Weekly Local Biography

  Danai Leosawathipong

Danai Leosawathipong can really claim to be a Chiang Mai boy, through and through, despite his grandfather having migrated from China to the Thailand north, almost one century ago. He was actually born beside the Ping River, in the house in which the family business was run, which has since been converted to The Gallery Restaurant (still owned by the family, and run by his brother). Having been born in the family business premises, it should come as no surprise that Danai is a businessman!

He is the eldest of five children, and by the time the children had gone to school, his mother was helping in the family business too. Running businesses runs in the family! In fact, his parents would sit down at the end of the day and discuss the business with the children. A very Chinese concept of bringing family and business together.

He went to the Prince Royal’s College, but by the time he was finished his secondary schooling, he knew that he would be going into business too. “I knew that eventually I would run a business and a business management background would be helpful.” With that in mind, he went to Rajamongkol College for the next three years to graduate in Business Studies.

Caution and careful examination of any situation must have also been part of Danai’s upbringing, because despite his completion of the Rajamongkol studies, he did not feel that he was properly prepared. “My aunt lived in the UK, and my parents felt it was a good opportunity to study and to also learn English.”

So the young man from Chiang Mai went to the UK. He had to go back to secondary school and do his “A” levels, as he by this stage had set his mind on engineering as a career. He completed his degree course at Leeds University, coming out with an Honours degree in Mining Engineering, and after being away for nine years, returned to his hometown.

At this time, his family was interested in mining, and his father and his partners wanted to set up a mineral analysis laboratory in Chiang Mai. The young man’s skills could be called upon immediately. His advice was that this would be a very expensive business and perhaps they should look at something less capital intensive.

The late chairman of the group came up with the idea of gold plating orchids. At the time, Hawaii was doing leaves and Denmark was plating roses, but nobody was doing orchids. The concept was to make these as souvenirs for tourists, and as a spin-off, provide work for many young women in Chiang Mai.

Now if you think that all you have to do is dip an orchid in molten gold, think again. Danai thought it would be easy too, making the flower conductive and electroplating it with gold. “I went back to the lab at 3 in the morning and found the flowers were dissolved!”

Work really began in earnest, but this was longer than anyone wanted. There was three years of research and development in front of them. Not just Danai, but his wife Ilkay too, who also had a science background. After this time they felt they had a marketable product, but they have not been sitting on their hands since then. “We feel we haven’t perfected the process. We have to make it more efficient and improve all the time.”

Part of the development has been to also include silver plating and now resin coating and gold tipping the edges of the petals. Again it is still a ‘family’ business, with his wife handling factory production and his partner’s wife handling the marketing. The product is now international and well accepted in the US and Europe. I asked Danai if they grew their own flowers but he said no. “That is a specialized field,” said the man who has one of the most specialized fields in jewellery production! A field in which he is still constantly looking to improve his product and make the production more efficient. “I am looking after the scientific and engineering side of it.”

That quest for improvement has taken him all over the world, looking at other processes, though he says that the internet has made it much easier to research methods. “In the beginning there was not so much information available and I spent much time and effort just travelling.”

To relax from the business world, Danai enjoys cycling and Tai Chi - Chi Kung. He also cooks for a hobby, producing Thai/Chinese and Mediterranean dishes (with lots of olive oil!).

But back to work. Families with a Chinese heritage do seem to do well in business, and Danai accepts this premise. However, he does not feel that it is merely family instilled work ethic principles, and does believe there is a genetic element as well. “Relatives in China, after years of repression, have now become successful business people too.”

So Danai comes from a line of business people, but has not been sitting waiting for the family silver spoon to feed him either. Business principles instilled at a very early age include those of hard work. Some of his personal success he puts down to his international experience. “It gives you a different vision and confidence,” he said.

There can be no doubting this man’s vision and confidence. “We live in an international environment,” he said, “it is good for our children to grow up this way.” As part of that global concept, Danai and his wife have always spoken English at home with their daughters, so they grew up multilingual.

There can also be no doubting that Danai is an international man. He has used his genetic inheritance of hard work and business principles and could not help but be a success. We can learn much from a man like Danai Leosawathipong. I know I did, in just one hour. All I have to do now is apply it!