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Banthoon strikes the right notes


ON a relaxed Wednesday evening, Banthoon Lamsam, the banker, calmed his nerves by temporarily letting his mind off the Slips (Stapled Limited Interest Preferred Structure), a complicated recapitalisation scheme under which his Thai Farmers Bank plans to ride out the financial crisis by raising Bt40 billion. He picked up the saxophone to prove his virtuosity. And he did manage to play some right notes.

Short of doing a full-scale saxophone concerto, Banthoon played several popular Thai songs with the ad hoc TFB Band for the entertainment of a corps of reporters who cover the banking industry. He was in an excellent mood, rarely witnessed by his staff, who have both fear and respect for their tough boss.

Banthoon must be happy because TFB will be the first survivor to emerge from the banking crisis, having sold out more than Bt30 billion in Slips to big-time Thai savers and institutional investors. The TFB stocks have shot up to touch a new high of Bt60 on the bank's buoyant prospects.

It was a get-together party, held at a pub on the 36th floor of the TFB headquarters overlooking the Chao Phya River and the spectacular Rama IX Cable Bridge, the world's longest. It was strictly a party for fun, not for news. And Banthoon serenaded his way well into the glittering night of sheer entertainment.

There was a lighter moment of parody. A group of reporters quickly assembled a farcical musical play plotted on the theme of survival. It was dedicated to Banthoon, encouraging him to fight on and to successfully lead the bank out of the country's worst economic crisis. Four signboards, each held by four reporters who did some belly dancing, carried the unmistakable message: We're Behind You, Economic Recovery, Take on the NPLs, Reporters and the Bank Will Survive.

Banthoon was moved by this thoughtful display. He thanked the party, saying he believed that Thailand had been saved by a guardian angel. But before the bank could be saved, it must help itself first. The saxophone might have been a little bit out of tune, but it did manage some shake-ups.


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