Weekly Local Biography

  Malai Buasarot

Malai Buasarot is a successful Thai businesswoman, a career banker, who despite having attained a high position in the bank, after both a wai and shaking hands, said, “I’m still single and available!” But then quickly added, “But I am so busy, I don’t have time!” In a country where the popular conception is that women are subservient, it is a pleasure to meet one ready and able to speak her mind, and yet retain that wonderfully Thai element of female charm.

She was born near the Mae Sai border, with her father being a Chinese businessman from Beijing, which might have gone a long way towards determining her career, and her mother Thai. However, the language spoken at home was Mandarin, so she grew up bilingual.

When she was seven years old, she was sent to Sacred Heart School in Chiang Mai for her primary education, and then to Montfort College for her secondary years. During this time she found that she liked the English language, and by the time of finishing school had decided that she wanted to be an English teacher.

She enrolled at Payap (now a university) choosing Humanities, with the English language as her major. Four years later, she emerged with her Bachelor’s degree, and it was now time to enter the workforce. Jobs for English teachers were not plentiful and she was side-tracked by the glamour of the aviation industry, with Cathay Pacific looking for air hostesses, especially girls who could speak three languages, including Mandarin.

She was accepted for training by Cathay Pacific, and served drinks and food at 30,000 feet for 12 months. “It just wasn’t me,” said Malai, and it didn’t need further explanation. This was a young woman who needed a real profession and it wasn’t being a ‘trolley dolly’ in a DC 10B!

She returned to Chiang Mai, thinking that perhaps she should return to Payap as an English teacher, but was side-tracked again by an offer from Bangkok Bank to join them in a new branch opening in Chiang Mai. The ability to speak English and Mandarin was making her very desirable to corporate Thailand, even though she had no experience in the banking world.

While banking may be a good profession, it is not without its pitfalls for the novice tellers. Have you ever wondered just why they are so careful counting (and re-counting) your money? It is because the teller is responsible to make up any shortfalls at the end of the day. “For your first mistake you probably will have to reimburse 50 percent, but for multiple shortfalls it will be 100 percent,” said Malai. I asked her if she had ever been short at the end of her shift, and she had. “It was 17 years ago. I was 5,000 baht short. I couldn’t sleep for a month. I was lucky, I had brought a lot of new customers to the branch (because of her multi-lingual abilities) so I was told I would only have to pay 25 percent (B. 1250).” I got the distinct feeling that that 5,000 baht probably still gave her the odd bad night, even now.

Of course there will be times when the teller might find a surplus at the end of the day. “If you are over you can’t keep it. You have to hand it over.” There is an accounting system to keep track of these sums, just as much as for the shortfalls.

After 10 years in that branch of the Bangkok Bank, it was obvious that banking was her true metier. She had risen through the ranks to be the chief accountant of the branch, but she was not destined to stop there. Her abilities had been noticed by a relief manager, who when given the task of setting up a new branch within the Kad Suan Kaew shopping centre asked Malai to join him in forming the team for the new branch.

That was 1994, and she was pleasantly surprised to see that several of her previous customers moved over with her. To have someone on the other side of the counter who could speak English and Mandarin was keeping several of the alien customers very happy, and they were not going to lose her.

Her ability to attract the ‘foreign’ accounts was one of the reasons this branch grew, going from being a sub-branch with seven employees to become a fully fledged branch with 12 staff and offering full banking facilities.

Her personal development was not being left to chance either. She completed her MBA through the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), taking this as a two and a half year part-time study course at nights and weekends.

However, after three boom years at the new branch, there came the cataclysmic economic crash of 1997 to upset the banking apple cart. “The bubble had burst. We had to cut costs. There was no overtime and no bonus. We had many NPL’s (non-performing loans). Some customers were in big trouble, while others just said they didn’t want to pay! There was much restructuring.” It was obviously an unhappy time for banking personnel, but she weathered the storm, finishing up at Kad Suan Kaew as the assistant manager.

The next rung up the ladder was to become a manager herself, and she is currently manager at Bangkok Bank’s Borsan branch. She is not sitting still, however. Through personal endeavour she has brought Borsan up into the top five branches in the 60 in the northern region. And she is proud of it.

“Whatever men can do, women can do too,” said Malai, but also said, “Thai men are not interested in strong women.” This also explains her saying, “I have UBC as my friend at night!”

Malai Buasarot represents the ‘new’ Thai woman. Intelligent, educated and hard working. “I am frankly very straight. Other women are scared to say things. But not me!” Malai, we need more of you!