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,
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!