Meet AMCHAM’S 2017 Board President, Jeff Nygaard
Jeffrey Nygaard is Senior Vice President, Global Operations and Thailand Country Manager for Seagate Technology, the global leader in data storage solutions. Seagate Thailand operations were established in 1983 and currently have 14,000 employees. In June 2015, Seagate Thailand operations registered export sales of USD 3.4 billion. Jeff is responsible for Seagate’s highly automated, data- driven operations across sites in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Northern Ireland and the United States. Jeff also oversees Seagate’s Analytics organization and is the executive lead for Capital and Operations Capacity. Jeff joined Seagate in 1994 and over the last twenty years has held a variety of managerial and executive positions of increasing scope in Development and Operations across Asia, Europe and the U. S.
Jeff became a member of the AMCHAM Board in 2012. He served two two- year terms and after a mandated one- year break was reelected to the AMCHAM Board for 2017. Due to his experience and leadership, Jeff was unanimously elected to serve as President of the 2017 Board. Before he assumes this position, Jeff kindly agreed to answer our questions about his outlook for the Thai economy, the role of American business in Thailand, and the direction he wants to take the Chamber during his presidency.
Describe the journey that brought you to Seagate Thailand and AMCHAM.
When I was growing up, I always thought it would be exciting to go overseas to learn and experience new cultures. Seagate introduced me to Southeast Asia in the mid- 1990s by asking me to lead a project in Thailand. At that time, products were developed in the U. S. and transferred to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia for manufacturing. Large teams would go to the manufacturing location for one or two months to help stabilize the product in manufacturing. In 2001, I moved to Thailand for a one- and- a- half year assignment as an engineering director at Seagate’s Teparuk facility, in the suburbs of Bangkok. Our mission was to transform the assembly and test processes, from manual to fully automated. Following the completion, I repatriated to Seagate’s U. S. product design centers.
Subsequently, I returned to Thailand in August 2006 as the Vice President and Country Manager for Seagate’s Thailand operations. In June 2009, my role was expanded to include Penang Operations. In 2013, I was promoted to Senior Vice President of Global Head Operations with responsibilities for Seagate’s wafer fabrication operations in the U. S. and North-
ern Ireland, and the nano- technology and finished product manufacturing operations in Thailand, Malaysia and China.
I joined AMCHAM to widen my network and knowledge about Thailand. AMCHAM provided many networking opportunities and its members shared invaluable local market knowledge and advice.
Last year Seagate announced that it planned to invest Baht 15.3 billion ( USD 470 million) in Thailand over the next five years. What is the basis for Seagate’s continued confidence in Thailand?
We are optimistic about the future of Thailand as one of our primary operational hubs. We are building upon the key strengths we have focused on over the years: people, government support, supply chain, cost and logistics. We have developed a strong local talent pool within Seagate; we have very few expatriates within our workforce in Thailand. We work closely with the Thai government and universities to develop our people and the technology our products require. We worked with key supply partners to develop a strong supply chain in Thailand over the past thirty years. Thailand has a favorable cost structure and good labor force. We are able to find and train people in Thailand who can design, maintain and use highly automated equipment. Thailand also has a strong logistical connection within Asia and to the rest of the world.
What is your outlook on the current business environment in Thailand? Do you foresee any major challenges to Thailand’s economy in the near future? How do global changes and movements impact Thailand from an economic and commercial perspective?
Our continued confidence in Thailand is also underpinned by the Thai government’s policies which continue to position Thailand as a pro- business and pro- investment manufacturing and innovation hub in Asia. From my perspective, the Thai government is listening to business input and balancing it with their policy priorities. Not everything moves quickly. But, the global landscape is changing and there are opportunities for Thailand to be a leading hub in Asia through policies favorable for business and investment.
The global landscape has undergone significant political and economic changes in Europe and the Americas in 2016, with some in Asia as well. These changes will have an impact on Asia as the balance of power shifts. The economic landscape in Asia is changing as China exerts stronger economic influence in Asia ( One Belt One Road initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership ( RCEP) and some economies in Asia may tend to veer towards protectionism in their economic and trade policies as a means to grow their local economies. Thailand should take a balanced approach and continue to maintain its pro- business and pro- investment policies so that the country can continue to grow and position itself as an attractive investment location in Asia. Thailand should also provide competitive incentives to attract new investments and shape itself into Asia’s leading advanced manufacturing and innovation hub.
How do you see the role and impact of American business in Thailand?
We are a huge trade and investment partner with Thailand. The United States is Thailand’s third- largest bilateral trading partner, after Japan and China. The United States is also one of the largest investors in Thailand, with over USD 14 billion in foreign direct investment. Through AMCHAM, we have the opportunity to provide policy recommendations that we believe can improve the business competitiveness in Thailand. Social responsibility is important to American business as well. We value the people, the community and the environment that we operate in.
What prompted you to become an active member in, and ultimately the President of, AMCHAM Thailand?
I started to become more active in AMCHAM after I began serving on its Board of Governors. Through that opportunity, I better understood the role of AMCHAM and learned about the values the Chamber espouses and promotes. AMCHAM helps connect American and Thai people, both personally and professionally. It promotes corporate social responsibility ( CSR); AMCHAM and American business conducts many CSR activities annually. AMCHAM also provides a platform for American businesses to collectively interact with the Thai government on things that can be done to improve business in Thailand. And, it certainly helps members network.
In which direction are you planning to take the Chamber during your presidency? Are there any particular initiatives you would like to see implemented? What do you see as AMCHAM’S biggest accomplishments and challenges?
Advocacy is one key area that I will focus on as it is at the heart of how we can help the business community in Thailand. It offers us a chance to understand the challenges that businesses encounter. It brings people together to formulate and then advocate an improved path. The success of Thailand is an important element of the success of the region. I believe the business community, through AMCHAM, can provide valuable inputs to both the Thai government and the U. S. Embassy, which will help to promote the development of the local Thai economy, exports and bilateral relations between Thailand and the U. S.
Another area of focus for AMCHAM will be corporate social responsibility activities. American businesses bring a foundation of social responsibility to our community in Thailand and to the region. We need to continue to promote responsible business practices and community development.
AMCHAM’S greatest achievement is its ability to be the voice of American businesses in Thailand. We are often consulted by the Thai government and the U. S. Embassy to give feedback on the policies with respects to Thailand’s business environment. AMCHAM needs to continue to be the voice of American businesses in Thailand and we need to work closely with the Thai government to ensure that Thailand continues to be pro- business and pro- investment, so that the country remains a top investment and business destination in Asia.
How do you spend your free time? What do you like about living in Thailand? What are your favorite spots in Bangkok and places in Thailand?
After I finish work, I usually play tennis on Saturdays and Sundays mornings for exercise. Following tennis, I will head to the coffee shop to enjoy a book over a cup of coffee. In the meantime, my wife drops off our two boys at their extracurricular activities. While the kids are at their activities, my wife and I meet for lunch. Sunday is family time. We go out for lunch together and then we hang out at home. In the early evenings, my two boys ride their bikes while I jog alongside. Occasionally, we take family trips to Hua Hin and Pattaya.
Thailand is an amazing country with so many different sights and its people are also very friendly and talented. It is a great place for family, business and leisure.