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

Bangkok Post - - NATIONAL -

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.

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