You might think that Panupong Kritchanarat, the CEO of one of Phuket’s most renowned developers - Boat Pattana - is in the property business. But once you get to know him better, you realize that he is in the business of passion. Passion for things beautiful, unique and precious.
Maciek Klimowicz: Tell us a bit about yourself and about your company.
Panupong Kritchanarat: I am 40-year-old and I was born in Bangkok. I graduated from the faculty of civil engineering in Bangkok and I first worked as a management trainee at the biggest developer in Thailand. Later, I also got a master’s degree in finance and strategy, and I took up work as an investment banker, for the biggest bank in Thailand. Having worked as a banker for a while, I discovered my passion for strategy and I moved on to an oil platform-building company to work as a strategist. And it was during that time that I decided to join forces with my friend, Khun Boon Yongsakul, who is the son of the owner of Phuket Boat Lagoon. And so, together we co-founded our company, Boat Pattana. It was 10 years ago that I decided that it was the right moment to follow my passion for building and to build something special, for myself and for other people.
How did you first meet Khun Boon?
We met when studying for an MBA in Bangkok. It was at that time that I was trying to figure out what I was most passionate about. I liked engineering, and engineers usually like figures, and then I liked strategy. I have worked in all those fields - engineering, finance and strategy, and I decided that I can utilize all those skills when managing my own company.
At first, I started as a consultant for another of Khun Boon's companies, and it so happened that a financial crisis struck Europe at that time. Our European client base weakened, because the European economy was in a bad shape, and our solution to that was to do something new. So, we decided to start building for Thais and founded the Boat Pattana company.
Why that name?
The boat comes from Phuket Boat Lagoon Group with which we wanted to keep that connection, and "Pattana" is Thai for "development."
What was your initial vision for the company?
Frankly, initially we didn't have a big vision, we simply wanted to serve the Thai market, especially Thais moving to Phuket from other provinces. The local population in Phuket isn't that big, but many people move here to work in hotels and tourism, so we knew that the demand will be there. So, we began with a mix-use project. Our first project was very small, valued at only 75 million baht, but within this small project, we had three different products - a twin house, a townhouse, and a shophouse, because we weren't really sure what would sell best. It turned out that the townhouse was the bestseller, but now, 10 years later, we rarely develop those, our brand is now positioned higher.
What was the reason behind your initial success?
I think people knew the Boat Lagoon Group brand, they knew it was developing high-end, high-pierced properties for foreigners, but once we went down from 20-30 million-baht to 5 million-baht, people jumped on the opportunity and believed that we would deliver. So, after the first project, we launched another one within six months.
What is in your portfolio today?
Today we have more than 15 projects, with the highest one valued at over 600 million baht, though we are planning a one-billion-baht project soon. We now develop 3-4 projects in a year, mostly single detached houses and pool villas.
And then there is one of your flagship projects - the Boat Avenue in Cherng Talay. How did that come about?
Initially, we wanted to develop a condominium there, long before it became what it is today. I spoke to many property agents and they all agreed that we have the very best location, but suggested that we should build some facilities for the community first, and develop a residential project later. At that time the only Villa Market in Phuket was in Chalong, so many expats who lived in different parts of the island, had to drive a long way to get there. So, we changed our plans, put the residential project on hold and started with facilities - we were younger then, we trusted our research and our partnership with agents and we were ready to make a change when we realized we were going in the wrong direction. So, we started with a container mall, then added Villa Market, then many restaurants and shops opened within the project and the prices skyrocketed.
You've been living in Phuket ten years now; do you feel at home here?
Yes, I do, though there still are some parts of the island that I don't know so well. I have my favorite beaches – Kata, Surin, and Patong - but when I want some peace and quiet, I go to Chalong Temple. The trick is to go there early in the morning before the tourists come, that's when it's quiet.
And the beach - do you find time to go there?
Well, I'm very busy with work, but my daughters - I have two, one 10 and one 4 years old - request me to take them there, so I have to find the time.
