24 students. 8 days. 2 cities. 8 company visits. 1 Muay Thai boxing match. Endless Pad Thai.

Our Chazen trip to Thailand was one for the books. Our group of 24 landed on a Friday and spent the next 8 days traveling the country, meeting with senior executives of some of the biggest Thai companies, and experiencing the culture and history of the country. For many of us, including myself, Thailand was the first Asian country we were visiting. The Buddhist history and influence, delicious local cuisine, and incredibly hospitable and welcoming Thai people made for a warm welcome to Asia. Our group was especially grateful to our three trip leads, the professor, and the Chazen Institute for planning an incredible trip.

Company Visit Reflections

Our 8 company visits were varied and insightful. We saw and heard from some of the largest and most dominant Thai companies. From a major hotel and resort chain to Thailand’s second largest real estate development company, our group learned firsthand about how retail, real estate, and hospitality drive the Thai economy.

1. Six Senses, Koh Samui

Given that much of the Thai economy is tourism and ecotourism, our group found this visit very relevant. Koh Samui is a major vacation destination, so it was insightful to see one of the premier resorts on the island and learn about how and why so many people want to vacation here.

2. Major Cineplex

This was our first company visit in Bangkok. Given how huge the mall culture is in Bangkok vs. the US., I think our group found this visit to be fascinating. The movie theater was unlike anything we had seen before. Our group probably had the most questions for the speaker (the Chief Marketing Officer) than any other visit.

3. Central Retail Corporation

The trip would not have been complete without a company visit to Central Retail Corporation. The company owns and operates luxury malls across Thailand, and we learned firsthand how these malls operate and maintain their profitability.

4. Central JD Commerce

Central JD Commerce is the leading e-commerce business in Thailand. It is relatively new foray into e-commerce for Central Group, Thailand’s biggest retailer, and JD.Com, China’s largest e-commerce firm. Given that this was a retail trek, I thought it was important to hear the Thai e-commerce perspective. We learned a lot about how e-commerce might evolve in Bangkok and the rest of the country, and how Central Group seems confident that e-commerce won’t cannibalize strong in-store sales.

5. Central Pattana

It was exciting to hear from another major shopping center company, especially since this company is Thailand’s number one shopping center and retail developer. The company manages 25 shopping malls, as well as several office buildings, residential buildings, hotels, water parks, and recreational parks.

6. Thai Beverage

Thai Beverage is a leading market player in the alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, and food products industries in Thailand and internationally. Our group learned a lot about the consumption habits of Thai people during the visit – Thai people generally drink sweet spirits and are relatively heavy consumers. There were several presenters during our visit, all of whom focused on a specific segment of Thai Beverage. We learned about the marketing campaigns, the company’s interactions with the government/legal system, and how the company is evolving to offer healthier options for consumers.

7. Sansiri Public Company Limited

Sansiri is the second largest property developer in Thailand (over 300 to be exact). We visited Sansiri’s flagship property development project, a luxury apartment building located in central Bangkok. While at the luxury building, we had the chance to meet with the President of Sansiri, Srettha Thavisin. We met with the President of the company, who spoke in detail about the company’s expansion and how it weathered the real estate crisis in 2007. The company has expanded beyond property development, and now even owns large stakes in big development projects like The Standard Hotel (we were intrigued to hear this since many of us have been to the Beer Garden there for a CBS happy hour). I thought that the President’s explanation of the real estate crisis was very insightful.

8. Bumrungrad International Hospital

As a healthcare junkie, I was highly anticipating this final company visit. The hospital is Joint Commission International accredited and multi-specialty. Founded in 1980, it is one of the largest private hospitals in Southeast Asia. When we walked into the hospital it felt more like a hotel than a medical center – the lounges and lobby areas are lush, and the staff are extremely friendly and warm. Our group was especially impressed with the operations of the hospital – everything from checking in, gathering vitals, seeing a doctor, checking out, and paying the bill appeared streamlined and efficient.

