Wealthy family, frugal son

THAILAND - In Thailand, few would dare saying they haven't heard of Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, one of the richest Thais.

His empire this year paid US$11 billion (S$14 billion) for control of Singaporean beverage and property company Fraser and Neave. Besides that, he has a property arm, TCC Land, which is the largest owner of Marriott Hotels in the Asia-Pacific region, and he is also the holder of Bangkok's famous tech mall Pantip Plaza and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Manhattan, New York.

According to Forbes magazine, he is the third-richest Thai, with net worth of US$10.6 billion, or about Bt330 billion.

So you would think that the children of this billionaire must be living the life of a millionaire - eating at fancy restaurants, driving luxury cars and flying first-class.

We don't know much about that, but we do know that his youngest son, Pranot, is not flying first-class.

As director of F&N, he flies to Singapore often - a few times a month - for board meetings. His attendance is necessary, as F&N is undergoing organisational restructuring.

But don't look for him in the first-class or business-class cabin. He mingles with ordinary passengers in the economy class.

Needless to say, wealth will remain with the family for a long, long time.

Smile: secret to success?

Last Friday brought a big surprise to more than 20,000 Kasikornbank staff nationwide.

That morning, they all found on their desks a green apple that contained a smile-shaped sticker. With the apple was a card. Written and signed by chairman Banthoon Lamsam, the card said: "Pan Yim Hai Khun - Kasikornbank's success comes from small smiles of us all."

We knew "Pan" was Banthoon's nickname. With the apple and the card, he gave smiles to all and reminded them all how important smiles are.

Banthoon was also onstage at KBank's head office in Bangkok's Rat Burana district, to launch the internal rebranding. He told the staff about the importance of smiles, which were key to the bank's success when it was established 68 years ago. He acknowledged that smiles could evaporate because of economic hardship, but says smiles don't cost anything, so everyone should start smiling.

It seems all the executives agree. They appear in the music video, singing the song "Yim Noi Yim Yai" (Big and Small Smiles).

Well, Khun Pan, we can expect you to keep smiling too, right?

World Bank reaches out to laymen

Even to businesspeople, hard economic stuff like GDP forecasts is boring. The figures are useful only in that they help tell a company how it should invest money.

It is not surprising that key economic agencies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, or the Bank of Thailand are not commonly known among laymen.

However, this might change.

The World Bank's Thailand office should be praised for its initiative.

Today the office will unveil its growth projection for Thailand's gross domestic product in 2013 - along with those of other countries in East Asia and the Pacific. Normally, such an event would only attract the attention of the media and economists. But this time, in a move to reach out to laymen, the Thai office ran a post on Facebook last week. The office is welcoming all questions about what's ahead for the Thai economy.

"We will post World Bank country economist Kirida Bhaopichitr's answers, together with the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific Economic Update report, on October 7," it said.

Some questions have been posted, like what is the outlook for Thailand's tourism and what is influencing gold prices.

Well, Kirida is smiling broadly, inviting more questions. Obviously, the World Bank is changing the public perception on macroeconomy moves.