Weekly Local Biography

  Ed Schroeder

by Dr. Iain Corness

Have you ever met people who just somehow appear to be totally at ease with their lot in life, with their environment and with their work? Ed Schroeder, the manager for Northern Thailand for Sunbelt Asia is one of those. Relaxed, quietly spoken, secure in himself, he comes very close to my definition of being ‘enlightened’. In fact, when I asked Ed if he were content with his lot in life, he replied, “I try to be content. It is a human condition not to be content. If I was content, then I would be enlightened!” All very esoteric and deep, but that in a small way describes this quiet American.
Ed was born in Chicago, the eldest child in a family of three born to an attorney and his wife. He grew up like all the kids of the day. Played baseball until it became too dark to see the ball, and dreamed of something to do with science as his future. At that time, the Sputnik satellite was very new and people were searching the heavens for man’s latest triumph.
After he left school he entered the University of Iowa to do his B.A. course, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Maths and Astronomy. “They should have been majors too,” said Ed. “I ran out of time to complete them on account of the Vietnam war.”
The Vietnam conflict was to have quite an influence on him at that stage. He had no desire to be drafted into the army, so he opted to join the United States Air Force for the next four years. Since he had a degree, the USAF sent him to officer training school, but the US government suddenly realized at that time they had too many officers, and after 18 months Ed was discharged and back in civilian life, and his obligation to the US war machine was finished.
He looked at his options, and decided that he would like to stay in Chicago, and the best way to do that was to be skilled in business principles, so he then went to business college to get his MBA.
Now armed with skills more suitable for the commercial world he entered the accountancy world in Chicago where he stayed for around five years until Silicon Valley called. One start-up company was ROLM which was selling computerized telephone exchanges, and Ed became their branch finance manager, and as part of that, he was required to learn contract law. Ed was certainly expanding his ambit.
The giant in those days was IBM, and after five years with ROLM, Ed was sucked into the IBM world, where he was to spend the next 10 years, working his way through many areas in the company from finance and accounting to systems engineering to sales and marketing. However, when Ed could see that his earnings had hit a plateau, it was time to move on.
By this stage he was a fixture in Silicon Valley and eventually, with a friend, opened his own software company. “My friend was the technical side. I was everything else!”
This worked well for him, but by 2003, Ed was having some doubts. He was not getting younger and the world was passing him by. “I wanted to see parts of the world I had never seen. I was worried that I would be too old to travel, so I decided to shut down what I had in the US.”
That took eight months, but Ed was then ready for his ‘world trip’. His first stop was India, and he explored that country for 12 months, before he moved on to Jakarta to see the Borabadur. Well, that was the plan, but like so many of our life’s plans, it did not quite work out that way. The travel agent in India advised him to fly to Bangkok first and then buy a ticket to Jakarta from there as it would be much cheaper. “I intended to stay for one week, but Bangkok was such a welcome relief in modernity compared to India.”
From Bangkok he headed north to Chiang Mai and immediately found something he was looking for. “Chiang Mai is very eclectic. A mixture of East and West. I feel very much at home here.” This was not surprising. Eastern religions had been an interest for 30 years, and he had even written his thesis at university on the comparison between Eastern religions.
However, Ed was too active to just sit still and contemplate his navel, and after a few months he saw an advertisement (in the Chiangmai Mail of course) for a broker for the Sunbelt Group. That position as a broker very quickly changed, with him then taking on the management of the company for the north of Thailand.
This was not a paradigm shift for Ed. “It draws a lot on what I’ve done in the past. My accounting background helps me a lot, so I can understand the books very quickly. My business degree and business background also helps. Having started my own company before means I can understand the plight of the small businessman. In IBM we had to understand the customer’s business and my anthropology degree means that I can understand cultural differences.”
When I enquired as to hobbies, Ed simply replied that he had both Thai and foreign friends, but, “I am here to relax. Sunbelt is not a 9-5 job. You have to enjoy it to do it. I haven’t dropped out,” says Ed, “I am enjoying my work.”
Being in a predominantly Buddhist country, and obviously very much ‘at home’ here, I wondered whether Ed was a Buddhist too. “Buddhist? Rather than being one, I am a part of all,” said Ed.
After talking with this quiet American for an hour, I have to agree with him. He is enjoying his work, and his life here in Chiang Mai. I get the feeling he will be here for some time yet.