Weekly Local Biography

  Michael Walther

Michael Walther was born in 1935, which makes him an amazing 70 years old. I say amazing because he is both an entrepreneur and the newly appointed Honorary Consul for Australia, jobs he fulfills with energy and enthusiasm. Not too many people who are 70 send out r้sum้s or set goals for new jobs!

Although born in England and educated there at the primary and secondary levels, he joined Signals for his compulsory military duty as a young man and was sent to East Africa. The exposure to a different life and a different culture expanded his horizons, and he has never looked back. East Africa was in the middle of a rebellion when he served there, and so was he. His father was the Crown Counsel and young Mike experienced some family pressure to go to law school. But the law wasn’t his interest. Instead he attended Salisbury University in Rhodesia after leaving the military, and graduated with a degree in architecture. Neither Salisbury University nor Rhodesia, he noted, still exist with those names. Salisbury has become Harare and Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe.

Michael never practiced architecture, but instead discovered his niche in related businesses. He married and had children, but Rhodesia was in the midst of a rebellion and the family didn’t want to raise its children amidst guns and fighting. They moved to Perth in Western Australia, and started a construction company. Michael describes Perth in those days as being very similar to Chiang Mai, more “laid back” than the rest of the country.

In addition to the construction company, Michael became a consultant to a number of Australian companies that manufactured and exported building products. One of these was involved in the export of products to South East Asia, and he was introduced to Thailand. His children grown and his marriage ending, he took the opportunity to start over. He set up a factory in Bangna that manufactured a pre-fabricated modular building system. The system components were exported to many countries including India, Iraq, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Palau Islands. In addition, the United Nations forces in Cambodia used them for both offices and staff housing. The components were insulated and pre-plumbed, which made them ideal for quick construction.

It was during these years that Michael’s acquaintance with Varisara Panyaso, “Meam”, slowly developed into more than a casual friendship. They were married, and he says with great pride that she is an accomplished woman who is quite capable of running multiple businesses today. The family now owns an interior finishing business in Bangkok, a civil engineering company and a modular interlocking brick plant. The interior finishing business employs some 200 Thai workers, all skilled trades people. Every worker, no matter what his or her experience may have been with other companies, starts “at the bottom” and relearns the trade according to the very high standards of the company. Most of the employees come from Isaan, with many also coming from Lamphun and Lampang. Maem manages the Bangkok businesses, enabling Michael to think about retirement.

But thinking about it is as close as he has come. He travels frequently to Bangkok to be with Maem and help with any business problems. He considers himself a “behind the scenes guy”, and has found a place for his type of leadership. He encourages, teaches, and mentors, while others take the limelight in the front office.

A few months ago, Michael Walther was officially appointed Honorary Consul, working under the auspices of the Consul General in Bangkok and responsible to H.E. the Australian Ambassador. He says it is his opportunity to serve his adopted country, and his goals for his term of office are quickly developing. From his extensive business experience, he has contacts in both business and government. He is working to strengthen those contacts and to build friendships with local governmental, business and professional leaders. This will enable him to provide hands-on assistance to Australian travelers who may find themselves in trouble in a foreign country. In turn, he will assist the local authorities with any problems they experience with Australian visitors and expatriates, especially those who have emergencies or personal crises.

His second goal is to encourage and assist Australian entrepreneurs and business people here in northern Thailand under the auspices of Austrade in Bangkok. Austrade is the Australian governmental agency that helps Australian companies with overseas business. The organization, through people like Michael, offers practical advice and ongoing support to business people. Doing business in a foreign country can be quite difficult, with good people often given bad advice. Michael plans to help them find the right way and the best direction. I am sure that there will be many opportunities to help.

The third goal of the newly appointed Honorary Consul is the development of educational ties between Australia and Thailand through the AEI International Education Network. AEI, Australian Education International, is part of the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training. Its mission is to integrate the development of international governmental relations with support for the commercial activities of Australia’s education community. AEI liaises with all sectors of the education and training industry and all levels of government. AEI also facilitates dialogue on issues related to education, science and training with governments around the world.

It doesn’t sound as though Michael Walther is going to retire to the golf links any time soon. It does sound as though Australia has a fine advocate in northern Thailand for its citizens, whether they are business people or travelers. We talked about the future. With his wealth of business experience and his enthusiasm for his new diplomatic post, what role does he see for himself? He will continue to lead from behind the scenes in his business interests, of course. And in his public life? Well, he’ll just play it by ear. You can never tell what the future will bring, but he’s up to the challenge.