Working With Thais
Within the past 12 months I had a consultancy assignment with a large Japanese company which needed my experience to help start up a new division within their sales and distribution organization. The company arranged a work permit for me and I started
work for them.
The company had already hired a relatively young Thai manager for this new division who reported to the National Sales Manager and my role was to assist and guide him in the creation of the new division. The company’s products are
sold throughout the country via a network of agents and dealers. Due to the fact that the company had changed hands with the Japanese principals acquiring the majority shares a few years ago there was a suspicion among the dealers and agents of
their intentions and a certain lack of trust and co-operation was evident. There was no doubt that the Japanese had inherited a lack lustre operation with old and out-dated products which was performing, market-share wise, well below potential.
The company was managed by Japanese from the parent company in Japan but most of the Thai management was a carry over from the time before the takeover. One of the Japanese managers was assigned to carry out a watching brief on the formation
of the new division and the Thai manager and I worked very closely with him.
We all worked harmoniously together for several months producing infrastructure, recruiting staff (Thai) and developing policies and procedures. During this time we held a major conference for the dealers and agents where the company introduced
its policies for the new division and explained how they would impact the distribution network – positively.
The new Thai division manager and I spent several weeks visiting dealers and agents in different parts of the country in order to get a deeper understanding of their methods and sales practice. During these visits we became aware of the negative
attitude of some of the dealers and agents towards the company as their sales performance was well down on previous years due to the old and outdated products and services.
An integral element in the overall plan was a series of more detailed conferences during which the company would demonstrate how the agents and dealers should change some of their activities and organization in order to get full benefit from
the new division’s activities.
I worked closely with the Thai division manager and our Japanese manager on the preparation of the programme, using tried and proven techniques and content I have used successfully in several other international markets. As they say, there
is nothing new in this world – only customizing to suit a specific market. The plan was that there would be a simultaneous presentation in English (by me) with Thai translation (by the Thai division manager) verbally and on dual PowerPoint
In the weeks leading up to the start of the conference programme the Thai division manager kept telling me he had not yet received approval for the programme to proceed. I found this strange as the budget for the conferences had been submitted
and given the OK at least four weeks previously. I pressed him to release information to the dealers and agents advising and inviting them to the conferences but there was always some reason for delaying this action.
Eventually it seemed to
me we had the green light and we spent one Sunday afternoon finalising the programme’s schedule and selecting domestic flights in and out of Bangkok.
At the eleventh hour, literally just days before the first conference was due to be held, I was told by our Japanese manager that ‘someone in Sales” had said some of the programme content was unsuitable for the Thai market.
I was totally dumbstruck as was our Japanese manager and we were at a total loss to understand where this comment had come from. We had screened the content of the presentation material in some depth and I, together with the Thai division manager,
had made some last minute changes to accommodate requirements of the Japanese senior management.
After several days of investigation we eventually discovered the source of the negative attitude to the programme. The Thai manager of this new division was the person who had made the comments! It transpired that he was not willing to be
in the forefront during the conference with the possibility of having to deal with negative reactions from the dealers and agents. Under questioning he agreed that if another person was used to be the Thai front man for the translation then he
felt the programme could go ahead.
This was the same man I had been working with for the past two months preparing the content of the conference programmes, planning nation-wide venues and making travel arrangements. He had had plenty of time to voice his personal concerns
during this time but seemingly lacked the courage to do so.
Regrettably the conferences were never held and all the good work we had done during the six months is never likely to benefit the company.
For me it was a tough way to understand Thai face-saving culture.
Working in Thailand can be a real nightmare at times – and as you alluded to, many aspects of the culture can really get in the way of productivity.