Leading executives yesterday shared their experiences of the opportunities and challenges in doing business overseas.

At a seminar organised by Bangkok Bank, executives from Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF), Thai Summit Group and Bangkok Airways said one key area in which Thai companies needed to be ready is their manpower, if they want to expand their businesses in Asean.

Adirek Sripratak, president and chief executive officer of CPF, said the company’s extensive overseas activity over 40 years tied in with its vision to be the “kitchen of |the world”.

Sales revenue in the domestic market is not sufficient for long-term growth, he said, adding that the Asean Economic Community (AEC), which comes into effect in 2015, presents a greater opportunity for Thai companies.

CPF’s overseas sales account for Bt200 billion of its overall sales revenue of Bt360 billion.

Before entering each country, the company has to ensure it has the capital, technologies and human resources for such a move, he said, stressing also that it has achieved overseas success because the company thinks “giving” before “taking”.

“Our companies that want to achieve in overseas markets must tell those countries that the arrival of the investment will benefit both the country and its people, before considering what we will gain from the investment,” Adirek said.

He said those in the audience that were from small and medium-sized enterprises must dare to venture outside the country if their businesses have the opportunity.

Bangkok Airways CEO Puthi-pong Prasatthong-Osot said that while the AEC is opening up many opportunities and challenges for Thai companies, they could be at a disadvantage if they lack sufficient skilled labour.

Bangkok Airways, like other carriers, knows that the AEC will open up the market to many rivals in the aviation industry, and to labour migration. The company therefore has to seek more code-share partnerships to expand its network, and tackle the expected shortage of skilled staff, including pilots.

Thanathorn Juangroong-ruangkit, executive vice president of Thai Summit Group, said the inception of the AEC had been a key factor pressuring the company to venture outside of the Kingdom.

Auto-parts rivals in Indonesia and Malaysia will win out over Thai companies in the next 10 years if local firms have no idea about expanding their operations into other Asean countries, he said, adding that Thai Summit Group had started expanding its operations within the region in 2007.

Thanathorn said that as such expansion was not easy for Thai companies, each should find its own spectrum of investment in order to afford the risk.

“We should create and develop employees in preparation for sending them to be the heads of our companies in each country. For Thai Summit, English-language training is important.”

He said his company had in the past experienced labour rallies at its plant in Vietnam. Communica-tion and the relationship between the foreign employer and local employees is, therefore, of crucial importance for smooth operations. He also encouraged Thai firms that want to drive their growth to look at Asean countries as part of their home country.

Dej Pathanasethpong, managing director of Thong Thai Textile, said entrepreneurs should think about research and development and worker development as they prepare themselves for business expansion. The company has upgraded to a corporate business from being an SME because it changed the management style from conducting operations solely from its plant in Bangkok to the provinces, before moving to neighbouring countries such as Laos and Myanmar, he said. –SUCHEERA PINIJPARAKARN, THE NATION