| alex @ leotiger.com |
JUN15 ‘13: encounter-thailand magazine interview, Q&A excerpts:
[Family] You’re from California. What brought you to Thailand? How many years have you lived in Asia and where?
I truly consider picturesque San Francisco Bay Area my home and take an annual trip. However I was born as grandson and son of medical doctors in Chia-yi, a southern Taiwan city near the renown Ali-san mountain range, then grew up and lived mostly in America. In 2005 my father's health really started to fail so I desired to live closer. I got out of a shipping business headquartered in New York City, drove and golfed from New York to California then continued on to Hawai'i and throughout Asia. I arrived in Bangkok on Christmas day 2006 in order to spend the holidays and learn chi-qong with my university alumni. I have worked with them and resided in Bangkok for six and half years now.
[Education] Tell me about your background and how did you prepare for this role you’re now in, or what experiences led to it. (Education, studying abroad, etc)
My siblings and I grew up surrounded by art and music but our parents, typical of their generation and background, forbade us to pursue careers in those fields. Instead of studying art or following in the family tradition in medicine (both my siblings became medical doctors) I enrolled and barely survived the engineering program at The University of Michigan. I miraculously graduated with top honors by learning to learn efficiently and working with others whom are far more talented.
Having an analytical education and early experiences in structured high-reward work environments, possessing interest in deciphering how different things work in different places, and placing loyalty before profits allow me to do what I do. One could say that I have A.D.D. because I tend take notice of something, focus on it intensely for a period time often working with people who are the leaders in their fields, pull in other contacts or resources, and then depart for new experiences once things reach a steady state. I enjoy structuring and playing the role of a catalyst so continued direct long term involvement wouldn't necessarily bring great benefits to any party.
In recent years, I have focused mainly on agriculture, food and beverage, and alternative energy but have a broad background and a wide range of contacts. Starting with typical retail jobs as teenager in America, then a 8 month cooperative education program position at blue chip IBM in North Carolina at age 19, an internship on Wall Street with bulge bracket powerhouse JP Morgan at age 20, I have since helped start organizations in China, Silicon Valley California, Ireland, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Thailand, W.Africa, Cambodia, and Italy (more or less in that order respectively).
[Company] Tell me about LeoTiger. Who started it? Where? Who else works with LeoTiger?
Before the age of blogs and social networking sites, I started leotiger.com to share my travels, musings and reflections with family and friends whom periodically wondered where the galactic winds had blown me. For several months in 2005, I also shared and documented the journeys of a traveling stuffed teddy bear belonging to home schooled children in rural North Carolina.
I am sort of a wanderer, by choice or chance, so I often work as an independent consultant. Whenever appropriate and possible, I collaborate with talented and driven people around the world with similar interests and business ethics. I currently use the website as a clunky way to keep track of and share snippets of research notes but it may evolve into a formal project one day.
[Company] When did you start working with Riceland International?
During my 2005-2006 globetrot, topics such as how the mass of humanity will feed and power ourselves now at 7 billion population and projected 9 billion by 2050 came to the fore of my thoughts. I learned that Thailand with 1% of the world population and ranking 51st in total area, somehow comes in number 1, 2 or 3 as a world supplier of rice, sugar, cassava, shrimp, canned tuna, etc. Furthermore the Kingdom, although three state owned utilities dominate the energy sector, had also enacted some pretty progressive independent power producer and alternative energy programs, in 1992 and 2001 respectively.
The Chinese-Thai family, whom own Riceland International Limited and a group of related companies, operate a leading exporting company, several rice plants, and a biomass power generation plant in addition to other businesses. Their extended family has worked in the Thai rice trades since the early 1900s in various and multiple points of the supply chain. My mentor and boss, an University of Michigan alumni himself who’s now in his 70s, has always had a vision of expanding deeper into other regions and additional products. I began with one unpaid "Could you look at this?" type of project but it led to many more. Thus I came to work with their family on a broad range of activities starting unofficially in late 2006. I am not at liberty to disclose any particulars of ongoing plans but one monumental task that the family has taken on is helping Africa feed herself.
[Company] Do you have a (completed) project/investment/achievement that you’re most proud of (either personally or for the company)?
I had worked in some fairly intense environments so subsequently have experienced some culture shocks in the "land of smiles". At one point in the Silicon Valley, I concurrently consulted with two start-ups and one venture capital firm with their pressing quarterly and annual milestone goals, in addition to simultaneously co-founding a non-profit organizations. As a freight forwarder based in New York, I overcame initial rejection and thrived on the challenge of cold calling -- especially when some potential clients in the garment district shouted obscenities such as, "Get the f*** out of my office!".
I would consider having made incremental progress -- in a country and region where the aforementioned practices (i.e. punctuality and confrontation) are not cultural norms -- to be an achievement. At Riceland, we have built 2 new rice reprocessing plants as well as implemented greater processes controls and automation systems throughout the company.
Moreover I was delighted to have brought in novel ideas and innovative solutions into the organization through engagement with external entities. In exchange we also tried to help out some of those companies in win-win-win scenarios (the last win potentially for society at large). Examples include: Cleaning rice processing plant wastewater and mitigating carbon release while at the same time supporting Thai start-up EnerGaia's first pilot algae plant; Incorporating organic farming concepts and practices into commercial-scale farm methodology discussions led to subsequent seed funding to Raitong Organics Farm by myself; Exploring biomass gasification technologies while lending resources to Cambodia's SME Renewables and Soma Group for further development of waste-to-energy projects in their Kingdom.
[Company] What project are you most excited about these days?
I recently embarked on fun interest-based projects involving alcoholic beverages and art. I joined private Club Perdomo as a member late last year. Without remuneration and explicit agreement of any sort, I endeavor with their management and some friends such as the brothers from Hunter Laing in Scotland to bring the finest single malt whiskies to Thailand. I have further made a small investment into Lamai, a premium Thai rum start-up, and hope to get more involved with other young production and distribution companies in the region so that we could all have some interesting beverages to consume.
I also find a little time to support art. Forming a foundation to manage the lifetime work of retired Italian abstract artist Gino Scagnetti and initially introducing his Asian-poetry inspired paintings to Greater Asia as well as collaborating with young art dealers such as Paul Ulan-Taylor and Max-Ole Casdorff to showcase art beyond galleries are works in progress.
What do you like most about living/working in Thailand? What do you miss most about California (US?)?
The Thai peoples' ability to get on with life impresses me. I arrived just after a coup d'état, then came several changes of government along with the yellow shirts, the red shirts, the multi-colored shirts, Preah Vihear Temple disputes, the enormous 2011 flood caused partly by human error, and finally the crippling populous paddy pledging scheme.
Besides family and friends, I miss the transition from summer to autumn, the long days of late summer, the mad scramble to get through the holidays and subsequent celebration of a year's accomplishments. Somehow I still haven't adapted to Thailand's humid vs. dry but always sweaty hot oscillating cycle.