Making the right moves
A Dutch expat is successfully shaking up Thailand's networking scene
Thai cuisine's photogenic qualities and aromatic smell sparked Dutch expatriate Cees "KC" Cuijpers' fascination with Thailand on his first trip to the kingdom back in the early 1990s. A business opportunity brought him back shortly after, and since then he has been settled in Pattaya for the last 15 years.
"I started my career in the hospitality industry in Holland," said the Pattaya-based entrepreneur. "This created a general interest in me for good food. I enjoyed to wine and dine and so was prepared to travel long distances to try new dishes.
"I decided to visit Thailand for holidays, and was smitten by what I saw, both in terms of its food, people and lifestyle. When a business opportunity arose in 1997 for me to partner in an up-class pub and grill in Pattaya, I jumped at the occasion, and since have been living in Thailand."
Apart from making a name for himself in the real estate industry, he founded the Movers & Shakers (M&S) _ a corporate charity network without boundaries group _ in a bid to return something back to Thai society. The first annual Movers & Shakers event was held in September 2009 and was attended by more than 400 guests. While people instinctively learn in life to take, the Dutchman says he taught himself how to give. "It's just very rewarding," he said.
Cuijpers, who is managing partner of Town & Country Property, noted that Movers & Shakers was set up directly as a result of the active corporate networking his company was already involved with.
Being an active participant in events organised by the chambers of commerce of different countries and corporate and social events such as the Lighthouse Club (LHC), a construction industry charity, all played an integral role in getting him the experience and exposure needed to manage a corporate network successfully.
The next Mover & Shakers corporate network get-together will be held at Siam Kempinski Hotel on May 30 (6:00-8:30 pm).
Why in your opinion is Thailand a popular destination with European expatriates?
Thailand has much to offer its foreign residents. What appealed most to me is the Buddhist way of life, which is flexible. I also adhere to the saying 'what goes around, comes around'. Tropical weather and the friendly smiles of the locals are an added bonus. There are also lots of business opportunities for expatriates to explore.
Any tips for first-time expats in Thailand on how to better assimilate into Thai work culture?
Always be respectful and understanding of the culture you're in. Take your time to instruct your colleagues and staff: Always be very clear and patient.
Thais will always smile at you, so make it a point to smile back at them.
What have been some of the highlights of your time in Thailand?
Everyday has been eventful for me, so I could honestly say that I have been experiencing a continuous highlight for almost 15 years non-stop (laughs).
On a personal level, my biggest highlight during my stay in Thailand was the birth of my son Chester, six years ago. My son, who is half Thai, has given me a completely different perspective on life. And I can't imagine "anything" that could beat the experience of becoming a father!
The best way to describe my general appreciation of living in Thailand is always when I return from an overseas trip. As soon as the plane lands my heart starts to pound with excitement. As soon as I step out from Suvarnabhumi Airport, I take a few minutes to take in the sights and sounds. I feel an overwhelming sense of well-being, knowing I am in my guest country that offers me comfort, safety and friendliness.
How did you come up with the name for your networking group?
Coming up with the name was easy. JVK International Movers was one of the two co-sponsors of our first M&S event. And with my company in the property development sector, the name Movers & Shakers came rather naturally.
What happened after you set up M&S?
What happened almost immediately after the M&S event in 2009 was that I was asked to join the committee of the Lighthouse Club in Pattaya. At the time, LHC, which also organises networking events, was struggling with low attendance and their committee was finding it an uphill fight to keep afloat. Eventually, I became chairman of LHC, organising monthly corporate network functions on the Eastern Seaboard, covering all the industrial estates that are in the province of Chon Buri.
In short, LHC grew back into networking from 30 to near 300 guests who attend monthly events. It grew steadily to become the biggest and most popular corporate network group of the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand. So this gave me a lot of hands-on experience in also organising M&S functions simultaneously.
Both the LHC and M&S events are held to provide a productive network gathering and to raise money for domestic charity. This we believe is a wonderful cause!
Charity beneficiaries for M&S Bangkok events are Sister Joan Evans (www.sisterjoan.info). We will also set up an educational trust foundation to assist the underprivileged with their studies through Sanuk CSR Co Ltd, led by Tracy Cosgrove who is founder of the Melissa Cosgrove Children's Foundation.
What has the feedback been like so far from the members of both network groups?
On the Eastern Seaboard the LHC and M&S network events have become hype. So much so that it has become a priority to attend for anyone who wants to be part of the in-crowd. We had 600 paying guests at last year's M&S meet at Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort.
Why did you decide earlier this year to step down as chairman of the LHC?
I believe it was time to move on. It was my intention to simply continue organising an annual M&S event on the Eastern Seaboard and focus on my core business real estate until a friend of mine suggested that I introduce a monthly Movers & Shakers event in Bangkok. I felt a positive energy to go ahead with that idea.
This monthly Movers & Shakers in Bangkok would of course not be a gala event but a similar format to the hugely popular monthly LHC events on the Eastern Seaboard, just with a different name. And so I started monthly M&S corporate networking events in Bangkok since February this year.
At our first event at the Renaissance Hotel, we had an attendance of over 150 guests, while at the St Regis late last month we had over 200 guests. These are impressive numbers considering the large amount of corporate functions held in Bangkok daily. We are not running after numbers but continue to strive at the quality we can offer our guests. While time is the best judge, I have a gut feeling that M&S Bangkok has all the potential to become the Thai capital's most popular monthly corporate network function before the end of this year.
Movers & Shakers is the only corporate network that connects the Eastern Seaboard industrial estates in Chon Buri with the Thai capital, so I am confident and highly hopeful that I will be able to bring the same type of success I had with networking events at the Eastern Seaboard to Bangkok.
Tell us more about the Movers & Shakers events.
Our guests are our biggest attraction. I am not aiming for quantity, but rather quality. Attendees of Movers & Shakers are both Thai and foreign nationals. All of them have one thing in common, and that is that they are either business owners or decision makers. Participants are bound to make new connections at our functions because we have a small group of our staff that make sure that no one is left out from having a good time. If they see someone standing alone, they might try to introduce them to someone that would be best suited with the business background they come from.
A smart VIP-voucher booklet allows for very reasonable entrance fees. Each voucher can be used as you go and has no expiry date. Easy to share with friends and colleagues.
Just how expensive is it to join M&S functions, and what can one expect?
To join a Movers & Shakers event guests pay a very reasonable admission fee. The entrance fees are in fact a charity contribution, as the proceeds from M&S events are collected for charity. Participants can expect free flow of beer and wines, finger snacks and a great atmosphere, usually starting from 6-8:30pm.
Top-class venue-sponsors provide the ambiance to meet and great other business professionals in a relaxed atmosphere.
What future plans do you have for M&S?
A YouTube channel with spotlight interviews is in the pipeline. During the entire month of April, our PR team of Movers & Shakers began producing 3-4 minute in-depth interviews with Thailand-based business entrepreneurs.
In conjunction with a strong strategic media affiliate we will channel these interviews and build up an online library of interesting footage available for public viewing. I am confident the success stories of established businessmen and women will surely be a source of inspiration for the audience. From my personal contacts there will be a very strong line up of high-profile personalities that will make viewing both entertaining and educational.