The Sisterhood Of Success: 5 Thai Sibling Business Duos To Know
1/5 Pattreeda and Nualtong Prasarnthong
Sisters Pattreeda and Nualtong Prasarnthong, both graduates of Chulalongkorn University, studied in fields far removed from the gentle world of illustration. Pattreeda, the elder of the two and known as Pang, earned a degree in communication arts before studying illustration at Brighton University. Nualtong, or Nual, had been creative from a young age but still pursued a degree in commerce and accountancy before heading off to Nottingham Trent University to explore her artistic side.
“After coming back from the UK I started helping Pang, who had returned before me and had found work as a freelance illustrator. I would often drive her places but I’d also sit in on her meetings and eventually I started contributing on a creative level,” Nual giggles. “I could already draw a little having studied design in England, but once I realised the potential of illustration as a fulfilling career I started to develop my own style and technique.”
She continues, “We’ve been doing this for close to 20 years now and over time, realising that the trends in illustration would always change, we decided to set up a studio to promote our collaborative work.” Early assignments with magazines soon gave way to more commercial work and their own exhibitions. The studio, named Pangnual, became an access point for those interested in the duo’s work as a team. “My style is quite different from Pang’s. I tend to specialise in drawing for fashion and beauty projects. Her work is much more unisex, childlike and playful.” Pang nods in agreement. “A friend once described my characters as short, round and stocky with hands that seem to pop up from nowhere,” she chuckles. Unlike Nual’s chic silhouettes, Pang’s style adopts cute cuddliness as a basis, “which actually makes her work a lot more versatile and approachable,” her younger sibling says.
The sisters’ latest assignment together was for Artistry, Amway’s global project. “We used Nual’s characters as the main focus while I worked on the backgrounds and other graphics,” explains Pang. “Given our different styles, when we mix our illustrations together it often looks odd and comedic, but in a good way that our clients seem to like,” Nual laughs, recalling a project where her sister’s much smaller characters ‘struggled’ to hold hands with her own taller characters. Collaborations can also throw up the unexpected. “Sometimes we’re asked to attend the same event or function as live illustrators, meaning we draw people on the spot at the venue. Occasionally a person will ask me to do a sketch of them on one side of the canvas then ask Nual to sketch them on the other side. It’s fun to compare the two styles,” smiles Pang.
They certainly bring different perspectives to their work—Pang’s minimalism versus Nual’s finesse—but a mutual appreciation of form and colour is a constant in their creativity. And as only sisters can, they’re not above giving each other some constructive criticism. “But then, when either of us is feeling down or having cold feet about a project, the other is always there to comfort, reassure and sometimes bully the saddo back into action,” laughs Nual.
2/5 Vachira and Varangkana Jitsakdanont
Originally founded by their father Dr Veraded Jitsakdanont some four decades ago, running Union Pan Exhibitions—famed for organising buyer-to-consumer events and professional exhibitions covering everything from furniture to supercars and food—keeps sisters Vachira and Varangkana Jitsakdanont very much on their toes. As is a common theme with our other sister acts, Vachira and Varangkana, or Jum and Jing as they prefer, grew up in the business and have seen it change throughout the years.
“There are four of us working for Union Pan Exhibitions,” says Jum, the eldest. “I have actually been working for the family since I was studying for my bachelor’s degree at Assumption University,” she adds. Jum would come into the office and work part time as a trainee. She began working for the business officially in 2001 at the age of 23, after she had finished her master’s degree studies in Australia.
Jing laughs recalling her route to Union Pan. “I was unwilling to working at my father’s company for as long as I remember. I first worked there after I got my bachelor’s but managed to escape for a year to the UK to do my master’s. But as soon as I stepped off the plane when I got back dad asked me to help with a company meeting. That was 15 years ago!”
Of the four siblings, Jum and Jing were the first to join the family concern. “We kind of knew that we were always going to,” Jum says, “Our childhood playgrounds were the exhibition halls we were taken to. It was daily life.” Fast-forward to the present and both sisters are on the board of directors, each responsible for their own departments. “Jum looks after advertising and marketing while I look after accounting and finances,” explains Jing. Both are adept at advising their father. “We all look at planning and expansion for the future together, usually setting a five-year goal and making small adjustments as needed along the way,” says Jum. A current goal is to expand their services beyond Thailand to neighbouring countries and eventually all of Southeast Asia.