I thought I’d end the Thailand blog posts by featuring some trip highlights – scroll down for some fun photos!

Final 1
Some of our group at our first company visit – Six Senses
Final 2
While in Koh Samui we took a Muay Thai boxing lesson with professional boxers.
Final 10
Our group at Chaiwatanaram Buddhist Temple in Bangkok.
Final 9
Some of our group at Chaiwatanaram Buddhist Temple.
Final 8
We enjoyed lunch on a river cruise in Ayutthaya outside of Bangkok.
Final 7
Lunch at Eathai, a giant food hall inspired by Eataly in NYC.
Final 6
We had a taste testing from the executive chef of Six Senses Samui.
Final 5
Another temple group pic 🙂
Final 3
Fire throwing at Coco Tam’s, a beautiful restaurant and bar on the water in Koh Samui.
Final 4
Departure day! Some of us at Bangkok airport headed home…

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Glimpse Into A Luxury Thai Apartment…and a Luxury Thai Hospital Suite

Our final few days in Bangkok were spent touring more temples, attending a muaythai boxing match, and visiting several companies. After a day trip to Ayutthaya, a historic city outside of Bangkok, we spent Thursday visiting Sansiri, a real estate development company. The Chazen Thailand trek was retail and real estate focused, so this company visit was of interest to many of my classmates and our real estate professor. As someone who was relatively unfamiliar with real estate development companies and how they operate, I, too, was excited about this visit.

Sansiri Public Company Limited, together with its subsidiaries, engages in the development of properties in Thailand (over 300 to be exact). This publicly traded company operates in property Development, Project Management, and Real Estate Brokerage. The Property Development segment develops land and housing projects, as well as residential condominium projects, and rents serviced apartments and office buildings. Our visit was focused on learning more about this segment – we visited Sansiri’s flagship property development project, a luxury apartment building located in central Bangkok. The apartment building is one of more than 300 projects nationwide managed by the company. Comprised of 77 units across 25 floors, this contemporary-classic style high luxury building is immaculate. According to the leasing office, there are 13 units left and they are all open to foreign buyers (there is a law in Thailand that 51% of residents must be Thai). The starting price per unit? Around $2M.

While at the luxury building, we had the chance to meet with the President of Sansiri, Srettha Thavisin. We met with the President of the company, who spoke in detail about the company’s expansion and how it weathered the real estate crisis in 2007. The company has expanded beyond property development, and now even owns large stakes in big development projects like The Standard Hotel (we were intrigued to hear this since many of us have been to the Beer Garden there for a CBS happy hour). Mr. Thavisin explained the real estate crisis to us as well – at the time when the crisis hit its peak, the debt to equity ratio of many real estate firms was 15 to 1. The firms that survived went through major debt restructuring; banks bought debt in exchange for equity, and companies’ debt to equity ratios began to normalize. Now, Sansiri’s D:E is 1.5 to 1.

Our final day in Bangkok was spent touring Bumrungrad International Hospital, followed by a free afternoon of packing, shopping, and Thai massages. As a healthcare junkie, I was highly anticipating this final company visit. Bumrungrad International Hospital is a Joint Commission International accredited, multi-specialty hospital located in the heart of Bangkok. Founded in 1980, it is one of the largest private hospitals in Southeast Asia, with 580 beds and 30 specialty centers. The state-of the-art facility offers top-notch diagnostic, therapeutic, and intensive care services. When we walked into the hospital it felt more like a hotel than a medical center – the lounges and lobby areas are lush, and the staff are extremely friendly and warm.

