An Inspiring Perspective on COVID-19 From Fang Thai’s CEO
A Special Report from Thailand
January 13 marked the first reported coronavirus case outside of China – it was reported in Thailand. A little more than 2 weeks later – on January 30, WHO declared COVID-19 a global public health emergency. This emergency doesn’t only pose a threat to individual health but, inevitably, also affects our healthy enterprises.
SEED had a chance to catch up with our 2019 SEED Awards winner from Thailand, Fang Thai Factory, on how they are doing and dealing with the pandemic. There are some key points we feel could benefit and/or inspire peers who face a similar struggle.
When asked about the effects of the COVID-19, the CEO, Jaruwan Khammuang, told us she experienced difficulty in logistics, especially with her exports as fear for “products from Thailand” was rising. She also described a slow-down or in some cases a complete halt in purchasing orders. Although Thailand allows factories to operate with caution, the lock-down in other countries resulted in a temporary shutdown of her customers’ production lines.
For a small business, this could be a big issue. However, Jaruwan remains confident and sees an opportunity in her diverse product lines: raw material, finished products as well as technology or know-how. “We have to modify our business model according to the business opportunity that is arising.” She said. And sometimes new clients or partners come in an unexpected form. In her case, Fang Thai’s CEO found a business development opportunity in helping other businesses survive. “Fang Thai is known for its finished product – paper, packaging and gifts – however we have the capacity to only serve the market for raw material, paper pulp. We learned that a company in a similar industry, mulberry paper, is shutting down as mulberry is no longer popular. They have ready-to-operate equipment to produce finished goods and Fang Thai has the know-how and raw material, this means we can share and survive together.”
Now that everyone needs to stay at home, the strength of being a “locally owned” and “community based” enterprise becomes crucial again. Being the ‘locals’ ourselves helps us adapt to any given situation better as we understand the local context we operate in. The factory is not only as a workplace but our home. “We are already working from home” Jaruwan said jokingly. From the start of the value chain in the rice field to the end of the production, the activities are operated by the community which make it less dependent on external influences and fluctuations. And for herself as the CEO, “I can take this moment where I cannot travel to sit down and reevaluate the overall situation and my enterprise capacity against the market we are serving”, Jaruwan explained. “I am positive that after the lockdown, businesses will resume and even accelerate and we need to be ready for that”.
Our conversation ended with Jaruwan arguing that after all, COVID-19 is proving the path eco-inclusive enterprises have taken. It is no longer the choice of environment vs economy now that social-environmental issues are trumping economics. Environmental friendly and responsible products are relevant now and will be in the future.
Interested? Read also here 5 coping strategies from Fang Thai.