Reflections Of A Modern Thailand


May 21, 2013

Written by Mary Buffett

When I was growing up, my parents encouraged me to travel globally because so much history happens outside of our borders. The great conflicts of the past century occurred not in Kansas or Illinois, but in faraway places like Europe and the Pacific.

While it’s wonderful to get lost in those great European cities, it is even more exciting to see the new green shoots of opportunity emerge in South East Asia, a region that until the Cold War ended, remained a major flashpoint between East and West.

I recently returned from Thailand after being the keynote speaker at a special conference for Thai investors sponsored by Money Channel with Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and Bank of Ayudhya PLC. I presented the ideas, tactics and investment strategies of Warren Buffett.
I was struck by the thirst the Thai people had for financial knowledge. This was more than a typical American conversation about making a lot of money and spending it; the Thai conversation was focused on the long-term, something that they could pass along to their children.

I found Thailand to be a special place. Some Americans look at Thailand as an exotic travel destination or the setting for The King and I. I have traveled to many countries; Thailand had the most welcoming, generous, humble, enlightened people I have ever met. Then there’s the food, there is purpose in everything they do, beauty in the simplest ways. Breathtaking flowers, the development of the silk trade, to say nothing of the majestic temples surrounding the palace — and the skyline of one of the greatest cities in the world — that still has a sense of history and modernity. The future of Thailand is an exciting and emerging business climate that will bring long-term stability and allow Thailand to leave its thumbprint on the region.

The political scene has calmed down after challenges of the past. The current leadership knows that political stability attracts foreign investment and economic success. Downtown Bangkok is undergoing a building boom and as I talked with the conference participants, I could see that Thailand is lining up to be the next financial powerhouse for banking and investing.

People underestimate the resilience of the Thai culture and its people. Unlike many nations in the region, Thailand retains its ancient royal legacy. While a constitutional monarch, King Rama IX has offered Thailand a guiding light of national continuity over the past 63 years, making him the globe’s longest reigning sovereign, serving three more years than his more famous contemporary, Queen Elizabeth II. Like Great Britain, Rama IX has guided his nation through world wars, but unlike Elizabeth II, he has also guided his country through a number of military coups as well as political and economic instability. Surviving in a locale where many of his contemporaries were either seen as puppets or worse, his wisdom speaks volumes.

Through it all, both the King and Queen retain a special place in their people’s hearts at home or abroad. The next time you dine on authentic Thai cuisine, look around and you’ll find a picture of the royal couple, usually in a place of honor. Rama IX’s great-great grandfather, Mongkut (Rama IV) often makes a cameo appearance in most high school World Civilization textbooks. During the great colonial land grabs by European nations at the end of the19th century, Thailand was the rare nation that retained its independence, as Mongkut played a careful game of pitting one European power against another. In fact, Mongkut is the “King” from “King and I.”

During a more dangerous time, Thailand also served as the beacon of freedom as people fled the communist takeovers of their native lands. With leaky boats motoring from Vietnam or those who took to the jungles to escape Cambodia, making it to Thailand alive meant hope.

Thailand looks to the future. The challenges of the past will serve the Thai people well in the coming years. Now that a new era of political stability has returned to Thailand, global investment will no doubt trend upward and you see it in Downtown Bangkok, which is experiencing a renaissance in commercial development. There is a growth of high-tech positions that will have a transformative effect on educated lifestyles. You will also see new opportunities emerge within what used to be the poorer regions of the Thailand, with growth and new development on the forefront.

Thailand now has 18 million people — out of a population of 65 million — who use social media regularly. In 1990, roughly a quarter of their population lived below the poverty line. Today the number is just under 10 percent. Health and nutrition among their young have improved. Things are looking up.

There is an urgency to make things happen in Thailand — a sense that some of the past political disruptions may be a thing of the past. They have moved far beyond the “domino that refused to fall” during the Cold War.

And I look forward to seeing and being a part of their new chapters as they emerge. Oh, by the way, Bloomberg just released its list of top 20 emerging markets; Thailand is #3!

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