We met with David Thomas Boucher, who is currently consulting within the business development team of the hospital. Mr. Boucher is from the U.S. and has worked in healthcare for over 35 years. His presentation focused on the hospital’s competitive advantages compared to U.S. and other developed countries’ medical centers. Bumrungrad specializes in medical tourism and concierge medicine, two big buzzwords in the healthcare industry. Most of Bumrungrad’s patients are middle-to-high income and are required to provide proof of payment before a service is conducted. The hospital technically accepts insurance, but many of its patients just pay out of pocket and don’t file. In terms of price, the hospital lauds that it is extremely affordable. Overall, it serves 1.1 million patients annually, including over 520,000 international patients. People fly from near and far to receive treatment here from world-renowned doctors and surgeons. Our group was especially impressed with the operations of the hospital – everything from checking in, gathering vitals, seeing a doctor, checking out, and paying the bill appeared streamlined and efficient.

Stay tuned for my final wrap-up post!

 

Bangkok’s Luxurious Mall and Movie Culture

The majority of our company visits and meetings were reserved for Bangkok, so we had a busy schedule throughout the week (with some time reserved for fun activities including a day trip and a muaythai boxing match). On Monday night we heard from the Managing Director of CLSA Securities Limited, Mr. Prinn Panitchpakdi, who provided us with a brief overview of Thailand and SEA (Southeast Asia). We also heard from the founder and partner of 500 Startups, Mr. Krating Poonpol. Mr. Poonpol presented on the tech/startup ecosystem in Thailand. A graduate of Stanford Business School and ex-Product Marketing Manager of Google Earth, Mr. Poonpol has had much success in building up the Thai startup landscape. 500 Startups is a $12M micro fund for Thailand that invests in the country’s most promising startups.

The next day we woke up early and prepared for four company visits. Our first visit was to Major Cineplex. Major Cineplex operates as a lifestyle entertainment company with numerous business segments including cinema, advertising and media, bowling, karaoke, ice skating rinks, rental services, and movie content and production businesses. The company’s cinema business seeks to operate not just theaters, but as lifestyle living spaces. Its vision is “to be the world’s best cinema and total lifestyle entertainment complex.” With over 140 locations and 800 screens in Thailand (it also has locations in Cambodia and Laos), Cineplex is the market leader in cinema.

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The entrance to the theater.

Many of Major Cineplex’s theaters are located inside Thai malls. We visited one of Cineplex’s premier theaters, located inside Central Embassy (a major mall in Bangkok). The impressive theater appears to operate and look more like a hotel than a theater – its lobby and common areas are spectacular, and its concierge services are five star. Many of its theater rooms feature reclining beds with individual mini fridges instead of typical chairs and cupholders.

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Some theaters even have actual beds that recline and massage. The bed pods are complete with mini fridges and concierge service. The prices range from $20 to $60+ per person.
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In addition to premium popcorn flavors (corn is imported from the US), you can enjoy a pair of slippers during the movie.

We heard from the Chief Marketing Officer of Major Cineplex, Mr. Narute Jiensnong. Mr. Jiensnong provided us with an overview of Major Cineplex’s operations, marketing, and finances. In terms of revenue, 60% comes from ticket sales, 20% from concessions, and the remaining 20% from sponsorship and ads. 50% of the revenue goes to movie producers, 25% to rent, and the last 25% to cover salaries and SG&A. Most of the profit comes from concessions (this is similar to the US).

Unlike in the US where movie theaters are struggling to fills eats, Major Cineplex has seen an increase in ticket sales ever year. Mr. Jiensnong explained this phenomenon in an interesting way – he said that (and I’m slightly paraphrasing) Netflix is like frozen food; everyone in Thailand has frozen foods at home, but restaurants are still doing really well. Similarly, movie theaters are doing well despite the influx of online streaming options like Netflix.

Thailand, and Bangkok specifically, is a unique case study. The success of movie theaters and malls can be explained in several ways – the extremely humid climate makes well air-conditioned places very attractive; the influence of Buddhism in Thai business culture results in an emphasis on hospitality and good service; Bangkok is the economy of Thailand, and suburbia, unlike in America where many malls and theaters were built, doesn’t really exist here; the luxuriousness of the malls and theaters makes you want to continue to visit; the malls have virtually everything all in one location, from theaters to hair salons to restaurants to bars. All these factors have contributed to the development and success of these massive entertainment and lifestyle centers in Bangkok.

