EXECUTIVE BRIEFCASE: ADVICE FROM A LEADING INDUSTRIALIST: BE DILIGENT, BE HONEST, BE FRUGAL
"If we show respect to corrupt people, it will further encourage the wrong attitude towards corruption."
SURAPORN SIMAKULTHORN Executive chairman, Kulthorn Kirby Plc
The visitor to the headquarters of Kulthorn Kirby Plc (KKC) can't help but notice the big sign hanging in the main lobby, which declares "Be Diligent B e Honest B e Frugal".
"It's also my personal motto," says Suraporn Simakulthorn, the executive chairman of KKC, the major SET-listed maker of air-conditioner compressor motors and refrigeration product equipment.
"I started my career with the Telephone Organisation of Thailand back in 1963, then moved to work at Ericsson in 1967 for 13 years," he explains."Learning frommy own personal experience, I believe we must be diligent and have a conviction to get the job done.
"Honesty is second to none when you work with others. In our 32-year history at Kulthorn Kirby, we've gone through a number of cooperative ventures with partners including Western and Asian counterparts. Honesty is the key element in business achievement.
"Last but not least is being frugal,which is similar to something we are well aware of, the 'self-sufficient economy'. Since I used to be a corporate employee myself, I am truly aware of the importance of saving. We have to behave in a way that we spend only what is necessary and keep some savings at all times."
From professional to leading industrialist:In 1980, at the request of his two elder brothers, Mr Suraporn resigned from Ericsson and joined the import company his brothers had started. With rising demand for refrigerators and air-conditioners in the domestic market together with investment promotion from the government, there was high business potential and the Simakulthorn family was ready to jump in.
"We joined with Kirby of Australia to form Kulthorn Kirby in 1980. It is the licensee of Tecumseh compressors from the US. Nowadays we manufacture 5 million compressors a year."
The business over the past three decades has grown substantially, but its executive chairman has not forgotten the basics.
"I consider myself a moderate person,not an outstanding one," he says."Therefore, I always tell myself to work hard. Besides, it's a fact of life that we cannot work alone but need others to work as a team. At Kulthorn Kirby, we have grown from 500 to 6,000 employees during 32 years of operation.
"Participation is one of my working philosophies. Whatever I do, I adopt a participative approach with our team.When working together, people should trust and love their organisation. They should feel a passion when they come to work. If they feel lazy or unmotivated,they should think about the people who do not have jobs. In order for this attitude to take hold, we should ensure the workplace is treated like a second home.Let the worker feel comfortable when they are here. For example, a proper landscape with a green environment is necessary."
Different working styles:Motivating workers to do their best also requires a good understanding of different working styles. The working style of Thais, for example, is not the same as that of others.In 50 years of continuous working experience, Mr Suraporn has had opportunities to work closely with both Asians and Westerners.
"Japanese employees are highly loyal to their companies. They have a strong commitment and conviction. They will not easily abandon work and always work in teams, although this can slow down the decision-making process.However, when the decision does get made, everyone agrees to follow with high discipline since it has resulted from a number of conversations and meetings involving the group."
In his opinion, the strong points of the Western style of management include delegation since management mainly aims for end results.
For this reason, there are many cases of changes in business ownership, which also results in low loyalty to the organisation.
"Thais tend to take the comfortable path and also will easily adapt to others'styles if we see fit. In line with this view, I always ask my people when they have an international trip, whether to visit another factory or an exhibition, to write a report on what they learned and observed, both good and bad. We can learn from both sides of the coin."
Timely decision-maker:"Although we are good in many aspects, we are trailing behind our neighbours because of corruption," Mr Suraporn says,expressing his concern about a major threat to the local business community.
"Corruption comes from greed and is encouraged because people respect the rich even if their dirty money comes from corruption and bribery. According to Buddhist teaching, we should have hiri and ottappa , or shame and fear of doing evil. If we show respect to corrupt people, it will further encourage the wrong attitude towards corruption."
A humble and moderate leader, Mr Suraporn considers decisiveness the first quality a leader should have, noting it is also the strong point that Western executives typically employ.
"Thai executives normally hesitate to make decisions even when they should be made at a particular point and would rather wait for additional information.The Japanese seem to be slow in making decisions since they prefer to decide as a team and not as individuals. I typically make timely decisions since I have experience working in many areas. Past experience allows me to make decisions with confidence.
"Second, a leader should behave as a role model. You may refer to a flock of storks. The leader will fly ahead until it's time to change to another one. At a personal level, I always pick up waste paper on the factory floor if I see some.
"Last but not least is integrity. A leader must uphold the right principles with honesty in every aspect and dimension of activity."
Sorayuth Vathanavisuth is a former chief executive of the Thailand Management Association. His areas of interest are leadership development, talent management and executive coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org