Readers' Submissions

Living and Working In Thailand




I retired at the ripe old age of 47 about five years ago. I was going through the divorce from hell and decided to chuck it all and start a new life. I sold my company and made enough that I wouldn’t have to work again and moved to Jomtien.

I was overjoyed that I could get a three bedroom penthouse condo overlooking the ocean for $1,000 a month. My mother, a retired interior designer, decorated it for me and it was the envy of my friends. I loved living there. Even the owner brought his friends around when collecting the rent to show the place off.

I had been seeing a professional woman from Khon Kaen and invited her to join me in Jomtien. It didn’t take her long to chuck her busy life as well. Her English wasn’t the best, but I sent her to classes and had friends from America stay with us regularly so after six months she was speaking nearly perfect English.

I read Stickman religiously and avoided all the pratfalls that are common to a lot of people who move to Thailand and fall in love. My girlfriend was smart and adaptable. She wanted to be Western so badly. We traveled a lot, she turned into a gourmet cook, and we entertained several times a week. She was, and still is, a delight to be around. I joined a gym, lost 10 kilos, and met a lot of wonderful friends.

Best of all, I never got a permanent visa and would have to leave Thailand once a month. “Darn it honey, I have to go again… see you in a week!” She was accommodating of my dalliances, as long as they were outside the country. I never saw the need to hang out with the bar girls in Pattaya. I really have no interest in them.

I was a guy who always worked 70 to 80 hours a week building up my business. I was used to a lot of stress and responsibility. I had started two businesses during my career and sold them both for a small fortune. My last one was doing just over $100 million a year in revenues.

So in coming to Thailand, I went from 100 MPH to Zero in no time at all. It took me about six months to adapt to the slower lifestyle. And then I embraced it with a passion. Eventually though, my girlfriend could not. We got married after three years together, abet with a pre-nup. We had worked through the four main issues that every couple is going to have, money, sex, children, and parents – before we got married.

My wife needed something to do. She had always been a leader and a manager. The slow lifestyle was just too boring for her. She started a few small businesses that failed. I realized that she didn’t have the skill set to run a business, but she was an excellent sales person and communicator. So I got off my butt and started to do consulting for a friend who owned a business in Thailand.

It turned out that I hadn’t lost my magic. I grew his business, nearly doubling revenues and straightening out a bunch of operational problems in just a few months. I enjoyed the work even though I was doing it for free. So I started to do more consulting for others, a charity in England and a tech company in America. It energized me. I was doing it for free but what I was doing was successful for these companies.

Six months ago I realized that I could make another fortune by joining forces with my friend running the business in Thailand. So we formed a partnership. I read every possible book on how to manage Thai employees. I was actually quite intimidated. The books made it seem impossible. There were just too many differences between Thai culture and American culture.

The culture of my friend’s business was bad, and quite frankly the employees were stupid. So I brought in a completely new professional staff and hired my wife as the sales manager. My friend didn’t think I could hire Thai workers that met my high standards, but I eventually found them. They were smart people who were highly dedicated. I worked hard FOR my employees. I’d show up at 7 in the morning to greet my lowest paid staff members and see them off. I’d find time to assist sales people and go out with them several times a week.

The books that I read about managing Thai employees were wrong. The Thai staff loved working for me, even though they weren’t being paid much. It turns out that if you treat people well in any culture, then they will respond to you. If they know that you care about them, they will go out of their way to take care of the business’s needs. I was actually quite surprised because one book said that maybe the best way to handle a Thai staff was to send them home and pay them for doing so, just so they stayed out of the way.

I think what happens in Thailand is that people that come here and start a business generally aren’t the most successful business people back in their home countries. They don’t know how to lead and manage people. I know that my partner here was generally clueless about these matters and previously got minimal effort out of the staff. In fact, they constantly conspired about how to cheat him. If you aren’t a good manager in your home country, you don’t stand a chance in Thailand.

My biggest surprise with Thai employees is that I would hire someone and they would never show up for work on the agreed upon date. This has happened several times. All citing some lame excuse when I would find them and ask why they never showed up for work. It could be that I told them during the interviews that if they didn’t want to work hard, then they shouldn’t take this job. They would be miserable.

My business partner eventually couldn’t keep up with the changes. The new staff responded to me and not him. Even through I was a good communicator and kept him in the loop, he knew that I had hijacked his firm. So I left and wished him well. He needed this more than me. It was painful leaving a firm that I had built up and that was now growing quickly, but I was satisfied that I had left my friend in a better position.

My lovely Thai wife however was not satisfied and started a rival firm a few months later. She had brought in a ton of new sales to my friends company and wanted to be paid her commissions for them. With a little guidance from me, she is doing just fine. I don’t let her run the firm but I do let her sell and she’s good at it.

I didn’t just fall into a relationship when I moved to Thailand. I went out searching for a particular type of woman. One who was strong, smart, and lively. Someone who had great values and who would adapt well to a Western lifestyle. Someone who was hot as hell, and a load of fun to be with. Although I dated four professional women from different parts of the country, I settled on my future wife within the first year.

We’ve had our ups and downs. But she’s 20 years my junior and always interesting to be with. I never thought that I would ever get married again – and during my divorce, I swore by it. But I have found my soulmate. She is someone that I am genuinely happy to be with. I had a good marriage for 23 years in America. So there is no reason for me not to be able to have another good marriage.

I feel that if you were good at marriage before you moved to Thailand, there is no real reason why you can’t be in a good marriage to a Thai woman. I think a lot of my friends were in bad marriages before and they are in some bad relationships now. You do have to have strong boundaries with Thai women. My wife likes to spend and she likes to ship money to her parents. I had to put strict limits on both.

I do disagree with Stick on one point however. I believe that he has contended that the only reason to get married to a Thai woman is to eventually have children. Although my wife would love to have them, I am not going to do it again. I still work hard on my two existing kids. I don’t want more children at my age. My friends and family urge me to take the plunge, but I’m a guy that spends incredible energy on my kids. It’s not like I’d hire a nanny to raise my children. I just don’t have that energy anymore.

My biggest surprise in Thailand has been that even though the culture is different, human nature is never different. If you are a good person and treat people well, then you get that back from Thais in spades. You do have to work at it a bit though. It’s a little disappointing that service personnel in Thailand rarely give you the chance to relate to them. They are just going through the motions in their jobs and it’s difficult to engage them in a positive or constructive way.

I love living in Thailand. Of course I am fairly young and retired, so why not? It’s a bit expensive compared to a lot of other options that I have. But my wife likes Jomtien, we are building a house on the ocean there, and I can see living there for the rest of my life. I ignore the political turmoil and I’m glad for that time each month when I have to make the journey outside of the country. It gives me all the space I need.

Stickman's thoughts:

It really sounds like you have your shit together and you don't take shit – that's always a good combination for success ANYWHERE.