In my next post, I will talk more about this phenomenon and share with you the remaining company visits of our trip. Stay tuned for more!

Touchdown in Bangkok and straight to see the Buddhas

After a relaxing and adventurous weekend in Koh Samui, where we kayaked, swam, and enjoyed a catamaran cruise, our group flew to Bangkok on Monday. Bangkok is one of the busiest cities in the world, with a population of over 8 million. Like New York City, Bangkok has a massive number of tourists that travel to the city each year.

Last year Bangkok played host to over 20 million visitors – this garnered the city the title of “most popular city for international tourists” by Mastercard.

Upon arriving in Bangkok, our group made our way into the city center. We then boarded our bus for the week and met our city guide, Mr. Anon. We spent the afternoon touring several historical sites. Our first stop was Wat Phra Kaew, commonly known in English as the Emerald Buddha. It is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple, or wat, in Thailand. The Emerald Buddha is a potent religio-poliitical symbol and the palladium (protective image) of Thai society. It is located in Phra Nakhon District, the historic center of Bangkok. We were amazed at the sheer number of temples in the historic center, all of which were very much intact and stunning in color and beauty.

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We traveled by “tuk tuk” (pictured above) from lunch to the historic city center.

According to legend, the Emerald Buddha image originated in India where the sage Nagasena prophesized that the Buddha would bring “prosperity and preeminence to each country in which it resides.” The Emerald Buddha in the Wat Phra Kaew is therefore deeply revered and venerated in Thailand as the protector of the country. It was enshrined in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in 1782, which marked the beginning of the Chakri Dynasty of Thailand, whose current sovereign is Vajiralongkorn, King Rama X. The only persons allowed to touch the statue are the Thai King and the Crown Prince. Out of respect for the Emerald Buddha, pictures are not allowed inside.

Group photo
Our group at the historic city center. Many of us bought “elephant pants” (thin, breathable cotton pants with intricate elephant designs on them) from local vendors to wear to the temples. 

We also visited the “Reclining Buddha,” which is the second largest Buddha statue in Thailand, measuring 46 meters in length. The enormous statue is painted gold and housed in a temple also located in the historic center of Bangkok.

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The “Reclining Buddha”

Chazen Thailand Kicks Off with Long Weekend in Koh Samui

I’m writing this post at 30,000 feet in the air as our group flies on Bangkok Airways from a remote island to Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. We’ve spent the last three days in Koh Samui, an island off the eastern coast of Thailand. Koh Samui is probably most well-known for its honeymoon villas, half/full moon parties, and breathtaking views. After flying in from various destinations around the world on Friday, we convened at our hotel, Central Villas Samui, and officially kicked off our trip.

During our first night together, we stayed at the hotel resort and enjoyed a delicious group dinner, got to know each other better, and attempted to fight off impending jetlag. We learned that many members of our trip are traveling to Asia for the first time (including myself). Many of us also have varying interests for attending this trip – learning about real estate development in Thailand, experiencing the culture of Thailand, and getting to know other CBS students in an exciting and foreign place. But the resounding commonality among all of us was clear – we are all eager to see and learn about business development, economic trends, and the culture of Thailand through the eyes of Thai natives and fellow students. Our three trip leaders, Monrat, Arcan, and Theerayoth, are from Thailand and were gracious enough to plan this Chazen trip and invite us to experience their country with them.

After a restful first night of sleep, we woke up to a sunny and warm morning and prepared for our first company visit to Six Senses Samui. Six Senses is a global luxury resort, spa, and hotel chain. Founded in 1995 in Koh Samui, the company’s mission is “to help people reconnect with themselves, others and the world around them.” Headquartered in Bangkok, Six Senses was purchased in 2012 by Pegasus Capital, a private equity firm, and has since expanded rapidly – it currently operates 11 resorts and 31 spas in 20 different countries.