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“One advantage of working with my sister and my siblings,” Jum admits, “is that I know there are always extra pairs of hands to help.” However, she adds that she and her sister face a challenge with the generation gap between them and their father. “Sometimes he can be very resistant to change, particularly in terms of technology and the way information is conveyed. Things happen much faster than they did in his heyday.”
In terms of sibling rivalry, Jing says that because she is the younger of the two she sometimes finds herself naturally deferring to Jum. “Then again, because we are family there are fewer layers to cut through. We can be more straightforward with each other, which is refreshing.” As befits the older sister, Jum has the last word. “Our family bond has strengthened as we have aged,” she laughs. “I spend as much time with Jing as with my husband and working together connects us in a way that allows us to talk about anything with each other.”
3/5 Visootha and Suvisooth Lohitnavy
Visootha and Suvisooth Lohitnavy—Nikki and Mimi respectively—grew up immersed in their father Visooth’s passion for grapes and the wine they produce. Nikki was only 12 years old when the family’s GranMonte vineyard was founded in Khao Yai but she says she knew then that her future was in viticulture and winemaking.
Nikki was sent to school in Melbourne and stayed on in Australia to study viticulture and oenology at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 2008. Mimi followed down under and then went to the US to earn a liberal arts degree from Wheaton College in 2011. “Initially GranMonte was just a vineyard producing grapes. Dad taught himself about growing vines and making wine. It is his passion and he shared his knowledge with us. We couldn’t help but be enthused,” says Nikki, who had effectively been part of GranMonte’s management since her university days. “After my classes I would immediately email Dad about everything I’d learned, chipping in with ideas and advice on managing our own vineyard. The goal was then—and still is—to grow ever-better grapes.” The vineyard itself certainly prospered and not long after her return from Australia a winery production facility was added.
Mimi, on the other hand, took a more circuitous route back to Khao Yai, working variously at PricewaterhouseCoopers, BEC-TERO, Channel 3 and with Thai NGOs. “Throughout those years I kept in touch with the business and once I got my MBA from Sasin School of Management in 2016 I joined full-time,” she says. Her first roles were in the tourist and hospitality side of things—operations include a restaurant, vineyard tours and harvest activities for visitors. Later she took over label and packaging design from Nikki. On paper, Mimi is director of marketing and public relations. “But she also helps with sales, exports and business development among other things.” Nikki adds. “In truth we all chip in with different tasks. It’s what makes it so interesting. I look after the research and development side as well as the production side of the business as general manager and oenologist. Never a dull moment,” she laughs.
That they work together well is obvious, but do they ever experience bumps in the road? Both laugh. “It is easy to procrastinate together,” says Mimi, “because we often spend time thinking of new projects that aren’t really about wine.” Nikki adds, “I think we make a good team. Mimi is good at what she does, so with her taking care of the numbers and more, I can really focus on what I do.” But Mimi interjects. “It has its challenges though. Nikki may have a new blend of wine and I have no idea if the market wants it but I have to try to come up with something that ensures it is well received.”
Ultimately though, both recognise that they are a spur to each other’s sense of professionalism. “We want to build on what our parents created through their sheer hard work, so we are a reminder to each to be the best we can. Sometimes things can get…emotional—we’re siblings after all,” Nikki laughs. “But ultimately we have the same goal, to make GranMonte a bigger success.”
4/5 Thitiporn Sathavornmanee and Peeraphan Rungkamol
Thitiporn Sathavornmanee and Peeraphan Rungkamol, doting sisters among a clutch of five siblings born to the Sanguanpiyapan family, itself part of an established clan of business entrepreneurs, were exposed to the glittering world of fine jewellery at a young age. “It was one of the family businesses so we got to see the manufacturing processes and precious metals and gemstones up close when we were very young,” says Peeraphan, or P for short.
In fact, all that beauty and sparkle made such an impression on Peeraphan that she eventually studied at the Gemological Institute of America. Then in 2007 the five siblings came together to found Sette Peccati, a branded jewellery store showcasing their original Sette collection of coloured gemstones and ready-to-wear luxury jewellery. “Our expertise was primarily in gem cutting so we wanted to highlight that but we also wanted to move towards being a multi-brand jewellery retailer offering our customers more variety,” says Thitiporn, or Nent.
