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Dhanin Chearavanont

Dhanin Chearavanont (28): A wealth of friendships

As a representative of overseas Chinese entrepreneurs, I have taken part in a number of events in China, including the Boao Forum for Asia. (Courtesy of the company)

Over the years, I have been blessed with a number of close personal connections, many spanning decades. Several of these associations have opened the door to new business opportunities for me.

In Japan, for example, Charoen Pokphand Group was able to gain a foothold thanks to my friends in Taiwan.

A Taiwanese realtor introduced me to Pin Yung Ongg, the father of singer Judy Ongg. He was more than 10 years my senior, but we got along well. He also became extremely close to my second brother.

Mr. Ongg had numerous acquaintances in Japan and was kind enough to broker a deal for us to export frozen chicken to the country. He eventually became CP's Tokyo representative. As I mentioned earlier, we also worked together to create "The Chia Tai Variety Show" for China's CCTV.

One Taiwanese friend I will never forget is Hsu Wei Feng, who managed department stores in Taiwan during the 1960s. Mr. Hsu had a weakness for delicious food, and we would often dine out together. It was he who introduced me to the Chinese restaurant Rogairo in Tokyo, and together with Mr. Ongg, the three of us would enjoy Chinese cuisine with relish. Unfortunately, Mr. Hsu died at a relatively young age.

In Singapore, I am close to Goh Cheng Liang. Like me, Mr. Goh is an ethnic Chinese of Chaozhou descent. He founded a company called Wuthelam Holdings and operates paint businesses in Singapore and Malaysia as joint ventures with Nippon Paint. In the Chinese-speaking world, his brand is known as "Nippon" (Libang in Mandarin) and there is probably nobody in China who isn't familiar with it.

In Hong Kong, there is one man from my father's generation with whom I became close: Mr. Wong Quan Nam. Mr. Wong makes his living selling vegetable seeds, the same field as my father, and even sold seeds my father harvested. 

Through negotiations for a coal business in China, I came to know the family that owns Dutch conglomerate SHV Holdings, including Paul van Vlissingen, who ran the company. The coal negotiations fell through, but my association with SHV eventually helped me introduce the group's Makro chain of wholesale stores to Thailand. Although Mr. van Vlissingen passed away in 2006, my friendship with his family continues.

The Asian currency crisis in the latter half of the 1990s forced us to sell our stake in Makro to SHV, but we bought it back in 2013. At that time -- more than 20 years after my association with the family began -- it was the daughter of Paul's brother who asked if we would like to buy the shares back.

In the U.S., I have enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Rockefeller family for several decades. I used to see David -- the member of the family who introduced me to America's broiler business -- at least once a year. He is now over 100 years old and no longer up for such meetings.

I am also on friendly terms with former U.S. President George H. W. Bush. When CP Group collaborated with an American company to set up a communications business in Thailand, it was the elder Bush who performed the ceremonial ribbon cutting. Since then, I have seen him every year or two. Last year, I visited the Bush clan in the U.S. and saw both the former president and his wife. He is now more than 90 years old and in a wheelchair, but he seemed to be getting along well.

And although he is much younger than me, I look up to Jack Ma as one my mentors. Ma, who founded China's largest e-commerce company, Alibaba Group Holding, has an outstanding ability to manage companies in the information technology industry. There is much I can learn from him, and these days, age has no bearing on friendship.

Dhanin Chearavanont is chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group.

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