The insider view: Bangkok

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Commercial Environment

Bangkok – known by locals as Krung Thep (City of Angels) – is the capital of Thailand and its most populous urban area by a considerable margin. The city has nearly nine million residents and the wider Bangkok Metropolitan Region is home to 14 million people, representing more than a fifth of the nation’s population.

US think-tank the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase ranked Bangkok last out of 300 cities worldwide on output in 2014, as Thailand’s “Teflon economy” – so called because of its strong performance and remarkable resilience to disruption over the preceding 20 years – expanded by a mere 0.7 per cent in the aftermath of the military coup that May. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that GDP growth this year is on course to be 3.6 per cent.

He cites the city’s healthcare sector as another key strength – its affordable and high-quality services have made Bangkok a popular destination for health tourists.

“Both of my children were born in the capital, so I can honestly say that the standard of care is grand,” says Brenner, who now works in Vietnam for Thai conglomerate Central Group as CFO of its operations in that country.

Wholesale and retail trade is even more important than tourism to Bangkok economically, representing about a quarter of the city’s output. Brenner notes that “besides the white-collar workers, many people make a living in the city by selling food, clothes and other goods on the street”.

When it comes to the cost of living, a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre can cost up to THB30,000 a month in rent. “A cup of coffee costs about the same here as it does anywhere else in the world,” Brenner says.

Doing Business

There is no single magic formula for achieving commercial success in Bangkok, according to Brenner. But many expat workers who “take into account the cultural differences, plan carefully and show the appropriate level of commitment make their own luck here”, he says. “Thais are hard workers, so you would need to be too. The unemployment rate here is among the lowest in the world – only about 0.6 per cent of the working-age population were jobless last year. Virtually everyone in Bangkok has a job of some form, from street retailers to senior managers at leading companies.”

Brenner says that management accounting is valued highly in Bangkok. “Financial managers are wanted in every business in the capital and indeed across the country. Strategic planning and forecasting are part of any enterprise here, regardless of its size or nature.”

He continues: “While the way business is done in Bangkok will retain key elements of Thai culture, I feel that it will become a bit more westernised over the next few years. This is because more and more Thais are studying abroad and gaining experience of working with people of a wide range of nationalities.”

Management Culture

The Land of Smiles is an appropriate nickname for Thailand, according to Brenner. He says that he learnt from the start of his threeyear stint in Bangkok that genial politeness goes a long way when working with the locals.

Thais like to deal with people who are courteous, unassuming and softly spoken, he says. This is all about preserving dignity in relationships. “They don’t like losing face and they pay more deference than people of many other nationalities would to their elders in the workplace. Being direct at work is OK, yet one always has to avoid making any sarcastic remarks. Sarcasm might be accepted culturally in many countries, but it isn’t in Thailand.”

Although western multinationals with operations in Bangkok tend to have a more competitive management culture than that of local firms, many Thais favour working for these corporations in order to improve their foreign language skills and learn from their expat colleagues, Brenner observes.

“At Tesco I had the chance to work with many bright young locals,” he says. “You would not be surprised to meet individuals who earned their MBAs in London or Los Angeles, for instance.”

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