Companies can prepare for greater regional integration by studying the market, being innovative and taking quality products and services abroad, says Boonkiet Chokwatana of ICC International Private Companies, government offices and academic institutes have been debating the opportunities and challenges of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) for years. Indeed, the community would have already launched at the start of this year had it not been pushed back to December 31 by unprepared member states.
According to Boonkiet Chokwatana,president and executive chairman of ICC International PCL, a distributor of consumer products under the Saha Group, Thailand has to improve innovation and resourcefulness in order to keep up. He sat down with Elite+ for an exclusive interview on avariety of business topics.
“Real estate is the most prepared sector for the AEC,” Mr Boonkiet said.“Some companies have been buying property in Thailand and neighbouring countries to gain an advantage.”
Hotel construction projects are being stepped up to receive more tourists expected to use Thailand as a transit hub for travel in the region.Foreign demand for condominiums is increasing. And Thai companies have invested in property development businesses abroad. Major hotels in Myanmar and Cambodia are being developed through Thai investment. Vikrom Kromdis of Amata Group developed an industrial estate in Vietnam and has begun plans for asecond. Other industrialists are likewise developing large-scale projects across the region.
Tourism remains an important sector, but Thailand should not get complacent or overconfident. “Thais love travelling. Foreign countries also see Thailand as a major tourist destination with high-quality services,”he said. “Our prices are higher compared to our neighbours, though.Local labour in the tourism and service industries also lacks discipline. Neighbouring countries can provide quality and offer lower prices. We’re losing our advantage.”
Mr Boonkiet believes Thai labour needs to adjust to remain competitive. In the AEC, Singapore has the highest proportion of skilled labour, given their structured work style and good management skills. Thai labour structure, however, is better than incountries such as Myanmar and Cambodia. Labour practices in the Philippines also get positive reviews.
“We might not be able to compete with Singapore in terms of organization and management, but our system is better than some countries. We need to strengthen our labour structure and management skills. At the same time, our workers need to work harder, be less choosy and more eager to learn new things.”
Mr Boonkiet also thinks Thai labour needs to be trained in critical thinking and be more inquisitive.“Thai workers are told to follow orders, so they don’t learn how to develop critical thinking.”
At a national level, the government and business sectors need to pay attention to transparency and corruption indicators. Developing skilled labour and boosting innovation might enhance a product’s competitiveness, but at the end of the day sustainable companies will choose to invest in countries with a stable political climate and less corruption.
An important step in achieving transparency is finding the right loca lpartner. Saha Group prioritizes working with local businesses with a clean business record. “There are no set rules for finding a local partner. We often start with small projects to get an idea of what our local partners can do and to get to know their work philosophy and how transparent their business practices are.”
Executives also need to understand the country. Mr Boonkiet often travels to places where the company hopes to invest. Recently he went to India to get a feel for the country. “I try to visit as many countries as I can. And my visit is not for pleasure.I go for work and to get to know the place. Every country has some similarities with other countries but something unique too. You just need to find out. ”Executives also need to be physically prepared and keep their lives and activities in balance, he added. A strong boss who gets enough rest and exercise will be of more benefit to the company. “I just look at my schedule and adjust my time and activities to achieve balance. A strong body will help you work better and give you a clear mind.”