Nuttaphong: The secret to building a good life

Nuttaphong: The secret to building a good life

The proverb ‘to thine own self be true’ has proved vital to Nuttaphong Kunakornwong’s drive to be both a real estate king and the master of his own fate.

Mr Nuttaphong says he had a passion for residential construction from an early age. Photo: Patt arapong Chatpatt arasill
Mr Nuttaphong says he had a passion for residential construction from an early age. Photo: Patt arapong Chatpatt arasill

Nuttaphong Kunakornwong knows a thing or two about how self-knowledge can lead to success and happiness. The architect turned property developer had already drafted a life plan by Mathayom 2-3 (grades 8-9). When he finished Mathayom 6, every university entrance exam was sat with one design in mind: to realise his passion for residential construction.

“I’ve always known myself. When I was an architect, I knew that it wasn’t right for me because I perhaps wasn’t the best at design. But I knew I loved property development,” says Mr Nuttaphong, chief executive of SET-listed developer SC Asset Corporation Plc.

After graduating from the Faculty of Architecture at Chulalongkorn University, he spent a year as an architect, a dream career for many young men. Then he went abroad to earn an MBA.

When he finished his studies in the US, it became clear to him that real estate was his true passion.

“If anyone asks what I want to do, it’s what I’m doing today,” Mr Nuttaphong says.

Mr Nuttaphong with wife Pinthongta, their children and Mr Nuttaphong’s father-in-law, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

After returning to Thailand, he worked for SET-listed developer Areeya Property Plc in the marketing field for several months. Afterwards, he moved on to Nexus Property Consultants Co.

At Nexus, Mr Nuttaphong picked up experience in a slew of fields: property advice, business development, marketing and sales. Being tasked with troubleshooting problems for developers while at Nexus also gave him a leg up in the property business.

He spent four years at Nexus before setting off on his own, establishing two companies: Koon Development Co, a property developer; and Pitchman Co, a property consultant.

Owned by Mr Nuttaphong’s family, Koon developed Lemontea Hotel, a budget accommodation on Phetchaburi Soi 15. Located in the Pratunam area, the site of the country’s biggest wholesale clothing market, the hotel met a need, as there was a limited supply of two- and three-star properties at the time.

The eight-storey hotel is currently run by his eldest sister, with room rates of 1,500-2,000 baht per night. The occupancy rate has hovered at a strong 90% throughout its four years of operation.

Mr Nuttaphong’s recommended reads.

In March 2012, Mr Nuttaphong was appointed as director, executive director and deputy CEO of SC, a few months after marrying Pinthongta Shinawatra, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s eldest daughter, whom he met while attending a real estate course.

SC is majority-owned by the Shinawatra family, which holds more than a 60% stake, with Ms Pinthongta as the second-largest shareholder (28.16%) after her younger sister Paetongtarn ( 29.1%).

In 2015, Mr Nuttaphong was appointed as SC’s CEO, the same position that Thaksin’s youngest sister, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, held during 2006-11 before she entered politics. “Whether I’m deputy CEO or CEO, my job is the same,” Mr Nuttaphong says. “I set the company’s key strategies and business direction. When it moves forward, I will monitor what happens to the company and control some significant matters.”

He says his focus remains on quality and budget allocation. He will consider how much to spend for land purchases, project development and operations for property management or investment deals. From 2012, his first year with SC, to 2016,

the company only grew in size, with revenue doubling from over 7 billion baht in 2012 to 14 billion in 2016. Mr Nutthaphong expects that figure to grow to 20 billion baht next year.

“Give credit to our team,” he says. “One of SC’s strengths is offices for rent, which can generate recurring income every year.” SC now has four main office towers — Shinawatra 1, 2 and 3 and SC Tower — with a combined lettable area of 100,000 square metres. SC also has Computer Centre Chaengwattana, an office with a lettable area of 8,300 sq m, wholly rented by mobile operator AIS. The company has further space for rent at Lotus Phetkasem 81 and The Junction, a community mall on Ratchada-Ram Intra Road.

In the first nine months of last year, income from rental properties totalled 634 million baht, growth of 11% from the same period of 2016. That segment accounted for 8.8% of total revenue, according to a report from SC.

SC’s other strength is luxury single detached houses under Grand Bangkok Boulevard, with unit prices of 20 million baht and more, in which SC is always among the market leaders.

