When Wacharamongkon Benjathanachat set up his company in 1996, the president of Bathroom Design Co never expected to end up with more than 10 million baht in debt when the market crashed a year later during the tom yum kung crisis.
‘Instead of trying to become the fifth tiger nation, it’s better for us to be a hard-working buffalo,’ says Mr Wacharamongkon.
Back then, the baht fell sharply to a low of 56 to the US dollar, making his imported sanitaryware products too expensive for the domestic market. Mr Wacharamongkon was forced to lay off workers.
On Dec 4 of that year, he turned on the TV and saw His Majesty the King advising the public to apply the sufficiency economy philosophy.
"But I still didn't understand how to adapt it to the business of sanitary products," he recalled.
A year later, he listened to a speech by Sumet Tantivejkul, now secretary-general of the Chaipattana Foundation, and realised the sufficiency concept is about balance in everything.
After that, Mr Wacharamongkon decided to create his own brand to lower dependence on imports. Then he started selling his stock at a big discount, and three years later his business was back in the black.
From a small business with Mr Wacharamongkon and his sister as the only staff, the company has grown to 500 employees and exports products under its own brand to more than 30 countries.
Today, after work ends at 4.30pm, employees at Bathroom Design help to plant organic rice at the company's five-rai field behind its Pathum Thani factory.
The rice is used for free lunches for employees.
Bathtubs that do not pass quality tests are used to plant vegetables.
"I would make employees who didn't get along well work together, so in the end they became friends," said Mr Wacharamongkon, stressing that the sufficiency concept includes the idea of happiness.
Bathroom Design is among the few businesses chosen by the Industry Ministry to showcase a new industrial standard based on the sufficiency philosophy.
Mr Wacharamongkon himself took part in the drafting process.
The TIS 9999 standard was launched in April but has yet to give clear guidelines for its broad ideas of sufficiency and moderation.
Kritsana Ruayajin, acting secretary-general of the Thai Industrial Standards Institute (Tisi), said the voluntary standard is still in development.
"In terms of practice, we shouldn't implement too many rules or else it will be too hard to accomplish. Broad guidelines will help businesses to adopt the practices slowly," said Ms Kritsana, also deputy industry permanent secretary.
She said Tisi will work with the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Chamber of Commerce to promote the idea outside of Bangkok, targeting specific groups.
Although the standard is not limited to any particular industry, Ms Kritsana said Thailand's competitiveness is in its processed agriculture industry, and the emphasis should be on applying the concept in that area.
Tisi is also in the process of translating the standard into English so that once the Asean single market emerges in 2016, foreign firms can also understand and apply it.
Sumit Champrasit, secretary-general of the Institute of Sufficiency Economy, said not just factories should be self-sufficient but also employees, as human resources are the most important asset for a successful company.
Mr Sumet highlighted the importance of a self-sufficient economy in preventing a crisis.
He said the tom yum kung and subprime crises were caused by management greediness, with everything focused on maximising profit.
"It turns out that Prozac [used in the treatment of depression] is the best-selling drug in the US, which is the most money-centric country in the world," said Mr Sumet, declaring that the capitalist system has begun to eat itself.
"Although HM the King is not against industry, why don't we focus on the agricultural sector, where we are good, and not just high technology? Instead of trying to become the fifth tiger nation, it's better for us to be a hard-working buffalo," Mr Sumet said.
About the author
Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth