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As a boy, Boonsithi Chokwatana was obsessed more with developing film than studying.
Boonsithi Chokwatana

A schoolboy unsuited to cramming: Saha Group chairman's story (4)

Determined to be No. 1 -- as well as the biggest, fastest and most different

Boonsithi Chokwatana | Thailand

Boonsithi Chokwatana is the Chairman of Saha Group, Thailand's leading consumer products conglomerate. This is part 4 of a 30-part series.

The war ended for Thailand in August 1945, when its ally, Japan, accepted the Potsdam Declaration. My family returned to our home in Bangkok after almost three years of living as evacuees.

After some time, I began attending a Chinese elementary school, Peiing Public School, located on Songwat Road and near our home. I was a lanky kid, and I hated studying. Education at that time was mainly cramming and rote memorization, which was tough for me.

My two older brothers did well in school, but I was held back for a year. My mother, who was very focused on our education, was very worried.

My father said, "I will prepare Boonsithi myself," and he began to teach me various things about conducting business. At 15, I entered the former Wat Suthat Junior High School. After classes, I would go to my father's store to help out.

However, when I was a child I did not really think I wanted to run the store. Among my friends, most wanted to be businessmen, soldiers or policemen. I did not care what job I had, but whatever it was I wanted to be No. 1. I longed to be the biggest, the fastest and the most different from everyone else.

I was not very good at studying, but I was a curious and somewhat obsessive child. I once disassembled a wristwatch down to its smallest parts to see how it worked, and then reassembled it back into working condition.

I also liked photographs, but I was more interested in the development process than photography. I built a darkroom at home, mixed chemicals there and burned film on photographic paper cut into assorted sizes. The process was interesting to me. At the time, cameras were luxuries, and not many people owned one. Ordinary people would typically buy their own film and borrow a camera to take their pictures. I was often asked by friends and neighbors to develop their film.

I am 183 cm (6 feet) tall. Perhaps it was because my father and older brothers were also tall, but I began to grow rapidly around the age of 15. In those days, many Thais were shorter than they are today, so they were often surprised by my height. I played basketball with my friends at school, and I was a pretty successful player under the net.

As a side note, when I was a student at Peiing, I had a classmate named Som Jatusripitak. He became the president of Siam City Bank and served as minister of commerce in the late 1990s. When he was president of the bank, my father once invited him to dinner, and I attended too. As we talked, we realized we were fellow alumni. We fondly reminisced about our school days, and it was a very happy chance encounter.

Som's younger brother, Somkid, is an expert in marketing theory. At Northwestern University in the U.S., he studied under Philip Kotler, the "God of Marketing," and they co-authored a book on the subject. Kotler named him as one of his outstanding students in a 2013 series of articles. After returning from the U.S., he became an outside director of the Saha Group and began to give advice on all aspects of the business.

Somkid served as deputy prime minister twice, once from 2001 to 2006, and again from 2015 to 2020 -- a total of 10 years. He is likely famous among Japanese companies in Thailand because he was in charge of economic policy and was a leader in attracting foreign investment.

After stepping down as deputy prime minister in July 2020, he became chairman of the group's holding company. I would like to say that it was because I was former classmates with his brother Som, but in reality, my reunion with Som and the invitation to Somkid to become chairman were totally unrelated. Even so, it leaves one feeling keenly aware of the wonders of fate.

This column is part of The Nikkei's "My Personal History" ("Watashi no Rirekisho") series of autobiographies. The series first appeared in The Nikkei in 1956. Since then, a wide variety of world-changing individuals have written or dictated their life stories for publication.

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