In 2016, SC controlled 20% of the housing segment for units priced at 5 million baht or more, putting it in second place. Mr Nutthaphong has three key missions. One is to rebrand SC to expand into the lower-priced segment, with unit prices of 3-5 million baht. Last year, SC also launched its Pave brand for units priced below 3 million baht. “We will launch two projects under the Pave brand this year in Chachoengsao, which will be the first non-resort province we will enter to tap real demand,” he says. “Chachoengsao is a liveable town linking Bangkok and the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).” Chachoengsao is among three target provinces under the government’s EEC initiative. But while the province is growing, competition in the housing market is relatively less stiff than that in Chon Buri and Rayong, Mr Nutthaphong says. “Income per head in Chachoengsao has been on the rise over the past five years,” he says. “It takes only 40 minutes without traffic to get there from Bangkok.”

A few years ago, SC branched out to units priced at 5-8 million baht under a new brand, Venue, which was renamed from Life Bangkok Boulevard because the name is shorter and easier to recognise, Mr Nutthaphong says. Meanwhile, his second mission is to expand to a new market: super-luxury condominiums. SC last year launched 28 Chidlom, a freehold condominium project on Chidlom Road with units priced from 11 million baht or 350,000 per sq m.

Last but not least is Mr Nutthaphong’s drive to innovate the company. Starting last year, SC has applied Internet of Things (IoT), big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence to co-develop Bann Rue Jai (home that knows your heart), a living solutions platform, with AIS.

“These technologies will help homes get smarter,” he says. “But this does not mean the online world will replace the offline one. They can be combined and work together.”

With the Baan Rue Jai platform, everything in a residence will be linked to IoT. Activities like locking, opening or closing doors, security systems, turning lights off and on, or cleaning the house will be tracked by sensors.

All of these analogue activities will be digitised, recorded and processed in big data systems, tracking what, when, where and how often things are done.

“A house under the Baan Rue Jai concept should take action before a command is issued, and not vice versa,” Mr Nutthaphong says. “Command before action is flipping a switch to turn on the light, but action before command is the light being turned on before the switch is flipped.”

While the system, of course, comes at some cost, the price will eventually be comparable to an air-conditioned system unit or less, he says. Baan Rue Jai Version 1.0 is being test-run at The Gentry Rama 9 single-house project.

With a human-centric focus, this “living” innovation can get to know its residents and their behaviour, identifying their own lifestyle requirements. SC will use the system as a guideline to improve its products.

The company also organised a dining event, “The Art of Gastronomy”, where four families from its luxury housing project, Grand Bangkok Boulevard, were invited to attend.

While most CEOs of large property developers usually avoid face-to-face meetings with customers, Mr Nuttaphong is up to the challenge, even if complaints ensue.

Coming to dinner with his wife at his side, Mr Nuttaphong relishes the opportunity to listen directly to his customers so that he can improve SC’s products and services.

He cites Ms Pinthongta as a constant source of support, joining him at press conferences and other events, even when she was pregnant.

“Spending time with family brings me a tremendous amount of positive energy,” says the 38-year-old father of “talkative” twin daughters — Ami and Nani — aged three. He also has a one-year-old son, Wakin.

“I always spend my free time with them, not only meeting them but also talking with them, as I can get to know them better,” Mr Nuttaphong says. “Though my daughters are twins, they have different preferences.”

And while his family is wealthy, he and his wife do not spoil their children. Sometimes they will only buy one toy for their twins so that they learn the value of sharing and playing together.

“They should have their own things to learn how to maintain them, but they should also share and understand that the world will not always be fair,” Mr Nuttaphong says. “When the twins grow up, one might not always get as much as the other.”

He also says this sharing method will help with their development.

“Sometimes when we tell them that they can only share one toy, they have to brainstorm together to work it out,” Mr Nuttaphong says with a laugh. “Children should grow up with self-knowledge. Those who can know themselves can make the right decisions for their lives. I grew up this way.”

Mr Nuttaphong himself relies on two fathers as his role models. His late father, Voravit, taught him to think thoroughly and carefully. His father-in-law, Thaksin, taught him to think about the future.

“Father Thaksin always changes himself and never clings to the past,” Mr Nuttaphong says. “This is what I got from him. He has far-seeing vision. He is developing biotech and healthtech, which I think is very forward-thinking. Every morning he thinks about new things.”

He says a bookstore abroad is where they spend most of their time together.

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