The Nation


Businessman of the Year

Tos Chirathivat boldly leading central retail chain overseas

Tos Chirathivat

Tos Chirathivat

The Chirathivat family has continued to strengthen its retail empire ever since the first Central store opened in 1957, but overseas expansion has become remarkable only recently thanks to the vision of Tos Chirathivat from the clan's third generation.

Given the maturing of the economy and political instability here as well as opportunities opening up abroad through the Asean Economic Community (AEC) and crises elsewhere, we support the view of him and other CEOs of top companies that going overseas is inevitable. It is time for strong companies to make the Thai brand known around the globe.

Tos is praised for his solid move in introducing the Thai retail brand to international shoppers through the acquisition of an Italian department store chain. On top of that, the future expansion plans, to be launched after his promotion to CEO of Central Group, are in place to make Central a true regional or international brand. With this in mind, we decided to name him the Businessman of the Year.

Other candidates included billionaires Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi and Dhanin Chearvanont as well as Wandee Khunchornyakong, chief of SPCG, who is relentlessly trying to expand her solar energy empire in several countries including Saudi Arabia.

Charoen successfully engineered the take-over of Singapore's 130-year-old conglomerate, Fraser & Neave, which will be used as a vehicle to make Thai Beverage products known to the world.

Through the acquisition of China's Ping An Insurance and Siam Makro, Dhanin has further strengthened the international recognition of his Charoen Pokphand Group. Through Makro, CP will also grow more regionally.

Tos stands out. As one of the third-generation members, he was tasked to lead the family's retail business. In the middle of 2011, Central Retail Corporation was the first Thai retailer to go overseas. La Rinascente, the 150-year department store chain, was taken over and is planned to be the flagship arm to build a foothold in Europe, as well as Asean and China. This will support Central Group's strategy to grow its business in the next 20-40 years.

"Overseas expansion is very important. In the past our growth was derived mainly from domestic expansion at an average rate of 15 per cent per year. If we would like to maintain our growth at this level, we would need to expand into other countries where opportunities are present," Tos told The Nation.

"In 2014, we plan to expand under Central Group into strategic locations across Thailand, and our next step is to expand regionally. The timing will be good for the AEC.

"My ambition is to make each of our retail brands the store of choice for customers, to be known for the best quality and for being the most innovative. Central Retail is the only retailer in Thailand that caters to a full range of consumers from the luxury/affluent segment to the mass market across the widest product categories - fashion, food, lifestyle, sports, electronics, home improvements, etc.

"Our Central Retail brands enjoy great brand image and international recognition for best quality, best merchandise selection, superior shopping experience and exciting promotions.

"We intend to continue raising our standards and maintaining our leadership position in Thailand, providing customers with the best products and services that meet and exceed their desires," he said.

"Globally, we aim to become one of the leading department store groups, covering all segments from luxury to aspiring middle class, and become an influential global player in both image and customer satisfaction," he said.

Tos, who succeeded his uncle Sudhitham as executive chairman and CEO of Central Group, will continue expanding the family's empire under the strategy carefully put in place by Sudhitham.

Tos has learnt a lot from his senior family members. He still remembers the philosophy of the company's founders, Tiang and Samrit, that all family members must be dedicated and patient and strive to learn from the best. Plus, they must work hard and be frugal and persevering. That credo was religiously passed down from his grandfather, Tiang, to his father, Samrit.

"I embrace his wisdom and apply it in my real life, so I never stop learning and observing the most successful business models from retailers around the world, learning from their successes and failures and using these insights to maximise the potential of our business," he said.

While the empire's success lies in people, stable growth and profits, Tos plans to achieve this with a focus in three key areas - customers, quality and innovation.

Retail companies with advanced technology can enjoy a competitive advantage. The technological factors are involved with inventions and new ideas such as online shopping, R&D and logistics. Faster distribution channels will distribute products by the use of technology to support marketing information systems, manage good relationships with customers and provide effective services to satisfy them. To become real market leaders, retailers need to turn technology into innovation that fulfils consumers' needs, he said.

Another vital trend is urbanisation, which has spread across Thailand. There are increasing opportunities in every developed province with changes in customer lifestyles.

"Our group's mission has been to bring modernity and prosperity to the cities and towns where we do business and we have a clear objective to bring our new innovations to all markets we have penetrated, to meet the needs of our new customers."

There are good business opportunities in any market around the world, he said.

In five years, Central Group will become a big conglomerate with strong growth backed by huge demand from more than 7 billion people around the world, he said. This tremendous opportunity becomes a new challenge for Central Group to grow from a domestic leader to an international powerhouse.

Note: This is the first of our year-end series. Next is Thailand's macroeconomic outlook.

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