Thailand is widely known for the beauty and hospitality of Thai women but… what’s behind the scene? Who pulls the strings? On the Forbes top 50 list 90% are men. Only a few women are listed, and Praneetsilpa Vacharaphol is the first of them. According to Forbes, she was number 6 in Thailand in 2008, and number 11 in 2011. In 2011, her fortune is worth over $1.05 billion. She’s seventy nine years of age. Her late husband founded Thai Rath, the largest newspaper in Thailand.
She’s widowed, and has 4 children. Two of them, Saravut and Yinglak, are also listed as the richest people in Thailand. Thai Rath, made international headlines in June 2009 when it published photos of the dead body of American actor David Carradine known from Kill Bill. There’s almost no information about Praneetsilpa Vacharaphol on the internet, and that’s quite normal in Thailand. Thai people like keeping secrets under wraps. There’s only one picture available of this richest Thai woman: an old lady with three medals stuck to her robe which provides an overall silly impression. Thai Rath is edited only in the Thai language. The front pages are quite awful; the newspaper is apparently addressed to less demanding readers. It’s said that the newspaper reaches over 1 million people daily. Articles focus on sensational stories, sports and entertainment. There are usually young semi-nude Thai girls, models or actresses on the front page. You don’t lose too much by not reading this newspaper. Praneetsilpa Vacharaphol remains a mystery. Nothing is known about her family or about her company. On the other hand Nishita Shah, the hero of the next paragraph, is much more interesting.
Nishita Shah is a young, 31 year old millionaire, an Indian beauty living in Thailand, who was married in Istanbul. She’s ranked 19th on the Forbes list of the richest people in Thailand. It’s said that she’s worth over $400 million. She’s the youngest woman on the list and one of the youngest people in the world to hold such as fortune. Her father, Kirit Sha, made her a managing director of the entire GP group a few years ago. The biggest company of the group, listed on the Thai stock exchange in Bangkok, is Precious Shipping – a fleet of 44 ships.
Nishita graduated from Boston University with a degree in business and finance. Besides the company she operates, she also has a private pilot’s license, practices yoga and is a surfing fan. Although the company specializes in shipping coal, metal and other precious commodities she has given a feminine touch to the family’s business, creating a clothing company “Burn Baby” for modern urban women. Recently she launched a new fashion label called NSHA. Her favorite color is hot pink. Apparently making money and having a nice website doesn’t go hand to hand. Precious Shipping dot com is one of the ugliest company sites I’ve ever seen. It looks like something created one afternoon ten years ago by Nishita’s younger brother. Unfortunately the information about the management is quite shallow. The only visible feature is that most of them are Indian although the company is said to be Thai. One funny thing I’ve found about Nishita on the Precious dot com site is that she accomplished an “Anatomy of Shipping” course in 2004. Well, it could be a title for a Bollywood movie. The NSHA website is a little bit more interesting, unfortunately made in Flash… It would have been great 10 years ago. As regards the fashion and clothing projects, I didn’t find anything eye catching. A lot of rubbish I’d say. I’m afraid that the youngest Thai millionaire will remain a millionaire, but not a fashion celebrity.
Somporn Juangroongruangkit was listed 14th with $580 million as a fortune. She’s widowed, 60 years old, has 5 children who share with her in the presidency of Thai Summit Group. 30 companies that constitute the group make parts for cars, trucks, motorcycles, appliances for Mercedes, Toyota, Samsung and other vehicles. She took over the private company after her husband’s death in 2002. She also owns a stake in Nation Multimedia. There’s almost no information about her on the internet. Most of the richest people from Thailand prefer to live in shadow. This general lack of information is astonishing. Taking into account that Thailand is not a democratic country this is understandable however the broader image is sad. The country with a very uncommon language and unique hospitality has its deep shadows. Behind the curtain there’s a group of rich people who are not interested in forming part of modern society. Lack of information and free media is one of the aspects of this shameless situation. Shameless? Think about 40 million uneducated, obedient, cheap workers, perfect propaganda and Americans and Europeans who are fools interested only in faki faki ping pong banana. Nobody cares about slaves. I’ve found only one quotation from Somporn Juangroongruangkit: “I am present today to participate in the group’s launch of the electric car. For our mutual understanding, I’m neither leftist nor rightist.” She said this during a company meeting. Let me translate this Thai abracadabra into something more intelligible: “For our mutual understanding: don’t talk about politics, don’t talk about your rights, just work. Work hard for our mutual benefit. The rest is silence. Go to work.” Never ask Thai people about whatever you would like to know directly. The answer will always be the same: yes no, right left.