The company has sought to curate exceptional experiences for customers centered around sustainability, wellness, and education. Six Senses operates on the premise that clients are looking for an exceptional experience and not just a typical hotel stay. It therefore selects remote and exotic destinations and builds stunning, world class facilities in a sustainable way. Each of its facilities uses eco-friendly chemicals, locally sourced foods and beverages, and minimal packaging. It has created integrated wellness and sustainability programs at each of its locations.

The rooms and villas are exceptionally designed. During our site tour, we visited one of the executive suite villas – the villa included a private infinity pool and massive outdoor shower. The price tag? Over $1,000 a night (USD). I guess I have something else to save up for!

The on-site chefs prepare delicious low-sugar, low-gluten, low-soy, and low-lactose meals. We had the privilege of dining at the Six Senses Koh Samui restaurant, where we enjoyed probably one of the best meals I have ever had – it was an entirely vegetarian four course meal that included inventive Thai recipes.

Along with the villa tour and lunch, we toured the Six Senses on-site farm. The farm is very robust and impressive – the resort grows its own produce and raises chickens, ducks, and goats. Keeping with its sustainability corporate value, Six Senses operates major recycling, compost, and desalination programs. It recycles, composts, and reuses pretty much everything. Moreover, guests can take official walking tours through the farm to learn about the Six Senses sustainability programs and efforts in the “Earth Lab.”

Along with sustainability, Six Senses offers personalized wellness programs. The programs curate exceptional experiences for guests that include high-tech science, ancient healing traditions, alternative therapies, and holistic spa treatments. As their website boasts, “we don’t follow fads. Instead, we focus on giving you the tools to create lifestyle change so you leave us feeling better physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” There are four official wellness programs –  Sleep and Resilience, Trim and Fit, Cleanse and Detox, and Full Potential. Our group toured the spa at Koh Samui and did a meditation and relaxation class – I think the class helped cure some of our jetlag!

It’s Almost Time for Thailand!

It’s hard to believe we are just one day away from the start of our week-long trip to Thailand through the Chazen Institute. Our group of 24, including Professor Brian Lancaster and our three student leaders, will be convening tomorrow afternoon in Koh Samui to begin our study tour. My name is Austin Shaw and I am especially excited to be kicking off my second and final year at Columbia Business School as a member of this Thailand trip (fun fact, it’s my first time visiting Asia!). For the next week I will be the official social media blogger for our trip – I hope you’ll join me in following along! You can read about our trip on this blog and also follow us daily on the Columbia Chazen Instagram account @columbiachazen.

Our trip starts in Koh Samui, where we will be for the weekend. We will then fly to Bangkok on Monday morning and spend the rest of our trip in the capital city of Thailand.

Before our trip begins, I want to pose two major topics and questions that I hope to shed light on during the trip.

How are Thai retail, real estate, and hospitality corporations shaping economic and consumer trends, especially in regard to Thailand’s booming shopping mall culture?

During our trip I hope to learn more about how Thai real estate firms are working hand-in-hand with retail and hospitality companies to influence economic and consumer trends. For example, while the US has seen a dramatic decline in mall culture and occupancy rates, Thailand has witnessed the opposite effect in the last several years. According to Forbes, US mall vacancy rates today are at the highest level since 2012. In contrast, Bangkok’s retail occupancy rate is at an all-time high and is expected to stay above 97% (according to Retail in Asia Publication). Why and how is Thailand’s shopping mall culture so hot? Is e-commerce prevalent in Thailand and how is it affecting the retail industry? We will be seeking to answer these questions and more during our study tour, specifically during our visits to major retail and real estate development corporations next week in Bangkok (Central Retail Corporation, Central JD, Sansiri, and Central Pattana).

