I have just completed an information session in Bangkok to a group of young, driven and ambitious individuals. This trip was slightly longer than my previous visits to Bangkok as I had several meetings during the week. This longer trip allowed me to see the changes that have swept through Bangkok.
I must confess that, unlike other Singaporeans, I have never been a big fan of Bangkok. I am not an avid shopper, and years of growing up in sterile Singapore food courts have de-sensitised me to street food. The last time I spent more than 2 days in Bangkok was in 2002 when the country was just emerging from the economic rubble of the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
Then, the mood was stoic but sombre. Now there is a great sense of optimism amongst the people I met. I was particularly impressed with the innovative retail concepts that I saw in Bangkok. The cavernous Siam Paragon with a food court the size of a football field, Terminal 21 with its marketplace feel, even Platinum which has something like 6 floors (I lost count) full of tiny fashion shops, and where it seems every second shopper was from Singapore. Compared to the malls in Singapore, which tend to be made from a cookie-cutter model, these were much more interesting and held a better sense of discovery for shoppers.
I was also impressed with the quality of Thai design. Not the silk stuff you see at the Jim Thompson store, but the small independents. There seemed to be a strong design aesthetic and I hope one or two of them will make it on a global scale. It is a not a given, but I think it can be done. I saw how one Thai restaurant, Bangkok Shokudo was reinventing traditional Thai food to something approaching fine dining for the middle class segment. I understand that they are already expanding to Japan.
Compared to most applicants, our applicants from Thailand are younger and have less work experience. They have to work hard to draw out the unique aspects of their application given the less work experience that they have. Nonetheless, I think that there is great potential for our Thai MBAs, whether to work in an MNC tapping the large Thai market, or for an enterprising entrepreneur who wants to bring a product or service outside Thailand. I am excited to see what they will accomplish.