Weekly Local Biography

 Saroj Ratanavadi

The director of the Chiangmai Malting Company and chairman of the Committee of the Federation of Thai Industries, Provincial Chapter Development, Northern Region is a very contented Thai, Saroj Ratanavadi, who designed Panzer tanks and likes Singha Beer, but that is not to be taken as an unsolicited or unbiased testimonial - read on!

Saroj was born in Bangkok, the 6th of 7 children to an army officer. He went to high school and then to technical college as he had a leaning towards engineering, even at an early age. His mechanical engineering course at tech college was three years, and in his vacations he would go sugar cane cutting with his mates, to make a little pocket money.

After completion of his course, he went to work for the Irrigation Department in Bangkok for a year, but this was very much a stop-gap measure. Young Saroj had other ideas in his mind, and that involved further study of his chosen career in engineering. His father died and he was left a small parcel of land. This he sold to enable his going to Germany to study engineering over there. There were two reasons for this choice - firstly he felt that German engineering at that time was the finest in the world, and secondly, one of his elder brothers was already there and could assist him settle in.

His first six months were taken up studying the German language, and then he commenced a two year mechanical engineering course at TBI Siegen. Following graduation he worked as a design engineer in Germany where he was involved in the design of the Panzer 60 tanks. “This was the first tank that could cross rivers underwater. I am proud of that,” said Saroj, smiling widely.

Unfortunately, before he could design tanks that could fly as well, Saroj was required to return to Thailand as his mother was ill, though secretly Saroj felt that he was summonsed home in case he married a German girl!

However, his German contacts were such that he was immediately in demand by German companies working in Thailand. After working for a tractor company, he then went to work with Hoechst, the German chemical industry giant as a production supervisor. This took up the next seven years of his life, until the next chapter opened - the one that introduced Saroj to Singha Beer - but professionally.

It was 1975 and the Boonrawd Brewery company (Singha’s brewers) were looking at manufacturing their own malt and needed someone to oversee the new project - in Chiang Mai. For the next five years he worked closely with an expert in the growing of barley and with the Royal Project, sifting through 125 varieties of the grain, to come up with one that was hardy enough to survive the Chiang Mai weather, and with a high enough yield to make it a feasibility. They were successful and Chiangmai Malting began commercial production. Before this, the brewery had to import 100% of the malt used in making the beer. They now have a yield of 5 tons per hectare.

Saroj has not lost his enthusiasm for the work or the project. “It was very interesting and we then began to build the malting company in Chiang Mai,” he said, again with an obvious degree of pride.

Now with almost 30 years of association and service with the Boonrawd Brewery and the Bhirombakdi’s (its guiding family), Saroj is considered part of the ‘family’ too. He could retire if he wished, but does not wish to. “I enjoy the work and I get bored staying at home. I am part of the family in the Singha Beer Company,” he said, adding that the family said to him, “Saroj, you can work until you cannot.”

His health is good, which he attributes in some ways to drinking beer, a tipple that he did not touch until he went to Germany. “Beer is good for your health,” he said, as he opened a cold bottle. “There’s lots of protein and food in beer, and I prefer Singha,” all said with a big smile.

He thinks he will probably work until he is 65 years of age and then would like to travel around the world with his wife of 22 years, and even enjoy some time with their daughter who has finished textile design at Silpakorn University. His previous world travels were all part of his work, studying barley and malt production.

He also remains very active, stating that his hobbies include daily exercise, badminton, water skiing and golf. “I do everything for relaxation and health.” His handicap is 18, but he only plays once or twice a month. He also likes the sea, and they have a holiday condo at Hua Hin where they go for R&R every three months.

On the outside Saroj does appear to be a very happy man. “I have a nice house near the Ping River. I am happy. I have good health, I have good work and I have a good family,” he said, again with that wonderful smile.

His advice for new young graduates really reflects his own life. He suggests very strongly that they should go overseas while they are still young. “It is good for your experience and for learning a language.” He reiterated his decision to sell land to go overseas himself, and feels that it was definitely the correct decision, even though he was being advised to hold onto the real estate at that time. How he has ended up today would show the correctness of that decision, taken when he was only 21 years old.

We shared another bottle of Singha beer, tasting the malt that was probably the fruits of Saroj’s labours in the production of barley, toasted each other and talked about more than just his past life. After an afternoon discussing so much, including German engineering, Saroj was driven away in his motor car - a fine example of German engineering, of course!