The lady's not for turn­ing

Through all the rough and tum­ble of ho­tel man­age­ment, Piya­man Te­japaibul has looked straight ahead and weath­ered ever y po­lit­i­cal and tourism cri­sis.

Bangkok Post - - WEEKEND BUSINESS - By Suchat Sri­tama

Piya­man Te­japaibul’s suc­cess in ho­tels and hos­pi­tal­ity is due in no small part to her stay­ing in sync with the dy­namic sec­tor through its many ups and downs over the decades.

For the lady of the Re­gent Group — of­fi­cially she’s the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the ho­tel, prop­erty and ed­u­ca­tion op­er­a­tor — life is not just about em­pow­er­ing the fam­ily busi­ness, but also re­in­forc­ing and strengthening the coun­try’s ser­vice sec­tor.

“I have been work­ing for 35 years,” says Mrs Piya­man, 56. “I’m proud to be one of the peo­ple who have been driv­ing the tourism in­dus­try.”

In 2010, Mrs Piya­man was cho­sen as pres­i­dent of the Tourism Coun­cil of Thai­land (TCT). In two con­sec­u­tive terms over four years, she and her team worked closely with tourism or­gan­i­sa­tions in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors and with other stake­hold­ers in­side and out­side Thai­land.

“Dur­ing my time, the GDP share of tourism climbed to a record 18%, a level never seen be­fore,” she says. “But then the tourism sec­tor sud­denly dropped and faced a cri­sis due to un­con­trol­lable is­sues.”

The po­lit­i­cal ten­sions of the time chased away a lot of tourists, but all par­ties ral­lied to tackle the prob­lem and get the tourism sec­tor back on track.

The daugh­ter of a wealthy fam­ily, Mrs Piya­man in­sists she had never worked closely with politi­cians and author­i­ties. But to ful­fil her duty as head of the TCT, she moved around town and met with many in­dus­try lead­ers and top of­fi­cials, seek­ing ways to drive the tourism sec­tor and over­come the cri­sis.

“All the way, there was pres­sure,” she says. “But with my strength and maybe be­cause I am a woman, I put my best ef­forts into work, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with groups and bear­ing in mind dif­fer­ences in thought. In fact, my aim was to lead the tourism in­dus­try for­ward and make it the best for ev­ery­one.”

Mrs Piya­man says the TCT post gave her a chance to prove that gen­der is im­ma­te­rial to per­for­mance in a big job. Some of the worst sit­u­a­tions took a long pe­riod of time to re­solve or show im­prove­ment. Stress and fa­tigue were never a nui­sance be­cause she knows how to deal with such hur­dles and erase pain from her life.

“My rou­tine work in­volves meet­ing and dis­cussing dif­fer­ent is­sues with many peo­ple,” she says. “Some days I’m talk­a­tive and some days I keep quiet. It’s all about my con­sid­ered judge­ment about what to do for the tourism sec­tor.”

When the tourism in­dus­try is on the ropes, one re­sort is “soft power” through diplo­matic over­tures. For in­stance, when calamity gives po­ten­tial tourists pause, the TCT can ask the govern­ment for help with soft-power ini­tia­tives such as visa ex­emp­tions or waivers for visa fees to lure vis­i­tors.

Dur­ing Mrs Piya­man’s 35 years at work, the Te­japaibul fam­ily has fo­cused on ex­ist­ing busi­nesses rather than ex­pan­sion. Core busi­nesses in­clude a 30-year-old of­fice build­ing called Re­gent House on Ratchadamri Road and the 35-year-old Re­gent Cha-Am Ho­tel on the West­ern Seaboard.

Re­gent Cha-Am Ho­tel of­fers 560 rooms, plus 15 meet­ing rooms and con­ven­tion halls. It bills it­self as the big­gest venue for Mice (meet­ings, in­cen­tives, con­ven­tions and ex­hi­bi­tions) on the coast.

The Te­japaibuls at one time al­lowed an in­ter­na­tional chain to man­age the ho­tel, but the ex­per­i­ment ended with a re­turn to fam­ily man­age­ment and a fo­cus on do­mes­tic mar­kets.

Ac­cord­ing to Mrs Piya­man, in­stead of build­ing new ho­tels or ex­pand­ing the port­fo­lio to other des­ti­na­tions, the Re­gent Group prefers to add on to ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties. The group opened a ho­tel school in 2014 in Cha-am, Phetch­aburi prov­ince called Re­gent Cha-Am Hos­pi­tal­ity School, aim­ing to pro­duce a skilled work­force for the ho­tel busi­ness.

“When I worked for the TCT, I re­alised that the ho­tel sec­tor is boom­ing but lacks well-trained work­ers,” Mrs Piya­man says. “So I formed the school for young, pas­sion­ate peo­ple who want to work in ho­tels. This will help solve the short­age of skilled labour.”

A nine-month course is of­fered for stu­dents with a high school cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or higher. In the first three months, stu­dents learn about the ho­tel in­dus­try in gen­eral. In the next three months, each must choose an oc­cu­pa­tion such as house­keep­ing or re­cep­tion­ist. In the last three months, they can prac­tise at the ho­tel of their choice and sub­mit a job ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore grad­u­a­tion.

The cur­ricu­lum fee is 100,000 baht per per­son and in­cludes meals and ac­com­mo­da­tion. So far the school has pro­duced more than 140 stu­dents. Some are even work­ing at ho­tels over­seas.