So, you had your first daughter about the same time you moved to Phuket and opened a new company. That's a major change. How has your life changed since then?
I think my life is very good, especially compared to living in Bangkok. I like not having to spend hours in traffic every day.
Is there anything you miss about Bangkok?
Well, sometimes I miss my friends and family who live there - I spent 30 years of my life in Bangkok. I also miss shopping. And the variety of street food is much better there. Plus, the culture, the temples...
What do you do in Phuket on your day off?
I mostly stay at home. And if I don't, we take kids out - to the beach, to the cinema, to eat out. And my kids love it here, especially my younger one, who loves the beach. Though my older daughter will soon be a teenager and she might want something else. For example, she finds Bangkok very exciting, with all the museums and other places.
Do you think you will stay in Phuket for good?
Nothing in life is certain, but most likely yes. I would like to. I have my home here, my own property, and Phuket has everything I need - good schools, good hospitals, plus the beach.
As you told us earlier, you're a strategist. How do you foresee the future of Phuket?
I think in a positive way. I think we have the best beaches in the region and our climate is quite friendly, with no big natural disasters, so I think this island has a competitive advantage. Many people around the world and in Thailand want to stay here, so I expect the business to be better and better. Though I don't want Phuket to grow too fast and become Singapore or Hong Kong. I think we should have our own way.
Many people already complain about the fast development of the island and the damage to the natural environment.
I quite agree; however, we are in a free market economy, so it's quite hard to prevent this. But I think the government knows that growth has to be controlled, that some development has to be slowed down and zoning laws introduced. Especially that along with properties, infrastructure has to be developed, otherwise, we will have many buildings, but no roads, no facilities, etc. The recent water shortages in Phuket is a good example.
The island changes a lot, and have you changed a lot in those 10 years here?
Sure, especially my weight! There's a lot of delicious food here you know? So now I try to control what I eat and I go to the gym more often.
And other than the gym, do you have some hobbies?
I like books about design, and I also collect watches. The books are connected to my passion for architecture, I just enjoy designing beautiful buildings, so my hobby is, in a way, my business too. As for the watches, what fascinates me is the mechanism and the craft that goes into making it. It shows how clever the people who designed it are. You know, normally, when you buy something, a car, for example, the value of most cars will go down after you buy it. But it's the opposite with watches. Some brands and models just keep appreciating. I think it's fantastic, you don't just buy it to use it, but to invest money in it. When I bought my first watches, I didn't know much about it and the price of those watches slowly went down, but once I learned more, I knew which watches to invest in. And this philosophy of watchmaking is reflected in my company's strategy. When we start a project, we have to think about the demand first; second, we have to focus on the design that will not only work now but also in the future and then we control the supply - which is why we only have one project with over 100 units in it, all the others are much smaller. That way we create a niche market, each of our projects is unique, which keeps them in demand and makes the price go up. Just like a watch.
In your life as an entrepreneur, what were the most important lessons that you learned?
Firstly - everything keeps changing and nothing is permanent. Which is why we use a dynamic strategy. We analyze many scenarios, predict how other players will react to what we do and how can we prepare in advance.
Secondly - we focus on customer needs. Not only those that they have today but those they don't yet know they might have in the future.
Thirdly, we chose to contribute to the community. Basically, when we go up in the world, others around us should go up too. But we don't just donate money, what we do is that we try to support local businesses - local suppliers, local contractors, etc. That way, when they grow with us, they have the capability to serve us better.
What is the next big thing for Boat Pattana?
The strategy is to expand more into investment products. Residential projects are mostly based on local demand, but investment projects fulfill a global demand. Plus, the concept of shared economy and services like Airbnb and Elite Havens help that too.
But I also have other ideas beyond Boat Pattana. For example, I'm also interested in health and wellness, I think it's a growing trend as people around the world are getting more health conscious. So, I think I will learn more about that and enter this market.
You like learning, don't you? What is more important in running a business here - education or experience?
I think experience, through education, helps too. And then there are the connections.
Learn more on boatpattana.com