Weekly Local Biography

  Sumalee Lukuan

The marketing and communication manager of the very well established Chi Chang Computer Company is an energetic young Thai-Chinese lady, Sumalee Lukuan. She is a fine example of how Chinese traditions can work within a family, and yet she is showing how those traditions can become changed, as times themselves have changed.

Sumalee was born in Chiang Mai, as were her parents, though her paternal grandparents came from China. This fact is one inescapable reason for the success of their family business here in Chiang Mai. While in the west there is a homily that runs ‘Behind every successful man there stands a woman’, in SE Asia I could go so far as to suggest that this should be modified to be ‘Behind every successful business there stands a Chinese family!’

Sumalee was the youngest child in the family and the only girl. She admits that she was spoiled as a child, as her parents had been longing for a baby girl after three boys. “Being the little sister can be good and also not so good,” said Sumalee, “but you always get taken care of.”

She was educated in Chiang Mai through Sacred Heart and Montfort College and was a good student. She admits she did not have to come home after school and work in the family wholesale household equipment business, but could devote her time to study.

This was enough to give her the grades to go to Chiang Mai University to study in the Science faculty, with the idea of later becoming a teacher. “Science can let you go further,” explained Sumalee.

However, after four years and her obtaining her Bachelor’s degree, she did not head towards her hoped-for teaching ambition. “My father believed I should join the family business. I was hurt inside, but (being part of a Chinese-Thai family) I did understand. I was first put into accounting - it is the Chinese way,” said Sumalee.

The family business was going to change, as one of her elder brothers returned to Chiang Mai after working in Taiwan. He believed that the future was going to be in the computer industry, a business concept 14 years ago that could have been considered risky. The opening of Chi Chang Computer was, however, a very reasoned approach to the business. “This was a family decision,” said Sumalee. “We are a very warm family and together with my parents, we discussed it. My parents taught us to listen to each other and learn from each other, love each other and work together.” That sage advice was followed and the elder brother was given the nod by the family. The household equipment business that had nurtured the family was closed, her parents retired, and the all new ballgame was opened.

Of course that all new ballgame was Chi Chang Computer, the name of which comes from the Chinese language meaning the ‘victory flag’. This new business was in every way a ‘family business’ with Sumalee and all her brothers involved. “Each person has their own responsibility,” said Sumalee. Despite external appearances, it has not been all that easy either. “Everyone works hard. We have had to sacrifice. We are in the service business.” That their business is now 14 years old shows that the service they have been providing obviously has met with approval in Chiang Mai.

With the eighth branch opening in December, I asked Sumalee if the family had ideas of looking at other provinces as expansion, but was told no. “We are sticking with Chiang Mai because we are a Chiang Mai family.” And of course, ‘the family’ includes her parents. “They are very proud,” said Sumalee. “Not the money side of it, but the fact that their children are all working together.”

You really cannot separate Sumalee from ‘the family’ as it is that cohesive unit that gives them all strength, yet will this survive another generation? I asked Sumalee about her own son, now three and a half years old, and whether he will be made to join the family business, just as she had been? The answer was (for me) surprising. “I will let him do everything he wants to do. I think he will be a pilot and not join the family business. Even though I come from a Chinese-Thai family I will change (the concept) and he can make his own decisions - not like me! Everything changes, so we can change our attitude too. Our kids should have many choices - not just by our vision only.” (Fortunately at three and a half he cannot read this profile, but it will be interesting to review those words in around 20 years!)

As far as her own future is concerned, Sumalee said, “I dedicate my life to my company. We started from zero, but we have to take care. A business is like a tree, you have to take care of the roots.”

When not working for Chi Chang Computer (which cannot be very often) she likes to take in English language movies, as she feels this helps her polish up her English language skills, or read books. What does she read? Books on marketing! Or lady’s magazines. She may be the marketing manager, but above all she is a very elegant and composed young woman.

When I asked her about her aims, you can be sure that I was given the aims for the family business, but I tried to pin her down to her personal hopes and desires. She had only two items, “I want to make every day the best day of my life.” The other was, “I want my son to be a good boy and have a good life like me.”

When our hour was up, I must say that I had a much better understanding of a Chinese-Thai family, enough for me to make up my own ‘Chinese’ proverb, “The family that stays together makes hay together” and Sumalee and her siblings deserve it.