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Somkid promises he'll do it his way

February 15, 2001

SOMKID Jatusripitak yesterday promised to run the Finance Ministry as "my own man", countering some press reports implying that he would merely act as a medium for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"I have known and worked with Dr Thaksin for a long time. We know each other's style. And I think he respects my opinion and what I am," he said in an interview with senior editors of the Nation Multimedia Group.

Over the past two days Somkid, 48, who is widely expected to become the new Finance Minister, has faced a barrage of criticism that his background in marketing might not be suitable for the tough finance portfolio.

But he said he was confident that his qualifications, earned through a decade-long experience in academic, financial, business and political circles, would earn him trust at home and abroad.

"My bachelor's degree was in economics. I have a master's in finance. But I happened to earn my PhD in marketing," he said. "In fact, I have never wanted to do marketing. My passion is public policy. I am also interested in exports."

He promised to do his utmost to restructure the economy and prevent the country from sinking into crisis again. He emphasised the importance of teamwork, promising to urgently implement, once the new government was formed, the legislation needed to stimulate growth and put money into the hands of consumers.

Somkid grew up in a large Chinese-Thai family, one of 10 children. His elder brother, Som Jatusripitak, also gained a reputation as a marketing man. Som became Somkid's role model through his hard work to support himself and his family.

When Som went abroad to further his studies, Somkid promised himself that he would also earn an overseas degree.

Som found success in the corporate sector, rising to head Berli Jucker, the consumer products firm. He moved on to become president of Siam City Bank before leaving to serve briefly as commerce minister in the Chavalit government in 1997.

While he was still at school, Somkid was financially supported by his uncle. He went to Thammasat University for his first degree before getting his masters at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).

There he met Thanong Bidhaya, who earned his PhD at Northwestern University. Later on, Somkid won a government scholarship to study at Northwestern.

The Northwestern connection allowed him to collaborate with Dr Philip Kotler, a world authority on marketing, to write a book, called "The Marketing of Nations". The book outlined how countries could improve their competitiveness through marketing and appropriate policies to support it.

Somkid has enjoyed a varied career. He taught at NIDA but quickly found out that he would need experience in the private sector to become an effective lecturer. He has been an adviser to the Stock Exchange of Thailand and played a role in the establishment of the Phatra Research Institute, which was attached to the now defunct Phatra Thanakit Plc.

In the business world, Somkid came into contact with the Saha Pattanapibul Group, which had more than 200 subsidiaries. There he had access to Thiem Chokewattana, the late founder of the giant consumer-products group, and learnt a great deal about business practices.

The sales patterns and inventory build-up at the group were important indicators of the health of the economy and Somkid said this helped him to understand the economic relationship between the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Somkid was a secretary to Thaksin when the latter served as foreign minister in the Banharn government. When Thanong took over as finance minister in the Chavalit government, Somkid was picked as his secretary.

He gradually emerged from the shadow of his mentors to become his own man. When Thaksin founded the Thai Rak Thai Party two years ago, he called on Somkid to work as a top aide. Somkid recruited Pansak Winyaratn, a former chief adviser to the late prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan, to become one of the Thai Rak Thai's advisers.

Somkid and Pansak, one of the pioneers of the small and medium-scale enterprise sector, would form an inner circle that played an important role in bringing in political marketing to help in the Thai Rak Thai's landslide election victory.

Somkid's orientation in marketing and strategy in the running of the government has entrenched a public image that he is a marketing man. Indeed, most of his academic writings, for instance his "Thailand Inc: Concepts and Strategy", stress how Thailand should use marketing to improve its competitiveness.

He has suggested in his articles that the government should be run as a business enterprise. One of his articles described how politicians could adopt marketing to achieve political ends. The Thai Rak Thai's election victory, in part, is due to Somkid's strategic thinking.

Somkid acknowledges that he faces a hard task, and that he will come under constant scrutiny which will affect his privacy and family life. Somkid's wife teaches at Chulalongkorn University. They have two children.

"I love privacy. But now I might not be able to walk at Discovery Centre with my two kids without drawing the attention. But that is the sacrifice," he said.

Somkid looks upon his impending appointment as finance minister as destiny. "My late ti [father] would be proud if he had ever known that two of his children had made it to a ministerial posts," he said.

BY THANONG KHANTHONG

 

 

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