Weekly Local Biography

 Jumpol Chutima


The chairman of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce is well known Chiang Mai businessman, Jumpol Chutima, who can trace his Lanna history through many generations, and is a proud proponent of Lanna culture. One obvious aspect of this is one of his positions, being a partner-manager of the Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre.

Jumpol is the only son of two prominent business people from this region, with both his parents (father now 83 and mother 79 years old) still active in the world of their family businesses.

He was a good student, easily topping his classes and had decided that he wanted to do engineering when he finished secondary school. To this end, he was even enrolled at Chulalongkorn College in preparation of going on to Chulalongkorn University. However, his parents were not in favour of this, and so they sent him to study in America. I asked Jumpol if he was prepared to rebel against this imposition, but he said, "You must understand it (obedience) was ingrained in our culture, especially in those times." So he left for the United States.

In the US he began studying mathematics, but after one year, this was not to his liking, so he changed to Political Science and International Relations. He was filled with the youthful idealism we all had in our early years. "I wanted to do something for the world, but all they taught was how many tanks you should have and how many nuclear warheads." Disgusted with that field of endeavour, he ended up doing an MBA - the course his parents wanted him to do in the first place. Perhaps Mum and Dad did know best!

He ended up staying in America for a total of 17 years, marrying a Thai nurse he met there and working for corporations such as the Bank of America. This did not alter his ‘Lanna’ character and thinking, but he admits the extended time in an alien culture did broaden his outlook. "I try to look at the global picture. It is necessary to look outward." This time abroad also saw him become critical of not only the alien culture in which he was living, but also of the Thai sociologists of the day. "American commercialism is not a good thing, and our social scientists who studied abroad and could see the trends, should have prepared Thailand for the future, using those American and European models."

He cites one of the problems as being that of the aged overseas, following the breakdown of the extended family concept. This in turn led to grandparents who suffered in silence at the hands of grandchildren who did not want to meet the responsibilities (and duty) of care for their elders. "I am worried that this will happen soon, here." His views are that our senior citizens in Thailand are important, if nothing else for the fact that they can impart their knowledge, culture and experience. In Jumpol’s mind this is just as important as the cultural concept of familial duty.

His philosophical thoughts on society and its purpose and direction he says were formulated early at the Prince Royal’s College, where the students were taught to be responsible to the society. This was further emphasized at the Christian college he attended for a while in the US. However, how all this fitted in with tanks and nuclear warheads, were a huge turn-off for the young adult Jumpol. I also felt that I was not listening to concepts given to a young man, but ones that were well held beliefs that had been formulated after much observation, thought and self examination.

His time in the US came to an end when his parents said they were getting old and Jumpol was needed to come back and assist with the family businesses. This he did, and found that the Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre allowed him to indulge his love of history and culture. "It suits me fine," he said, with a smile.

He holds strong views on the need for the culture of the Thai people to be maintained, with all the individual differences, which he does not believe weakens the fabric of Thai society, but rather strengthens it, as each group can assist the other when necessary. Again he returned to the lack of foresight in local sociologists. "Look at consumerism and 1997. We should not have followed it blindly."

In his new position as chairman of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, his thoughts on being culturally strong and independent thinkers comes through in his aims for the Chamber. "I want to make the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce strong and self reliant financially. We get no government support, so I want to make my members strong and able to compete commercially in the world markets."

In his personal life, he has two children, a son aged 19 and a daughter aged 15. His son has expressed an interest in studying physics at a tertiary level, but Jumpol feels that accountancy would be a better option, and one that would benefit the family enterprises. I asked him if this was an example of history repeating itself and he smiled enigmatically. "After accountancy he can always go back and study physics later," he said. His daughter, on the other hand, is showing an interest in architecture, a pursuit that appears to have received paternal approval. Or perhaps it is just the fact that daughters are more adept in getting around fathers - in all societies.

Jumpol’s hobbies include reading books, anything from history and culture, through to science fiction and horror, watching all types of movies and collecting plates with paintings of fish on them, but he admits that at this time the collection only numbers ten.

His own personal ambition did not surprise me. "I want to write a book about culture. Not Lanna, but about the philosophy of culture itself." Jumpol is interesting - a successful businessman, and also a cultural philosopher. A rare mix.