Pride of Thailand

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Last Friday night’s 20th anniversary celebration for King Power International Group (Thailand) was an emotional night for the company’s staff and management. Through the two decades of its existence, the past two and a half years have perhaps been the most turbulent – making Friday’s unbridled celebrations all the more poignant.

For a start, the retailer has survived what Deputy Chairman Chulchit Bunyaketu described to us as “a huge wind” – the long-running legal challenge to its contracts at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport from the then board of Airports of Thailand, which began in early 2007, and which was resolved late last year.

Where most companies have faced day-to-day challenges in maintaining passenger spend rates amid sliding passenger numbers over the past year, King Power was also hit by the 10-day closure of its operations at Suvarnabhumi as political protests raged in the capital last November. Add to that the impact of bird flu and more recently swine flu, and the company has been hit by a succession of events that have damaged the huge potential of its business.

Yet this is a company that has shown huge resilience, has stuck rigidly to what management believes is right, and which has come through those challenges displaying fortitude, personality and good humour.

Those values find their deepest expression in Chairman & CEO Vichai Raksriaksorn, for whom Friday night was about family (his wife and four children all play key roles in the business), company and nationality. His moving speech underlined his great pride in Thailand as a nation – and generated a huge reaction, including a few tears, from the assembled staff and other Thai guests in particular.

He said: “Over the past two decades, many people have questioned me about the reason I was so committed to the duty free business. My answer is that I want to see this important business owned and managed by Thais, rather than by foreigners who operate in many other countries.

“I firmly believe that Thais are no less intelligent, dedicated, and capable than any other people in the world. Thais have a strong command of the management systems, the business practices, and the relationships with international brands that are crucial for success in the duty free industry.”

He also made a key point about the loyalty of many suppliers through the turbulence of the past two years: “We have encountered many difficulties, problems, and obstacles as the situation in our nation has gone back and forth in many ways, but despite the ups and downs, we are very pleased to have arrived at the point we are at today. Through all of these changing circumstances, our local and international business partners still place their trust in us and have always supported us.”

Long after the formal part of the evening had ended, and the celebrations continued into the wee hours in the bar of the Pullman King Power Hotel, Khun Vichai joined the remaining guests for a glass of a favoured French vintage red – he is a great connoisseur (and customer) of Bordeaux’s greatest wine houses.

There, he reiterated his deep feelings for the company’s supporters – whether they were brand owners, banking institutions or public officials – who had stuck with King Power when some might have chosen to look away as the retailer’s future looked under threat.

For some companies in our industry, there are relationships that transcend business, relationships whose strength is only tested by adversity. For two decades King Power (Thailand) has been one of those – so here’s to the next 20 years.

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