As well as their own Peccati designs, Sette is an official distributor of unique European brands such as Qeelin, VitaJuwel and Italian semi-fine jewellery brand Misis. More recently, they have been looking to add to their inventory by tying up with Swiss-Thai jewellery brand Pacharee, which specialises in pearls.
While Nent and P eventually ended up running Sette on their own, Nent initially only worked there from the sidelines. “I was employed at another company at the time and P was working with two of our brothers, which was difficult because they had different thoughts on running the business,” she says. P chuckles and adds, “Each of us has a different work dynamic and sometimes teamwork suffers, but I think Nent and I complement each other best.” Currently the two head their own departments—Nent marketing and public relations and P design and manufacturing—and work has never been better.
“Before I joined Sette full-time we all had an equal say in the affairs of the business and because of that often we couldn’t agree with each other, which slowed the business down terribly,” explains Nent. “Simply put, there were too many head-strong decision-makers. But we’re a family and we came to a compromise for the collective good. We are women and understand jewellery from a female point of view,” she laughs. “I leave the creative design and manufacturing operations and management to P and do my best with my marketing responsibilities to ensure things go smoothly for her.”
It is a situation that works well for P—“I am quite happy to be behind the scenes,” she says—and the proof of its efficacy is in the company’s up-turn since the sisters took the helm. Ironically though, as P points out, this success means extra help is needed to oversee production and operations, “So the chances are high that more family members will be joining us,” she laughs. In fact, of the five siblings four now have daughters. “That means the dynasty is assured with four girls in the next generation who will hopefully ensure the brand continues to prosper,” Nent smiles.
5/5 Apinara and Ploypayap Srikarnchana
Prang, Pim and Ploy may sound like characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta but they are in fact the nicknames of the remarkably entrepreneurial Srikarnchana sisters: Apinara, Pimpayap and Ploypayap. We talk to Prang and Ploy who are in charge of Asia Insurance, watch distributor Pendulum and the family’s Nara Thai Cuisine restaurant chain. “It’s true. Although we have our own projects we also work together as we have responsibilities with our family’s businesses,” explains Prang, the eldest of Chula-payap and Yuki’s three daughters. Currently she leads U Drink I Drive, a mobile application she co-founded six years ago to prevent drink-driving, while Ploy runs her own brand of cosmetics, activewear and footwear online. Despite their independent interests, they all regularly find time to come together to talk about what’s next on their own and the family’s agendas.
Aside from Pim, who is something akin to the family’s marketing and public relations officer particularly for Nara Thai Cuisine, the two admit that they don’t have titles in their family businesses. As Ploy says, “They’re simply not necessary. Because we live together, at the end of the day we just sit together and talk, share our comments on business and give each other advice. It’s all pretty laid-back really and it works because individually we are so very different in what we are good at.”
Prang graduated with a liberal arts degree in language and political science from Waseda University, eventually continuing her master’s studies at the London School of Economics. “I have always been interested in the connections between the histories of different countries and how they add up to the way things work in the world, so my duties are often geared towards international PR,” she explains. The youngest of the siblings, Ploy, has liked the arts since she was young and attained a degree at London College of Fashion. “With Nara, I often help out with interior design and other design needs,” she says. Prang adds, “Because Ploy has a really good eye, our mum often approaches her first for help with menu designs, even about how food should look on a plate.” Ploy’s work for Nara Group is particularly to the fore at its Lady Nara café.
“The way we work together as siblings is simple: if any of our businesses need help, in whatever area, the others are there to step in and lend a hand,” says Prang. “We’ve been helping each other since we were very young in fact. When we were small, our input came in the form of critiquing food. Mum would invite chefs she was thinking of hiring to cook something and have us taste the food. We then had to rate it out of 10 with numbered cards, like in a TV cooking contest. We have been guinea pigs for her culinary experiments ever since,” she laughs.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak the siblings have been working on implementing innovations at Nara Group. “We have been trying to develop something different on the delivery front and so I’ve been researching self-heating pots and bowls of all things. I think they have potential,” Ploy says. Given the entrepreneurial streak that runs in the family, don’t be surprised to see them on a delivery bike soon.
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