Weekly Local Biography

  Nit Wangviwat

The Canadian Honorary Consul is Khun Nit Wangviwat, one of Chiang Mai’s most capable businessmen. He is a man who literally came from less than nothing, to build up a portfolio across the entire spectrum of businesses in this region, and despite his age and avowed intention to slow down, still has an eye for further business opportunities.

Nit was born in Bangkok, the middle child born to a Chinese electrical engineer and a Thai mother from Nakhon Sawan. Unlike his siblings who went on to join the medical profession, Nit had more of a scientific bent and went to Chulalongkorn University. “I had decided to be an engineer. I was a scientific thinker and looked at the logical side of things.” So he followed his father into electrical engineering.

After graduation in the four year course, he won an exchange scholarship to go to the University of Texas in America and spent the next two years doing his Master’s degree in electrical engineering there.

Returning to Thailand, his first job was with the oil giant Caltex, with whom he stayed for seven years in their general engineering department, becoming involved in many differing projects. This included constructing service centers, tank farms, safety engineering, the whole gamut of engineering services. “It was just using my basic knowledge of engineering,” said Nit.

However, by the end of his time with Caltex, he had met and married a Chiang Mai girl, whose family were involved in growing tobacco, and he was asked to help the family business. With that in mind, but not knowing the full extent of this commitment, the young couple came to Chiang Mai 36 years ago.

This was a complete change, going from engineering to agriculture, and it was also beginning at zero, as the tobacco industry was not looking too healthy. After four years, as part of his plan to turn family fortunes around, he changed from tobacco to growing tea. This was the start of what you can only describe as the ‘empire’. “We were doing OK,” said Nit. “China was closing its borders and we were even exporting to Hong Kong, but making money out of agriculture is difficult. I needed to diversify.”

Using his contacts within Caltex he took on a service station, which he then began building up. As soon as that was pumping along healthily, he built up a Celadon ceramics factory in San Kamphaeng. With the kilns fired (probably with Nit’s enthusiasm), he continued his diversification, this time into real estate. He built a housing project and followed that with a condominium. This was more than 12 years ago, and on paper, he was doing well. He was established.

Businessmen who become established become invited to take on positions in organizations as the Federation of Thai Industries and various Chambers of Commerce. Nit did all this, saying, “I enjoy social work, and have been president of such organizations. They give you a chance to contact other business people, and some opportunities can come from them.”

Yes, the opportunities are there, if your eyes are open, and Nit’s certainly were. He met a Frenchman involved in making costume jewellery, who was looking for an alternative country of manufacture. “I knew Thai women are very skilled with their hands, so I opened a factory in Lamphun. Today we have 450 workers and we export mainly to France.”

Contact with other business people also brought the Yakult yoghurt people to the area, and he became the local representative. He now has 100 local sales girls distributing the product range!

Nine years ago, it was time to diversify again, and he joined the auto industry, becoming a Nissan dealer. He now has four showrooms all over Chiang Mai. It seems as though he is unstoppable!

But it does not end there. “I’ve jumped into the education side with the Lanna Vocational School.” By this stage my mind was reeling. How can one man run all these separate businesses?

The answer was straightforward. “I have a good selective eye to find people who I can use to do the work. They bring in the profits and give me my percentage, and I just look after them.”

I asked Nit whether he relied on ‘gut feelings’ when he moved into another area of business possibilities, but he does not. “I do my own feasibility studies. I don’t hire corporations to investigate, but I look for myself.”

There are other factors, however, when you look at his success. “I am a descendant from a Chinese family. This is inside your mind all the time - you have to work hard.” So he was born with the Chinese work ethic, but Nit had another stimulus. “My father was not rich, so I had to work myself up. I have been poor with no money. I have been at zero point.” He has been through hard times too. “I have passed three difficult times in my life. All economic problems, but the worst was the crash (1997). Anybody who can pass through all three - that guy’s OK,” said Nit - someone who has done just that.

He also has been driven by ambition. “You must have ambition, or otherwise you haven’t got the need to build yourself up. Your ambition should not end. This is what drives you.”

With his Chinese work ethic, the inner need to make money, and an unending ambition, I asked what was next. “What’s next? At my age I should slow down - unless an opportunity with 95 percent return appears!” We both laughed at that.

He plays golf three times a week to keep fit and how does he stay abreast of things? “I never stop working. I socialize with people younger than me.” In the spare time he enjoys his Canadian Consul work, having been approached by the Canadian Ambassador to take on the position. And just keeping his eyes open!

I think you can expect Nit Wangviwat around for a lot longer yet.