CEO the Year 2021: Best CEO in Global Food Transformation

Dan Pathomvanich

Chief Executive Officer of NR Instant Produce Public Company Limited (NRF)

2021 Best CEO in Global Food Transformation: Dan Pathomvanich on purpose and bold decisions

A plant-based and sustainability enthusiast, Dan Pathomvanich started his finance career as a financial advisor at Hatton Capital Ltd. in 2009 and later co-founded Hatton Equity Partners (Thailand), an asset management and venture capital firm, in 2015.

Now his most well-known role is that of CEO of NR Instant Produce Public Company Limited (NRF), Thailand’s No.1 manufacturer of ambient value-added recipe mixes, spices and condiments, and ready-to-eat meals, targeting export markets. The firm has a long-term goal to become a producer of “Food for the Future” with emphasis on innovations that will help create sustainability for the entire food industry ecosystem.

In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Dan shared the fascinating behind-the-door story of this multi-billion-baht company.

“Four years ago, plant-based was only a term among animal rights activists. But we knew it’s the future of food. We’re confident that it would be a key disruptive driver,” he said. “Now our world is quickly transitioning toward lower carbonization with all the big supermarket chains and restaurants on the bandwagon. Environmentally-friendly plant-based foods have become all the rage.”

A member of the environmental subcommittee of the UN Global Compact Network Thailand, Dan explains that the transition arrived earlier than everybody anticipated. “Now the data suggests 10% of global meat consumption will be plant-based by 2025. The United Nations even identifies plant-based food as a key strategic component to a lower carbon world.”

The past couple of years have been impressive periods for NRF what with a successful IPO in 2020 as the first plant-based food company to be listed in SET, production ramping up, good feedback in the UK and Europe, and a deal with PTT Group to form largest plant-based protein plants in Southeast Asia.

With everything going his way, Dan is sticking firmly to his guns in consistently formulating aggressive plans and business cycles: “We always think about what disruptions might come our way. 2018-2020 went according to plan. We are now a well-recognised brand in the industry and have a clear path to become a global leader. So our 2021-2023 phase is about resilience: how to better manufacture, better distribute, better manage, and all.”

Crowned “Best CEO in Global Food Transformation” by the Bangkok Post in 2021, Dan revealed the personal secret sauce for his success.

“Boldness,” he answered. “In making big decisions, we have to be bold in the face of criticism or uncertainty. In the case of NRF, I’m happy I was bold. Back in 2018 when we embarked on the future of food campaign, only a handful of people were interested in plant-based food. But I did my research, I did my homework, and I was bold with my data. That’s how I could engage with stakeholders to buy into our vision.”

When asked how he developed this key personality, he traced back to his childhood: “I’ve always been an independent thinker and don’t care about critics. My mother always encouraged me to believe in myself and that helps because in order to make bold decisions, you need to really believe in yourself first.”

“In addition, I’ve always loved finance and investment. I first started looking at the stock market when I was in sixth grade. And I am a firm believer in data and in the future. When there’s a right opportunity and everything checks the box, I am aggressive with my actions.”

Moreover, what makes him stand out as truly a transformative force and leader is his sense of purpose.

“I believe in a purpose-driven company,” he says. “Your company does need a purpose, which is more than a mission or vision statement. It drives everything. It’s your compass. It’s what keeps you up at night, what allows you to make decisions. It’s why employees join you and why people want to work with you.

“For NRF, our purpose is simple: how can we decarbonize the world through food system transformation? How can we drive plant-based food as a mechanism for transitioning to a lower carbon world? So in everything we do, we asked, ‘Will this decarbonize the world or not? Does this support our operation to allow decarbonisation to happen?’”

He stressed the importance of taking bold decisions today on the climate agenda: “With environmental footprints and the risk that climate change entails, in 10 years’ time a company will either be disrupted or grow. We need to make sure we are the latter. Today, I think ESG measures are too simplistic. They’re not enough anymore. Going forward, companies need to take into account climate action to be truly sustainable.”

As actions speak louder than words, his do truly live up to his words. NRF is the first food company in Thailand to commit to carbon neutrality. For two years in a row, it has been the only carbon neutral food facility in the country. Back in 2018, it was also among the first to commit to the race to net zero carbon emission and the 1.5 degrees pledge (a goal to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Moreover, NRF is sponsoring over $20 million to startups that try to solve climate problems from a food and agricultural perspective. It has also served as a corporate funder for two years for a non-profit organisation, FoodShot, in New York City, which is focusing on the role agriculture plays on climate change.

Dan concluded with his purpose to bring decarbonisation and sustainability to the world.

“It’s so crystal clear to me and it’s exciting. We live in an interconnected world, and I don’t think making money alone works anymore.”

“He was regconised by Time magazinr, Bloomberg, Forbes, CNN and many international media publications. NRF’s global vision to transform the world through food system transformation.”