don’t claim to know everything but when I do experience a problem I know that there will be someone in our organisation who will have the answer. To be honest, I am only as good as the people I work with. I am fortunate to have such fantastic colleagues.”
Looking ahead, the laid-back young executive hopes to see the family conglomerate continue to grow and has every intention of being a useful asset that contributes to that growth locally and internationally.
“The company has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. We have always been associated with beer and brands such as Singha and Leo maintain that identity. But we are so much more than a leading local brewery today. We have branched out into the real estate business with Singha Estate [of which his father is chairman], which owns UK-based Jupiter Hotels, operator of the Mercure brand, and a year ago we became involved in logistics through a partnership with Australian firm Linfox, which specialises in transport and warehousing services. I am also excited about another of our latest forays, Singha Ventures, which provides venture capital to start-ups.”
In fact, helping others runs deep in the family and within the wider business, as Naiyanobh explains. “We have two important CSR initiatives: the Singha R-SA volunteer network was established in 2011 primarily to help mitigate against local natural disasters, while the Phraya Bhirombhakdi Foundation honours our founder who was a supporter of the Thai Red Cross Society and a volunteer firefighter. The foundation offers educational scholarships, medical grants and funding for environmental protection programmes, among other worthy causes.”
On a personal level Naiyanobh is also something of a philanthropist and serves as president of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Association of Thailand. “It is a privilege to be involved and I have a good example to follow because my father has been chairman of the Paralympic Committee of Thailand for nearly a decade,” he says. “When I was little, I had opportunities to meet many disabled athletes and watch them train and compete. I have always admired how hard they work and how proud they are to represent our country. As president of the association I try to raise awareness of the difficulties those with cerebral palsy face and their bravery in overcoming those challenges. They inspire me and I’ll be following the progress of our disabled athletes with great interest at the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, particularly our boccia players who have a gold medal to defend,” he smiles.
Himself a budding sportsman when younger, the executive grins when asked what he might like to have done had he not joined the family business. “I’d have been an American football player,” he laughs. “Seriously though, I did have aspirations to become a racing car driver. Growing up I idolised Michael Schumacher and from the age of 15 I was already competing. My parents were very supportive, letting me race on tracks long before I could legally drive on public roads. I just loved going fast. I still do but I put the racing on hold when I joined Boon Rawd. My last outing was a few years ago as part of the Craft-Bamboo Racing Team in the 2016 GT Asia Series. I miss it,” he says wistfully.
So can he be described as an adrenaline junkie? “No, not really,” he responds. “I would never go bungee jumping. I recently took up golf again, which is hardly a seat-of-the-pants sport now is it? I wasn’t fond of golf as a kid but nowadays it helps me to relax.” Where he finds the time to fit a round in is anyone’s guess. Up every day at 6:30am to hit the gym before heading to the office, his weekends are given over to philanthropic pursuits more often than not. Which helps to explain why he remains such an eligible catch. “I don’t have much time for anything outside of work at the moment. It’s been a while since I had a proper break. I enjoyed my university years in San Francisco so perhaps I can swing a holiday there sometime soon,” he says.
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