BANGKOK During Thailand's boom years, between 1986 and 1996, business owners didn't have to look far beyond their own national borders to guarantee healthy profits. Growth nationally ticked along at 7% and the country's burgeoning middle class proved a big enough market to keep sales buoyant. For the past 20 years, however, Thailand's economic rise has stuttered, so company heads have increasingly looked abroad for new customers.
Luxury retailers in the West will be familiar with the sight of wealthy and elegantly dressed Thai shoppers loading up shopping baskets. But they might not be used to Thai tycoons buying up the shop itself. This is exactly what Central Group, Thailand's biggest retailer, has done for the past six years: acquiring some of the world's most iconic department stores and amassing a European empire straddling Milan and Munich. Since he became CEO in 2013, Tos Chirathivat has continued the drive into new markets and focused closer to home on vibrant Vietnam.