The Sustainable Road to Success bears fruit for Thai Nakorn Patana (part one)
Supachai Verapuchong was 25 years old and just out of the monkhood, where he had spent one-and-a-half months after finishing his master’s degree, when he embarked on the most challenging assignment of his young career.
Supachai Verapuchong, deputy managing director of Thai Nakorn Patana Co, believes in instilling Buddhist ethics into his family's business.
His mission back in 1991 was to help establish Thai Nakorn Patana Co, a household name in its home market for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals such as Tiffy, Sara and Antacil, in neighbouring countries, starting with Laos.
“I went to Vietnam and Cambodia in the same year. Our approach to regional expansion was based on our government’s policy back then to change ‘from battlefields to marketplaces’,” recalls Mr Supachai, who today is the company’s deputy managing director.
When he went to Cambodia there were no cars, and it was hard to find even a motorbike. Public utility services were almost non-existent.
“I want to share this story to demonstrate how difficult their lives were,” he explains. “I was raised in the Buddhist way to show compassion towards others. That way I can create balance within myself and do better work and do my best for the other Buddhists. Dhamma is a natural law.”
Ethical foundation: “Since our business was founded, we’ve always kept in mind our motto — ‘Business with Ethics’. My father (Vinai Virapuchong, the president and founder of Thai Nakorn Patana) says whatever direction we set, it must be consistent with morality and virtue.”
He likens the approach at its heart to the doctrine of Dhamma-Vijaya or victory through dhamma (morality and non-violence) espoused by Emperor Ashoka the Great, who ruled most of the Indian subcontinent in the third century BC.
“When my father started the business 38 years ago, he began with the [Buddhist] Right View. In this regard, we’re talking about producing with good raw materials and the right processes, which earned us Pharmaceutical Inspection Convention and Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation Scheme certification in Europe. This Right View and Right Effort have helped to make us successful,” says Mr Supachai.
“Our marketing follows the same direction with ‘wisdom’, which is the result of knowledge and experience. Besides wisdom, we need the ‘right intuition’.”
Buddhism has deep meaning in Mr Supachai’s life. Together with some colleagues who were ordained at the same time as he was, he helped to establish an institute that aims at teaching Buddhism at the religion’s Four Holy Places: Lumbini in Nepal (Lord Buddha’s birthplace), Bodhgaya (where he attained enlightenment), Kusinara (where he passed away) and Chetawan (where he stayed the longest).
The result was the Bodhigayavijjalaya 980 Institute. “Its whole purpose is to provide educational opportunities for Thai Dhammaduta monks, who dedicate their monastic lives to teaching Buddhism abroad, to take this experience as a principle for learning,” he explains. “We intend to teach monks to be better aware of the material world. We cannot rely only on old teachings in the current situation. A monk should be able to understand the nature of current human suffering and then use his knowledge of dhamma to explain.”
The number 980 was chosen in honour of His Majesty the King, who is the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, and to commemorate his 80th birthday in 2007.
“The Buddhist approach is that in order to properly teach and transfer knowledge, the environment, climate and person should be ready first. One story goes that Lord Buddha did not start teaching until a monk had had his meal first. When we are hungry, we are not in a mood to listen.”
Mr Supachai believes there are many ways in which Buddhism can be applied to modern business management alongside the normal internal and external studies one would make before making a business decision.
Hospitality business: When he’s not busy with his company’s core consumer pharmaceutical business, Mr Supachai oversees 10 subsidiaries including hospitality ventures in which his family has invested. He is the managing director of Thai Nakorn Patana (Vietnam), Siam Super Stream (Vietnam) and the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort and the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra in Cambodia among others.
“The Western system is good for management, but for the personal touch the Asian system is better,” he says of the hotel business. “Twice a year, I hold a Buddhist merit-making ceremony so my Western managers will understand the Buddhist way and how to work together. Once they understand this, they will pass it on to lower-level personnel, who are mostly Buddhist.
“We have to think about concern for others. Managing a five-star hotel means we must know something before a customer even asks. It can happen only with the right organisational spirit and with the owner, operator and employee working with the same mindset.
“I teach my people to think of guests like your own brothers and sisters. This is according to Buddhism. I also have to be as a role model. My general manager has to help carry a chair if it is necessary. If I see trash or a toothpick, I usually pick it up from the floor myself.”
Still in his forties, Mr Supachai believes he has much more to accomplish.
“Since I’ve had the opportunity to see history change in four countries over more than 20 years, I feel I want to help people and help develop the country at the same time,” he says with a gentle smile.
Sorayuth Vathanavisuth is the principal consultant and executive coach at the Center for Southeast Asia Leadership and lectures at Mahidol University's College of Management. His areas of interest are corporate strategy, executive coaching and leadership development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org