The school will soon change its name to Re­gent Hos­pi­tal­ity Col­lege. It will part­ner with a ho­tel school in Switzer­land to en­sure that in­struc­tion meets in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. The next se­mes­ter be­gins in April 2018.

For Mrs Piya­man, life moves for­ward and there are many things to do. Her lat­est ven­ture is the es­tab­lish­ment of an ed­u­ca­tion club specif­i­cally for rich peo­ple called the Ul­trawealth Group.

Back in 2015, Mrs Piya­man was asked to help raise funds for Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity’s Fac­ulty of Eco­nomics, from which she grad­u­ated. As an alumna, she did well be­cause of her strong ties with mil­lion­aires in many sec­tors.

With the fund-rais­ing done, Mrs Piya­man and three friends formed the Ul­trawealth Group to run a niche ed­u­ca­tion busi­ness. They cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment in which busi­ness lead­ers can meet, talk and ex­change knowl­edge and ex­per­tise. Class takes place once a week at the Grand Hy­att Erawan Ho­tel in the Ratchapra­song area.

Each member must spend 460,000 baht for a four­month course, ex­clud­ing over­seas ed­u­ca­tional trips.

Since 2015, the Ul­trawealth Group has op­er­ated three classes and cer­ti­fied 312 peo­ple, drawn from var­i­ous sec­tors such as fi­nance, bank­ing, en­ter­tain­ment and en­ergy.

Asked whether the Ul­trawealth Group func­tions mainly for schmooz­ing, Mrs Piya­man con­cedes that money is not para­mount for mem­bers, who af­ter all are al­ready rich, but she main­tains that the ex­pe­ri­ence is ben­e­fi­cial for bring­ing to­gether bankers, busi­ness own­ers, me­dia per­son­al­i­ties and so on.

“It is not like that way [all par­ty­ing and fun], be­cause many ex­ec­u­tives still need to learn more about the world and re­alise that they don’t know ev­ery­thing.”

The Ul­trawealth Group’s new class will be­gin in Jan­uary, and po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pants aged 30-plus with a strong rep­u­ta­tion are in­vited.

Mrs Piya­man plans to con­tinue work­ing with no re­tire­ment in sight. She says life should con­sist of three pil­lars: work­ing, fam­ily and so­cial, in equal mea­sure.

“I have to bal­ance all these three things so I don’t work too much and have less time for fam­ily and friends,” she says. “I have to ra­tion out my time for ev­ery part.”

Mrs Piya­man says her work­ing phi­los­o­phy in­cludes be­ing a ra­tio­nal per­son. Yes, it may seem sim­ple for peo­ple to have rea­sons for what­ever they are do­ing. But this be­comes of greater im­por­tance in busi­ness.

“Peo­ple have many rea­sons for liv­ing or do­ing busi­ness,” she says. “If they have good rea­sons, they should have a chance to suc­ceed. For my­self, I had rea­sons to open my own ho­tel school. They were be­cause the in­dus­try is lack­ing trained work­ers and that will hit the en­tire tourism in­dus­try sooner or later if the prob­lem is ig­nored. This is one of the rea­sons.”

An­other time-honoured phi­los­o­phy is al­ways pre­par­ing a sec­ond plan. Since run­ning a busi­ness is not easy, ev­ery­one should al­ways have more op­tions or al­ter­na­tives on the ta­ble in case of a dis­rup­tion with­out warn­ing.

In her per­sonal life, Mrs Piya­man has to be a good mum, tak­ing care of a son and a daugh­ter while at the same time look­ing af­ter her par­ents. She trav­els over­seas with her chil­dren twice a year.

Trav­el­ling is not only about fun, but also learn­ing. Go­ing to prov­inces like Ayutthaya of­fers cul­ture and re­lax­ation, and get­ting there with fam­ily is a great ex­pe­ri­ence. The fam­ily also loves to stay at newly opened ho­tels in hopes of ab­sorb­ing new ideas.

Mrs Piya­man’s daugh­ter is keen about tech­nol­ogy and is help­ing to over­see a new busi­ness plat­form. Her son is work­ing at an­other com­pany to gain ex­pe­ri­ence but will soon re­turn to help run the fam­ily busi­ness.

“Yes, I’m still work­ing ev­ery day, but not too much as in the past,” Mrs Piya­man says. “Some­thing is be­ing passed to the new gen­er­a­tion. I still love to teach and share my ex­pe­ri­ence with young peo­ple.”

Ev­ery Satur­day, she does Pi­lates and other ex­er­cises. When she can spare a mo­ment, she loves to play pi­ano with her mum at home, singing along and en­joy­ing their time to­gether.

Peo­ple have many rea­sons for liv­ing or do­ing busi­ness. If they have good rea­sons, they should have a chance to suc­ceed. PIYA­MAN TE­JAPAIBUL MAN­AG­ING DI­REC­TOR, RE­GENT GROUP

PHOTO: PORNPROM SATRABHAYA

As pres­i­dent of the Tourism Coun­cil of Thai­land, Mrs Piya­man guided the sec­tor through tur­bu­lent times.

Mrs Piya­man cher­ishes her time with her mum and her two chil­dren. She says she tries not to let work in­trude on her time with fam­ily and friends.

The Re­gent Cha-Am Ho­tel was once run by an in­ter­na­tional chain, but the prop­erty later re­verted to man­age­ment by Mrs Piya­man’s fam­ily.

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