The halls of academe are often sarcastically referred to as "ivory towers", so running a university dedicated to teaching and ideas and directing a hands-on government department would appear to be two diverse occupations. Not so, a former Thammasat University rector has found.
The government complex on Chaeng Watthana Road is considered a masterpiece of modern and innovative management. The complex, which sits on Treasury Department land is to be officially opened on Feb 17 by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to commemorate His Majesty the King’s birthday.
Naris Chaiyasoot has switched from the role of Thammasat University rector to director-general of the Treasury Department - and it has posed no hurdles for him.
Mr Naris believes his academic post was a useful stepping stone to becoming a professional executive.
He now supervises and manages the department's complex on Chaeng Watthana Road as well as managing and developing state property and land to bring in revenue to boost state coffers.
At 58, Mr Naris spent most of his life in university before becoming a top civil servant in an executive position at the Finance Ministry.
He was also a member or chairman of several state-run banks.
Many wonder if academics can adjust to the practical side of work beyond theories in lecture rooms.
"Even though I worked at the university, I was tasked with a lot of managerial responsibilities. At Thammasat, I was responsible for building many of the university's campuses. When Thammasat set up a campus in Rangsit [in Pathum Thani], I laid the foundations and groundwork for it," Mr Naris said.
He worked out how to make optimal use of buildings and structures used by Asian Games athletes at the university's Rangsit campus.
When he was Thammasat's vice-rector for planning, he took an active role in getting several campuses such as in Lampang and Pattaya off the blueprints.
Each campus started from zero with only patches of land waiting to be developed into a university town surrounded by communities.
"I have long been involved in the business of property development. With the post at the Treasury Department now, it's just like I am continuing the work at Thammasat. I have knowledge about city development from working at the university," he said.
As Treasury director-general, his task is to manage state land covering 12.5 million rai.
Of this, 175,000 rai is leased for commercial purposes. The remainder is used by government offices.
The government complex on Chaeng Watthana Road is considered a masterpiece of modern and innovative management.
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over the official opening of the complex on Feb 17 to commemorate His Majesty the King's birthday.
The complex has been in operation since 2007 but problems in transferring some government units to the complex delayed the inauguration ceremony.
Located on 297 rai of state land on Chaeng Watthana Road, the complex brings together innovation and a new dimension to the civil service system.
It serves a growing number of new government agencies that demand large areas of office space as well as existing agencies which operate from leasehold offices.
The Treasury Department set up Dhanarak Asset Development Co Ltd to manage the complex, with the Finance Ministry holding 49% and the rest comprising private debentures.
The company mobilises funds to finance the construction, design, management and maintenance of the huge complex.
Currently there are 36 tenant agencies using the complex, which is also a model energy-efficient building.
Despite his busy schedule, Mr Naris's working life and career at the Finance Ministry are smooth sailing.
The knowledge of economics he gained during his studies abroad stands him in good stead at the Finance Ministry. Many officials were once his students at Thammasat while many ministry agencies commission studies from the university's academics - including himself, previously - as well as hire them to train officials.
Naris Chaiyasoot, a former Thammasat rector and now director-general of the Treasury Department, shows an image of Phra Klang Mahasombadh (the Angel of Wealth), revered as the guardian of the country’s finances in his office at the department. The academic is skilled in city and property development. NAUVARAT SUKSAMRAN
He admits that working at the university was tougher.
"University academics are top people. Even when I was rector, I had to make appointments in advance to meet them. None are free all the time. I wasn't their boss all the time as I am at the ministry," Mr Naris said.
He has learned to adapt the university's strong points to his new role, allowing everyone to express their opinions freely.
Civil servants tend to readily agree with their boss, Mr Naris said. "But for me, I accept ideas from my subordinates and I get a lot of good ideas from them. We are not experts at everything."
Mr Naris has many projects in the pipeline. Soon he aims to develop part of Rattanakosin Island into something like the Smithsonian Institute and a research complex after government agencies such as the Defence Ministry, the Survey Department and the Transport Ministry move out.
The historic Rattanakosin Island in the old city quarters, which is the location of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace and the National Museum, will become a cultural tourist spot.
The Treasury Department has also set aside land for sports and recreation.
It has built basketball courts on areas near the skytrain route along Sukhumvit Road and turned parts of state land under its supervision in Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan into swimming centres.
Its next project is a park and ride for suburban drivers to use mass transit services to reach the city centre, easing traffic congestion.
The department also plans to use state land to build goods distribution centres to respond to plans to construct high-speed trains linking key cities and regional trade centres.
Mr Naris said the department also has the capacity to provide land price assessment services to other countries in the region.
The department is now tasked with estimating prices of state land covering about 30 million rai.
The Royal Thai Mint under the department also plans to mint coins and make royal decorations for neighbouring countries such as Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Currently, foreign countries, including Japan, Sweden and Jordan, commission the department to make coins for them.
Mr Naris is a very keen sportsman. When he studied at St Gabriel School, he was a basketball player representing the school. When he studied at Thammasat University, he was on the athletics team. He was also a 100m sprinter, winning more than 30 gold medals.
While studying in the United States, he pursued his interest in sports and became a marathon athlete.
"Sport helps to improve the mind. We can learn to take losses and victories. It helps us make quick decisions. Sport boosts teamwork. Sportsmen also learn to forgive," he said.
Mr Naris said he wanted to be a teacher when he was young because he cherished good teachers.
"Today, I still teach on Sundays. I teach economics at the master's degree level. I'm still a member of the university's board. I won't give up the life of a teacher because I am happy with it and like it," he said.
Mr Naris, who has a son and a daughter, took a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in economics from Thammasat University and obtained a doctorate in economics from Hawaii University in the US.
He was a recipient of the King Bhumibol Scholarship.
About the author
- Writer: Nauvarat Suksamran