The joys of realising a childhood Passione
Pattamabhorn Nokhong believes she has the fighting spirit and personal touch to keep the family retail business going strong, even as big players look to elbow their way into the East, writes Pitsinee Jitpleecheep
Few nine-year-old girls know exactly what they want to do when they grow up. For those who do, it’s a rare occurrence when things turn out exactly as they’d dreamt. But for Pattamabhorn Nokhong, a daughter of Somkuan Nokhong, the founder of Laemthong Shopping Malls in Sri Racha and Rayong, becoming a retail operator was the only thing she ever really wanted to do.
“I knew from the time I was in fourth grade that I didn’t want any other career apart from being a department store operator. I think it’s because I followed my dad to work once at Laemthong Department Store in Sri Racha, where I helped him sell goods and put them in bags for customers. During that time of my life, I was always observing how my father tackled problems,” reminisces Ms Pattamabhorn, 43, who is chief executive of My Passion & Inspiration Co Ltd, the operator of Passione Shopping Destination in Rayong.
Unlike other teenagers, Ms Pattamabhorn says she never hung out with her friends at the weekend or during school holidays, which laid the foundations for the work ethic she’s carried into adulthood.
She majored in economics to support her family business. Upon earning her bachelor’s degree from Thammasat University, Ms Pattamabhorn had originally aimed to continue her studies abroad. But the Asian financial crisis broke out and the baht collapsed, throwing a spanner in those plans.
During those rocky times, Ms Pattamabhorn managed to take on some of her dad’s skyrocketing debt from the family business.
“I still remember how both domestic and international creditors kept calling. I had to take hundreds of calls from creditors and negotiate with them. I didn’t know how to handle it; it felt like falling into an abyss,” she says. “But I never give up. I believe I inherited my father’s fighting spirit.”
It took almost 10 years for her family to repay her debts and rebuild the company.
Some people may shy away from such experiences, but Ms Pattamabhorn says the crisis taught her a valuable lesson, making her both stronger and more cautious.
“I became very conservative in conducting business. I try to borrow from financial institutions as little as possible. That’s what I learned from the crisis,” she says.
Six years ago, Ms Pattamabhorn inherited Laemthong Shopping Mall from her father. But this inheritance also came with a challenge, as giant retailers like Central Pattana Plc, the SET-listed retail and property developer under Central Group of Companies, had also set up shop in Rayong.
Albeit small in size, Ms Pattamabhorn says she is not intimidated by the entry of those conglomerates.
“I may feel scared, but I will never run away. I will find a space for us as a minor operator and I think being a small player will make us more flexible,” she says.
Today, the once 60,000-square-metre Laemthong Shopping Mall has been upgraded, rebranded and doubled in size, operating as the far trendier Passione Shopping Destination.
The shopping complex was developed and decorated to reflect Ms Pattam abhorn’s sense of aesthetic.
She travels abroad three or four times a year to check out department stores in Europe, borrowing what she likes for her own mall.
“I’ve taken insights from models in each country. For example, in Korea, the fashion shops are thematically mixed. They can have cosmetic shops next to apparel shops, which I think offers more fun and colour.”
Ms Pattamabhorn is also high on the prospects for her shopping mall despite the competition, as Rayong houses Map Ta Phut, one of the largest industrial hubs in Asean.
“One day, I drove into Map Ta Phut and spent the whole day there. That visit made me confident that my business will survive, while also supporting this economic area,” she says.
Apart from doubling the size of her shopping complex, Ms Pattamabhorn has also diversified into the hotel business, recently launching the 2.5-billion-baht Holiday Inn & Suites Rayong City Centre, the first in Thailand to offer long-term rentals.
Ms Pattamabhorn believes that the hotel and shopping mall, located close to each other, will prove mutually beneficial. The main targets of the hotel are foreign business travellers, mainly from Germany, Japan, Korea and China, as well as Thai people working at the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate.
The hotel is targeted to fetch an occupancy rate of 65% after its official opening and increase to 80% over the next five years. Ms Pattamabhorn predicts that the hotel and business in the East will continue to thrive, driven by the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiative, the Eastern Economic Corridor project and growing tourism. In order to capitalise on the promising prospects of the region, her company plans to ramp up its hotel business in the next three years, with some projects in the pipeline, although she was coy about divulging details. “I tend to focus on business expansion in my hometown and nearby areas, as I know the area well. I’m not a greedy person at all. I like to do what I really understand and have a passion for,” Ms Pattamabhorn says. She admits that she’s learned everything from scratch, as she had no previous knowledge of design, accounting, engineering or construction.
“I sat down with all of the experts and related departments and learned every aspect hands-on. For the next project, I believe I will know every detail on how to build a shopping mall. But I like to take things slow — step by step. I will not launch a new project until the one at hand is up and running.”
Asked if she has fulfilled her dreams, Ms Pattamabhorn says her life has exceeded her expectations and she feels honoured that she’s been able to make her father proud.
I’m not a greedy person at all. I like to do what I really understand and have a passion for. PATTAMABHORN NOKHONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MY PASSION & INSPIRATION CO LTD
Ms Pattamabhorn says she knew from the time she was in fourth grade that she couldn’t imagine any other career path other than being a department store operator.