Changing Attitudes: Cooperation over Competition
Akelada Hotel & Convention
Safety Agri Buriram (SAB) by Akelada Hotel
With a successful 15-year career in the IT industry—spanning many of the world’s leading technology companies—behind him, Krittawit felt that it was time for a change and to focus on what is important in life. Building on his varied experiences across Asia as part of the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program, he now aims to take his new skills back to his family business in Thailand and apply his fresh perspectives on leadership to the local community. With a focus on the benefits of collaboration—rather than competition—to create lasting change, he aims to reform agriculture in rural Thailand while making sure that no-one is left behind.
―As an older applicant to the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program, you have an extensive business career behind you. Tell us about your experience to date.
I grew up in Thailand, but spent much of my undergraduate university life abroad—especially in Europe, going to the London School of Economics, Copenhagen Business School, and Lund University in Sweden before receiving a Singapore government scholarship that brought me back to Asia, to Singapore.
From there, I began my working life in the electronics sector. That took me from Singapore to Korea for five years, then back to Thailand, where I went on to work for Dell Computers as head of the marketing team. After more than three years at Dell, I went on to work for Microsoft—still in Thailand. My next move was to Apple, where I worked as Key Retail Account Manager and set up a new route to the market for the iPhone business in Thailand.
―When did you realize it was time for a change?
I realized that life is more than just monetary success, endlessly climbing the corporate ladder. This feeling had been at the back of my mind for some time—maybe two or three years—before I decided to quit my job and start a new adventure.
I wanted to do something that would benefit society. I should add, to my business experience, that I was also a lecturer at Bangkok University, in Thailand, and other schools for around 10 years teaching marketing communication. Seeing my students get their lives together and go on to be successful came to be more meaningful than the corporate life I was living in parallel. That was a big influence in encouraging me to quit and start a new chapter of my life.
I guess you could say I looked towards home for direction. My family lives in the Buriram Province of northeastern Thailand. In addition to a family hotel, there is a large amount of farming land. My family was already using the land to provide organic vegetables for guests at the hotel, but I could see the potential for expansion—not just for my family, but as a social enterprise to change the local community for the better.
―Why did you first apply to study on the program?
It was 2018, and I had just quit my job at Apple. I returned to Thailand to focus on my family’s business and I made some progress in social outreach—mainly by just talking to local farmers and finding out what their concerns were.
But, I realized there was a limit to what I could do, and I needed to be speaking to them as a leader they could believe in. This program places importance on the next generation of leaders, with a different style of leadership in tune with where we are heading in the future. It was exactly the mentoring I needed at that point in my life, and I felt honored to be selected.
There is so much focus on sales numbers and so on that, even having worked for multiple multinational companies, you never get the chance to sit back and reflect on yourself as a leader—nevermind what is for the good of the people or the country. The kind of strategic thinking this program encourages enabled me to crystalize my ideas in a way the corporate world didn’t.
It equipped me for change, and I want to go on to equip others for change.
―As an older applicant, what has your experience been like on the program?
When you are in your twenties—whether studying or in the workforce—everything is about competition. You need to prove yourself, that you are the best. In some ways, that stops you from learning and listening to others.
Right now, I am in my forties and don’t feel the need to compete with anyone. I just want to be the best that I can be, and that gives you a different perspective on a program like this. There are all these younger students with new ideas and new reactions to existing ideas. Listening to, networking with, and learning from this new generation opened up new ways of thinking.
Likewise, I have worked and traveled in Asia extensively. But visiting even a place that I had lived before, such as Singapore, while in the learning mindset completely changed my perspective. I had worked there, but never thought about the strategic thinking that has enabled the technology industry to thrive there. It made me realized that, if I applied those lessons to my own country, Thailand can thrive, too.
―What is the subject of your Capstone Project?
I want to build up the sustainable organic farming model in Thailand, as well as counter the problems of chemical overuse and lift farmers out of the poverty that the current model offers no relief for. As I said before, I have a strong family connection to the area, so this really is a personal cause. I spent so much time studying, and then working, in countries across the world that I realized I had missed out on so much quality time with my family. I wanted a project that captured my personal—as well as societal—goals.
Forty percent of the Thai population works in agriculture, so it is an issue that you could say affects the whole country. Any improvement in working conditions or wages has the potential to bring about real social change in the country, and to decrease the number of impoverished households. Especially when you consider that 50% of those below the poverty line are farmers, this is the issue that I wanted to highlight as the catalyst for change.
Of course, technology is key to improving productivity. But, by improving technology, you can also improve the safety and wellbeing of farmers. Organic farming is not only better for the land, but also for the workers, because they are not exposed to chemicals. It is also better for the consumer. So, it is just a matter of getting the conditions right so it can be allowed to work for everyone.
That is why I intend to continue the Capstone Project beyond my time on this program, long into the future.
―What kind of change do you want to enact in society?
Peoples’ wellbeing is paramount for me. I learnt the importance of spending time with our families and loved-ones directly over the course of my own work-life, but it is not only an issue connected to working abroad. In the case of Thailand, beyond Bangkok there are few job opportunities. These centralized urban areas are good for employment, but they separate families—particularly the young from the old. This isn’t good for society or for the individual’s quality of life.
These issues have gotten lost in the conversation, and we should be talking about them.
―Did your fellow classmates influence your thinking?
I certainly felt a generational difference, but that just made me want to think, “Okay, well, why do you think that way?” Try to understand their background and culture. I will be honest. That was difficult sometimes. But, given that the purpose of the program is to bring the leaders of tomorrow together, understanding that diversity of thought is key to working with other leaders in the future. Everyone has a different cultural context, and once you learn to accept difference you remove conflict.
I didn’t just learn from my classmates, I learnt how to work with them.
―How did your concept of leadership change over the course of the program?
Entering into the program, I was still influenced by my previous corporate way of thinking. Now, I think a lot more about the common good rather than what is best for me or one group. Identifying that is the primary role of a leader. You have to build trust within a group so that everyone can work together towards that common good. And the leader can’t sell dreams. They must look at reality as it really is. Being honest, Thailand has a lot of issues it needs to overcome that make it a different case from, say, Japan. A good leader acknowledges that reality.
As I get older, I also think that a good leader trains their replacement. One day, you will need to pass on your role to someone else, so it is vital to raise up the next generation.
―Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
You could say that I am hot-tempered as an individual and that I want to see results now! But, with that said, visiting successful initiatives as part of this program made me realize that success never happens overnight. Sometimes it takes three years. Sometimes the results only come decades later. The timeframe of agriculture is a long one, so I have to be patient.
But, I am setting myself realistic milestones and thinking about parallel goals along the way to keep me motivated. For example, promoting the eco-tourism industry in parallel with the primary agricultural project. Agriculture is also seasonal, so there are periods of inactivity that allow regional crafts and material culture to flourish, which in turn is good for tourism and allows people to keep their local culture alive.
But that is all about thinking more holistically and more societally, how one goal can be a catalyst for change that just makes a society or community a place you want to live in.
―What would be your advice for someone thinking of applying to this program?
Be clear about what your social contribution is going to be. And don’t just give lip service to this idea, but truly believe in it. This is a chance to make real change, so you have to be able to put your ideas into practice, which takes drive and passion.
Of course, there is room to develop your ideas and find your cause over the course of the program, but it is a really intense environment, so having a clear idea of what your Capstone Project is will help enormously.
There is also no age limit on applying for the program, which is rare. For those looking for a change, or new skills, this program can help you recalibrate to your next challenge.
Finally, enter into the program with a spirit of cooperation, not competition. You don’t need to prove yourself amongst the other students. Actually, you have a lot to learn from them.