Surang Prempree is the 15th wealthiest person in Thailand according to Forbes. Her net worth is estimated at $550 million. Prempree is 68 years old and is the director of BBTV (Bangkok Broadcasting Television). The majority is owned by the Ratanarak Family, which are number 5 on the Forbes list. She took the reins after her brother died; he had replaced their late mother, who founded the broadcasting corp. She also owns stakes in several public companies. She’s married and one of the most interesting people in the circle of Thai millionaires. Besides her typical Thai smile and friendly facial expression (common for Thai people but uncommon for the rich) her name appears in interesting circumstances. “Society changes little by little – not rapid change, just little by little” – she said once. For us it can look like nothing but in Thai society it’s almost a revolutionary thinking. Thanks to her, TV drama formulas changed and leading actresses don’t have to be weak and vulnerable anymore. Surang says: “We want strong ladies, strong women, and strong girls.” She was also a President of Miss Thailand Universe and President of a golf tournament in Pattaya. Her name appears as a producer of a Thai movie “Kawao tee Bangpleng” on IMDB. I’m afraid the movie is a disaster (“An entire village meets a bizarre fate when all of its female inhabitants become pregnant at the same time, impregnated seemingly by an unknown force”) nevertheless it’s a sign of a certain change in society – a woman as a movie producer and not as a girl from a bar in Pattaya. It’s a great global movie subject: how to make millions of men happy in 5 seconds?
Prapa Viriyaprapaikit is no. 22nd. Her net worth is estimated $400 million. She’s 78 years old and widowed. Her company, Sahaviriya Steel Industries PCL, is Thailand’s largest maker of hot rolled steel, expanding rapidly with the global demand. Viriyaprapaikit started the family business selling scrap metal left over from World War II. The Sahaviriya Group focuses on steel as their core business. It’s invested in and built 23 plants for making and processing steel, in Prapadaeng, Bang Pakong and Bang Saphan areas. Sice the start of 2005, the Group has a total hot-rolling annual capacity of 7.6 million tons; 5 million tons in flat product hot-rolling and 2.6 million tons in long product hot-rolling. In February 2010, she resigned as director of the company. The website of Sahaviriya Steel Industries is old fashioned and doesn’t give a lot of information about the history of the company and his founders. The only interesting thing about her is that she’s a Chinese descendent. Her face at the Forbes picture looks like a Chinese doll. She comes from an ethnic group called Teochew people. There are about 20 million Teochew people on earth, 50 percent in China and the rest abroad. In China they live mainly in the south, near Hong-Kong. Their language, Chaozhou, is described as one of the hardest to master since it have 8 tones, instead of Fujian with 7 and Mandarin with just 4 basic tones.
Nijaporn Charanachitta is the 28th wealthiest person in Thailand. Her net worth is estimated at $230 million. She’s 59 years of age, widowed, and has 3 children. She owns, is a director, a shareholder or controls in some way companies (and brands) such as Chairs Oriental Hotel, Italian-Thai, Amari, Onyx Hospitality. Most of these companies are hotels, luxury residences, spas or construction firms. The whole Ital-Thai group consists of several companies: Italian-Thai Development Public, Italthai Industrial, Italthai Marine, The Oriental Hotel, Italthai Engineering, River City Shopping Complex, Siam Machinery & Equipment, Club Med Phuket, Siam Steel Syndicate, Baan Krating Resort, Thai Pride Cement, Amari Hotels/Resorts, The Ultimate Guest Experience (what a name), Amari Estates. Amari hotels are probably the most famous. Amari Coral Beach on Patong Beach in Phuket is my favorite. It’s located in the very south of the town, the entrance is limited to guests only, they have their own beach, spas, etc. There’s gossips on the internet about her involvement in deals with the Burmese government. On the one hand, Thai are against Burmese dictatorship, on the other hand Thailand is not a democratic country and business deals between rich people in both countries are not uncommon. There would be nothing wrong in it but the strong connection between money, governments and power in both countries lead to corruption. After a visit from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s, Reuters stated, “Thailand’s top construction contractor, Italian-Thai Development Pcl (ITD.BK), said on Thursday it expected to sign a contract for a deep-sea port project with Myanmar Port Authority by the end of November.”
Porndee Lee-Issaranukul is the 36th wealthiest person in Thailand. Her fortune is estimated to be worth $175 million. She’s 74 years old, widowed, and has 4 children. Among all rich Thai women this is probably the most secretive – there are no more than a few lines about her on the internet. No pics, no biography, nothing. She is owner of Sittipol, a family auto parts company founded by her father in 1919 as a bicycle repair shop in Bangkok. Her eldest son, Thanong, heads the group, which includes private companies and includes Inuoe Rubber and Thai Stanley Electric. On June 7, 2010, according to a note from a board of directors meeting of the Thai Stanley Electric Public Company Limited, she resigned as director due to age. And… nothing more. Thai people like to be secret. And what’s the biggest Thai secret besides the secrets of the Pattaya or Patong Beach bar girls? The best keeping secret is that there’s no secret at all. Simply bored lives, bored existence and bored meetings of rich people. In their place I would keep it a secret too.