September 5, 2016 5:00 pm JST
My Personal History

Dhanin Chearavanont (5): My mother's boundless compassion

Even though he had opened a seed shop in Bangkok, the heart of my father's business was still in his hometown of Swatow, also known as Shantou, in China's Guangdong Province. Seeds harvested from farms there were shipped via Hong Kong and sold not only in Thailand but also in various parts of Southeast Asia and even India. My father's seeds could be grown anywhere that had a tropical climate.

Then the Pacific War broke out in 1941, severing the sea routes linking China and Thailand. As a result, my father was no longer able to travel back and forth to China. Not content to just sit around in Bangkok, he headed to Malaysia, where he also had business bases.

But the Japanese army also occupied Malaysia, and my father was unable to leave the country. He did not return to Thailand until after the war.

Two of my older brothers, who had been studying at Chengdu, in China's Sichuan Province, were also unable to return to Thailand during that time.

The Japanese army was advancing into Thailand as well, but the Thai government signed an alliance treaty with Japan, sparing Bangkok from wartime devastation. During my father's absence, my uncle Chia Siew Whooy managed the seed store there.

A helping hand

Because my father was away from Thailand for so long, most of my childhood memories of my family revolve around my mother, Tang Kimkee.

When we were at the dinner table, she would always speak kindly to the maids.

"You've already finished preparing the meal, and you must be famished as well," she would say. "There really isn't anything more that needs to be done, so why don't you eat your dinner?" My mother's voice, brimming with compassion, always echoed in my young ears.

Her father was also from Chaozhou. The family owned a large, prosperous mercantile house, but they lost their wealth -- and more -- in an instant.

When my mother was a child, a massive wave struck Chaozhou, killing countless people. Her home was close to the seashore, and everything was swept away. The family business went bankrupt. My grandmother was among those killed, but my mother and some of her siblings were able to escape and survived thanks to handouts of food. Her father eventually immigrated to Bangkok.

Perhaps because of this experience, my mother was the kind of person who always made a point of helping those in need. She looked after our poor relatives in Bangkok, visiting them almost every week and giving them money. For my mother, her money was best spent helping others. "I don't need money," she told those around her. "My children are my wealth."

When my mother passed away, not only our family and relatives but even the maids and chauffeur shed tears. She had looked after them just like they were family.

Because she possessed a great deal of sympathy and was good at sensing other people's feelings, my mother was very good at giving those around her what they needed. A cynical person might assume that she did this in hopes of receiving something in return, but my mother didn't care if she was repaid for her kindness or not.

My mother taught me a way of life that entails giving to others. This is part of the basic principles of managing our company: You should always try to put yourself in the other person's position and give everybody a chance, be they employees or business partners.

In later years, I became very busy and did not spend as much time with my mother as I would have liked. That is something I cannot regret enough.

Dhanin Chearavanont is chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group.

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