Thailand’s mission to attract the biggest and best US businesses
Striving to be one of Asia’s brightest economies is no easy task when you’re up against behemoths such as China and Japan – which is why Thailand is going the extra mile to attract United States businesses.
Despite being resource-rich and with the optimal geographical location in the region, a significant skills shortage has held the country back in comparison to ASEAN rivals, with its GDP trailing considerably behind the likes of Singapore and Malaysia.
The Thai government is hoping to win back some of this ground by reconstructing its economy, putting innovation and technology at its front and center to achieve ‘Thailand 4.0’, the most ambitious step in its economic ladder.
All of the work to persuade global companies to move part of their operations to the country is being done by the Board of Investment (BOI), the government department tasked with the specific remit to sell its vision for the future.
Notable current US investors include the likes of Microsoft, Ford and GE, though through making significant upgrades to its education system and infrastructure, Thailand is hoping its incentives will lead to an additional influx, fueling its journey to 4.0.
“Foreign investors play a very important role, a wider role in terms of our industrial development, especially when we're talking about new technologies,” says Bonggot Anuroj, a Senior Executive Advisor at the BOI.
“If you want to introduce some innovation into our country, of course we have to co-operate with foreign companies. From that, I think we can learn from them and then start to build our own capability.
“At the moment, we are at the level of Thailand 3.0, but certain areas are still at the level of 2.5. If you want to compete with countries with higher levels of economy like South Korea or Taiwan, we have to focus more on the value-added technology industries.”
Industries and incentives
The BOI is looking to encourage the investment into ten target industries in line with its technology and innovation focus, with five of those industries being current areas ready for upgrade: automotive, electronics, petrochemical, agriculture and food and tourism.
Its five other target industries are new areas of priority and include automation and robotics, aerospace, digital, biotechnology and medical and healthcare.
To drive investment into these industries, the BOI has set up specific incentives for foreign companies which bring business to its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a priority zone made up of the Chachoengsao, Chonburi and Rayong provinces and formerly known as its Eastern Seaboard.
These incentives include the exemption of import duties on raw or essential goods used in production for export or research and development, as well as corporate income tax holidays. Technology-based companies could be exempt from corporate income tax for up to 13 years, while businesses in other target industries can earn tax holidays of up to eight years.
In addition, Anuroj adds: “I think non-tax incentives are also very important for foreign investors. We allow foreigners to have land ownership and that's very important because according to the Land Court of Thailand, foreigners cannot own land. As long as they continue the project promoted by the BOI, they can own land.”
An infrastructure revolution
In order to make the scale of investment viable, a public and private financial commitment to infrastructure has been made, with spending in the EEC set to hit a sizeable $43bn over the next five years.
Major projects include a $5.7bn expansion at U-Tapao Airport and $2.5bn worth of improvements to the Laem Chabang seaport, the 23rd biggest of its kind in the world. The BOI hopes the end result will see Thailand become the logistics ‘nexus’ of Southeast Asia, creating efficient transport in ASEAN through both its east-west and north-south economic corridors.
“The government has several projects coming up. We're going to expand the seaport in the area, we're going to expand the international airport,” explains Anuroj.
“There will be a new high-speed train that we will have the dual track rail system as well as the extension of the main EEC motorway, so transportation will be very good. There will be new cities and we hope that there will be more schools and institutes too.”
Solving the skills shortage
Thailand’s biggest obstacle in the way of its ambitions remains its workforce, with over 80% of the employed population working in unskilled jobs.
The government has made efforts to make a difference in its education sector, however, with spending having increased by 6.49% since 2010, while privately-funded institutes such as VISTEC – a technology learning center in Rayong – harboring ambitions to one day match the likes of Stanford and Harvard.
“In the long run, we will need the education reform in order to absorb the new technology and the new innovation that we need to strengthen our industry and our business,” admits Anuroj.
“In the short term, the government has come up with several schemes. As well as the BOI, we have set up a unit called the Strategic Talent Centre (STC) and if any companies want to bring in experts in the area of science and technology, we will support them with a visa and work permit.
“In the EEC, we will allow foreign companies to set up a university or college in the area of science and technology. Normally for education, we will have Thai majority ownership, but now, just for the EEC, a foreign company can do it.”
Further challenges remain, but Thailand’s government hopes its bold approach – and investment from the other side of the planet – will reap rewards for years to come.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.