Dhanin Chearavanont (10): A new name and a new job
When I came back to Thailand, I was told to change my name.
This was in the late 1950s. I was returning from Hong Kong, where I had been studying, and the name on my passport was the Chinese name given to me by my father. After the Communist Party took power, China's relations with the staunchly anti-communist Thai government deteriorated. Thailand started restricting immigration from China and urged those of Chinese descent born in Thailand to change their names from Chinese ones to something more Thai-sounding.
The person who named me Dhanin was a civil servant working at Thailand's immigration bureau. I had no idea what the name meant, but it didn't sound bad and I took a liking to it. My new name was not something I asked for, but rather something that came to me by chance, and I have used it ever since.
The family name of Chearavanont was first used by my third-oldest brother, Sumet. His Chinese name was Xie Zhongmin, and like me, he had been told to change it when he returned home from China. I decided to use the same family name he did.
From the bottom up
While I was studying in Swatow (Shantou), Guangzhou and Hong Kong, the family business in Bangkok was growing. Chia Tai, founded by my father, started out as a seed shop. My uncle managed the store in his absence, and in the years since I had left, it had become a large retailer handling not only seeds but also fertilizer and pesticides.
My oldest brother, Jaran, and next-oldest brother, Montri, had finished their studies in China's Sichuan Province and returned to Bangkok. In 1953, my oldest brother launched a feed business. The thinking was to expand the scope of the family business while maintaining its focus on agriculture. He called his company Charoen Pokphand Store.
It was his wife's foster father, a Thai general, who named the new business. "Charoen" is a Thai word meaning prosperity, while "pokphand" indicates farm produce and goods for the masses.
We continued to use the name of the seed store, Chia Tai, for the original business, and the Chinese characters that inspired it were later reused for the name of the CP Group as a whole in its Chinese operations.
By the time I returned from Hong Kong, CP had grown into a midsize company. I became involved in the feed business under my two brothers. We primarily sold corn, soybean meal, crushed rice and fish meal as feed for chickens and hogs. We had a small factory but were not yet mixing feed ourselves.
My father told me, "In any job, work your way up from the bottom." Having just turned 18 years old, I began as a junior shop assistant doing such basic tasks as opening and closing the store and wiping the counters. I was also given responsibility for receipts and expenditures, which involved receiving money and paying bills. I hadn't studied business management at school. Everything I learned came from actual, on-the-job experience.
Each morning, an old truck would pull up in front of our store, procure feed ingredients and transport them to a factory. I wanted to know what the feed business was all about, so I got up early one morning and went on a small trip with the truck. I was able to observe the entire process of making feed, from obtaining the raw materials to processing them into finished products. At the factory, I also saw how the feed was managed.
By the time I returned to the store, it was exactly 8 a.m., time for me to open up shop and set about my daily duties.
Dhanin Chearavanont is chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group.