June 5, 2014 12:00 am JST

Finding an antidote for the "me-too" mentality

Siam Center aims to set itself apart from rivals

Chadatip Chutrakul, 52, is the CEO of Siam Piwat, an urban developer that runs several commercial facilities in Bangkok's Ratchaprasong, one of the largest commercial districts in Southeast Asia.

     One of these facilities is Siam Center, the first modern commercial facility ever built in Thailand when it opened in 1972. In the intervening 40 years, it has undergone renovation seven times, with the latest remodeling completed in January 2013. Chadatip herself spearheaded the latest makeover.

     "We don't need any more me-too malls," she said recently, referring to the fact that shopping malls featuring similar brands and layouts were springing up all across Thailand and overseas.

     Against this backdrop, Chadatip developed the concept of the "Ideaopolis" for the renovation. The concept, inspired by New York City's SoHo district, calls for creating a shopping space that can set trends in such areas as arts, fashion and technology.

     Black is the prevailing color both outside and inside the renovated Siam Center, where several hundred light-emitting diode panels are installed and a number of modern art works are prominently displayed. In talks with some 200 tenant retailers, Chadatip called on them to run their stores in accordance with the ideaopolis concept. Some tenants refused to comply and left, but this did not deter her.

     All tenants that remain are required to sell some special items branded as "Absolute Siam." Even Forever 21, a U.S.-based fashion retail chain, agreed to unveil its new products at its outlet in Siam Center first before doing so elsewhere.

New experiences

"Siam Center is not just a place to go shopping. It has been transformed into a place where customers can have new experiences," Chadatip said. As part of an effort to develop local Thai brands, all space on the third floor of the four-story structure is reserved for these retailers. Siam Center has seen sales and customer traffic both rise 25% from before the renovation, according to Chadatip.

     "I have a heavy responsibility to 500 tenants and their 4,000 suppliers, as well as our employees and shareholders," Chadatip said.

     After graduating from Chulalongkorn University with a degree in banking and finance, she worked in the insurance industry, but later quit after becoming sick due to overwork overseas. She then joined the predecessor of Siam Piwat, which her father had established, thinking she would move on to something else later.

     She became the chief executive of Siam Piwat in 2009. She subsequently undertook a number of big projects successfully, including building office towers and opening Siam Paragon, one of the highest-end shopping malls in Bangkok. Siam Piwat has been posting annual growth of 5-7% for some years, with its consolidated income reaching some $900 million in the latest year for which data is available.

     Chadatip is now staking her company's future on a development project undertaken, jointly with Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group, along the Chao Phraya River. The project calls for building a high-rise structure incorporating commercial facilities and residential housing on a piece of prime real estate sandwiched between the Millennium Hilton and the Peninsula Hotel . It is scheduled to be completed on the Thai king's birthday in 2016 at a cost of $1.5 billion, the largest amount ever spent on a property development project by a private business.

CK Power diversifies under female chief

Supamas Trivisvavet, 39, managing director of CK Power, one of Thailand's biggest private power companies, has launched a business diversification drive, investing in a number of promising projects in quick succession since she took over the top post in 2011.

     Her track record might remind you of a dynamic male businessman, but she is a female executive with a ready smile. "We will undertake a growing number of projects in such neighboring countries as Myanmar going forward," she said. CK Power projects 20% year-on-year sales growth this year.

     CK Power's primary moneymaker is Nam Ngum 2, a major hydroelectric power station the company runs in Laos. Supamas has been diversifying the company away from hydro power since she took over. CK Power earned almost all its profit from the hydro business in 2012, but that percentage fell to 74% the next year. It now runs thermal and solar power stations in Thailand, too. "Our main focus will be on solar power generation going forward," she said.

  CK Power listed its shares on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in July 2013 to diversify its funding sources. It plans to almost quintuple its current power generation capacity by 2020 at a cost of 10 billion baht ($304 million).

    Supamas is a second-generation member of an ethnic Chinese family living in Thailand. She was entrusted with management of the electric power business spun off into a new firm by a major general contractor that had been founded by her father. She wears two hats -- as a corporate executive and as a mother raising four children.

     "I must shift priorities flexibly according to changing circumstances if I wish to successfully juggle work and family," she said. She sometimes works until midnight, but at other times, she leaves her office at five in the evening to prepare dinner at home for her children. "I will never recklessly push a development project that poses a big risk to the environment, thinking of nothing but company profit," because she gives top priority to protecting her children's future, she said recently.

Nikkei staff writers Akihiro Sano (Tokyo), Tamaki Kyozuka (Bangkok) contributed to this story.