Published on June 5, 2009
Thai entrepreneur says flexibility and self-awareness the keys
Her grandmother was master chef in the mansion of one of His Majesty King Rama V's granddaughters, and her mother was raised in the palace, so Chatchanit Musigchai Mahaguna believes she had an edge over many other people when she started her entrepreneurial life in the food and catering businesses more than a decade ago.
Nevertheless, she has also stuck with one golden rule: never put all of your eggs in one basket.
So don't be surprised if you check out her website, www.thaigoods.com/annie's, and find her businesses range from catering and restaurants to delivery, flowers and decor, making custard, teaching, training, planning parties, organising events and hosting the "Love Language and Love Talk" radio programmes.
Not listed on the website is her real-estate business, which has now been operating for three or four years. In addition, Chatchanit is courting sponsors for a new television show she plans to host with her half-sister Netpreeya Musigchai Chumchaiyo, who is better known as English teacher Khru Kate, and Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration lecturer Kritika Kongsompong.
Chatchanit, who has taught business people and entrepreneurs at Mahidol University and the Commerce Ministry's Department of Export Promotion, among many other places, said while the "focus" strategy was widely favoured as a correct approach to conducting business, it might not be appropriate in the present economic conditions.
"In this downturn, you cannot stick to old strategies. If, for instance, you focus on only one thing, if it goes down because of economic fluctuations you have lost everything," she said.
Chatchanit, who is better known as Ann or Annie to her friends and customers, agrees companies and entrepreneurs should discover what they do best and about which they are passionate. But they should also be flexible enough to adjust themselves to new businesses when circumstances change.
"Actually, you should focus, or concentrate. If you have a factory, you choose which products you will manufacture. If, for example, you settle on swine, will your products be fresh, canned, or processed? At the same time, you can look at diversification - like CP [Charoen Pokphand Foods], which diversified into 7-Eleven convenience stores, through which they could sell their pork."
Besides having passion, Chatchanit said successful entrepreneurs should opt for "knowledge-based" businesses, relying on their knowledge of a particular businesses or profession, rather than following other people or fads in the market.
"In my case, my mom owns the recipes, and I have the knowledge in marketing and foods," she said.
When a person decides to launch a business, having sufficient capital is also very important in case things don't work out and there's a need to get back on their feet.
Chatchanit also believes everyone should nurture a capacity to be "self-aware", so they can periodically perform honest "reality checks" on where they are and what they have achieved, in both business and in life.
Offering her own case, she said she was bored with being spoiled at home, so she dropped out of school to become a flight attendant with Cathay Pacific when she was only 19.
"It was a lot of money at that age," she said. "But I had 'self-awareness' and realised it would not be good to hold onto that job for too long, so I quit and flew to study in Los Angeles, forgoing all income.
"It's important for a business person or entrepreneur to have self-awareness and to be self-motivated," she said.
After finishing bachelor's and master's degrees in international business in the United States, Chatchanit worked for a law office there for more than a year before moving back to Thailand to work for CP Intertrade.
She quit CP to teach at a university for four months until her old boss called and she returned to CP, but this time in its office in Washington. After spending more than two years there, Chatchanit said she became aware she was approaching 30 and that it was time for her to resume an entrepreneurial life, which she enjoyed more than being an employee. That marked the creation of her now-famous Annie's logo and the beginning of her gourmet caramel-custard delivery, as well as other businesses, both related and related.
She runs her businesses with "maximum decentralisation" and an extreme delegation of responsibility to her staff. Along the way, she has learnt some harsh lessons from her Annie's catering and delivery businesses, which have suffered from severe competition.
Normally, Chatchanit spends half of each Monday with Annie's delivery and catering, Tuesdays are for preparing and delivering lectures at Mahidol University and the remaining weekdays are taken up with training and other non-routine jobs - except for a few hours on Thursdays for her live radio programme.
At weekends, Chatchanit enjoys going upcountry with her husband Sitthichai Mahaguna, a senior executive at CIMB Thai Bank, to visit her properties and to look for new land with which to expand the holdings of her company M&M Property. The company now owns nearly 100 rai of land.
Her first resort project - at Wang Kata, near Khao Yai National Park - will be finished around the end of the year.
Chatchanit admits to at least one unfulfilled ambition: to have her own family.