How do politics and religion influence everyday Thai culture and the economy?

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. For ten years between 2006 and 2016, Thailand’s political state saw major shakeups that have definitely influenced the economy today. In 2006, a bloodless coup occurred and the government was overthrown. Two years later, the Constitutional Court dissolved the governing parties based on electoral fraud. In 2014, another coup befell and the military took over and installed a general as prime minister. Since then, Thailand has been classified as a de facto military dictatorship. The king is the head of state and the military, and corruption is still an issue. Throughout the week we will learn more about the state of politics in Thailand and how it shapes the economy.

Thai culture is deeply influenced by religion. Nearly all Thai people that practice a religion are Buddhist. The belief system of Buddhism plays a significant role in Thai society and culture. At a high level, I have read that religion’s impact can be seen in the Thai people’s prioritization of respect, self-control, hospitality, and non-confrontation. I am curious to learn more during the week about how religion influences business as well.

Look out for my next blog post over the weekend!

Mongolia…it’s a wrap!

It’s easy to take traveling for granted sometimes, but on this trip, each day we recognized that we were experiencing something truly special. As English-speaking business school students, it takes a lot to takes us out of our comfort zones. But Mongolia, with its signs in Cyrillic alphabet and vast stretches of untamed nature, took us for a wild ride into the unknown.

Our packed itinerary took us to some drastically different places and to meetings with many highly inspirational people. Through this, I’ve assembled a messy collection of trip highlights and lessons learned.

  • Accounting is more important than you think – We were curious as to what it would take to encourage economic growth and diversification in Mongolia, and posed this question to all the investment-minded professionals we met. The perhaps surprising answer? Accounting standards. In the US, we are accustomed to a certain level of trust when it comes to a company’s financial records. However, in Mongolia, it is not uncommon for a business owner to take cash out of the business for personal purposes. Increasing financial accountability education and awareness seems to be the most crucial step in increasing both local and foreign investment. Here’s some key evidence that LIFO and FIFO are still useful after the core.
  • It’s important to wear closed-toe shoes when meeting with the Mongolian President – also the president will offer you Golden Gobi chocolates, they are delicious, take more
  • “From goat to coat” is probably the best slogan for a cashmere company ever
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    “From goat to coat” – Gobi Cashmere
  • Business culture difference still exist – we were all pleasantly surprised at how warm, high energy, and candid the Mongolia professionals we met were, creating a distinctly Mongolian way of doing business that’s built on openness and trust. At Newcom Group, the CEO of EnergyAsia described his experience with the Japanese work culture. “The Mongolians are entrepreneurial problem solvers who want to start doing things right away, whereas the Japanese are more risk-averse and need to see more reports and plans.”
  • Throat singing and contorting are two traditional Mongolian arts that are each hauntingly beautiful in their own way – a contortionist performance is not for the weak of heart or the squeamish
  • Reindeer are real, y’all – I don’t know if you already knew this, but FYI
  • Your classmates will make fun of you for bringing a selfie-stick, but it will be single-handedly the best way to get group pictures so who’s laughing now?
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    Photo via selfie stick
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen, eye drops, moisturizer, and lip balm – it’s dry here! Or you can pick them up at Lhamour
  • Your CBS classmates are some of the most hilarious, inspiring, adventurous, inquisitive, brave, easy-going, and fun people you will ever have the pleasure of taking a trip with – you will still want to be their friend even when you are stuck in the airport together for the 12th hour in a row
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    Playing Codenames at the airport during flight delays

    At our closing dinner, our amazing organizers gave out superlatives for each person on the trip. It’s crazy to think that a week ago, these people had been strangers, and now I can easily identify them by the sound of their voice and can call them my friends.

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Closing dinner at Hazara with our guide, Bolor

I, along with everyone on the trip, are incredibly grateful for the chance to visit Mongolia on such a well-planned journey. Hope to see you soon again, Mongolia!