A decade ago, the name Sahathai would bring to mind Sahathai Steel Pipe Public Co.,Ltd, one of Thailand’s largest producers and exporters of steel pipes. Fast-forward to today, this same brand has successfully expanded its business to other sectors, and now many people associate them with the logistics industry. Sahathai Terminal, located on the bank of Chao Phraya River, is situated on Poochaosamingprai Road, which connects Rama III road and Suksawat road, within a convenient 10 minutes’ drive via the Bhumibol Bridge.
The nearby bridge also connects the western neighboring provinces (Nonthanburi, Samut Sakorn, Nakhon Pathom, and Phranakorn Sri Ayutthaya) to the eastern highways (Bangna-Trad road and Bangkok-Chonburi express way) via Kanchana Phisek road. With a strong vision and through the hard work of the Sahathai team, an organization with no previous experience in logistics, has now become a private river port with the most barge traffic in Thailand. In this issue of LM, we had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Sauwakun Karuchit, CEO of Sahathai Terminal, who shared with us her experience, vision, and the direction Sahathai’s logistics business is headed.
How It All Began
Mrs. Karuchit began by talking about the beginning of Sahathai’s journey into the logistics industry. “In the beginning, my family won a concession from Port Authority of Thailand to start a container depot business. The truth was, I did not want to work on the project at all. All I wanted to do was to become a full time housewife, because I had been working in a business my entire life at this point. However, my late husband, Mr. Taweesak Karuchit, had won the concession, so I had to assist him. When we first started, I came to realize that I was unaware of anything to do with container depot business. I didn’t even know how many different types of containers there were, so I started studying about the business by myself. As a container depot service provider, we had to provide maintenance and repair services too. It’s part of our job to climb onto each container to inspect for any damage, which I also wanted to do first-hand as well. When it is time to wash the containers, I was there to wash them myself too. I’d heard from team members that they were very tough to wash, so I wanted to see for myself just how difficult it was. I learned a lot about each part of the business by doing everything first-hand. I remember a carrier client who asked my husband, ‘Are you making your wife clean the containers? ‘He said, ‘Of course. This way she will see how dirty shipping containers can get, and she will know what to do when she has to talk to the clients!’ This was the way we started off in the logistics industry.”
Nonetheless, it’s not easy for a logistics newcomer to establish itself as clients’ port of choice. Mrs. Karuchit continued, “Managing a container depot site of over 170 rai or 200,000 square-meters, investing in it, and constructing the site were nowhere near the hardest part of our start. The hardest part for us as a container depot business was to make our clients believe that we could serve them well. This is because most of the container depot providers are either partnered with or own a carrier business, and we were neither. So we had to try harder than other people, but in the end, we succeeded. We succeeded in serving and earning the trust of our clients.” However, Sahathai didn’t just stop there. A container depot business was developed into an internal port for logistics purposes within the Sahathai group before opening it up to public clients in 2007. Originally, Sahathai Steel Pipe planned to use this facility as an internal distribution center, but we knew that no growth would come about if the terminal remained internalized. Then we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to use this piece of land to its maximum capacity, other than being part of the steel pipe business?’ This was the start of our port business development.”
“I remember a carrier client who asked my husband, ‘Are you making your wife clean the containers? ‘He said, ‘Of course. This way she will see how dirty shipping containers can get, and she will know what to do when she has to talk to the clients!’ This was the way we started off in the logistics industry.”
Management with Sincerity
Once asked about her philosophies in business management for Sahathai Terminal, Mrs. Karuchit elaborated, “Logistics procedures are actually more than just passing on the cargo. They involve warehousing, as well as communications. What we want is to have a complete circuit of logistics procedures, which, of course, is sometimes difficult. This is why we aimed to partner up to develop our business. Before, everyone seemed to want to do everything by themselves, but the attitude has changed for many when it comes to partnerships. Having a good business partner now means both parties share growth, and help one another through both happy and tough times. It’s a stance that both my late husband and I both shared. Whatever we wanted to do in business, we would look for a friend rather than venturing out alone; it’s one of our most important policies.” One of the examples that can attest to their policy is the Bangkok Barge Terminal project, where Sahathai has partnered up with the Japanese ocean carrier, Mitsui O.S.K Line (MOL). The new barge terminal is set to start operations in October later this year. Apart from this project, Mrs. Karuchit shared with us a plan to partner up with two other international organizations to expand Sahathai’s business, which will soon be announced.
However, the outstanding business development of Sahathai was not only the result of partnerships, but also from the boundless energy and the daringness to evolve and grow from Mrs. Karuchit and her team. Mrs. Karuchit’s personal motto when it comes to work, is to compare being a mother to managing a business. This personal motto is the way Mrs. Karuchit gains her energy for work. “I think all of us women have this energy inside of us. The reason why we all have this energy is because of the maternity in all of us. The most difficult thing in a woman’s life is when she raises a child, which is a life-long responsibility. When a woman is able to do one of the most difficult things in the world, work is in no way too difficult. It all depends if you have the drive and can put your whole heart into it, and whether or not you can be sincere to your business partners and clients. I find what makes my clients the happiest is the way I treat them and how I deal with them sincerely. I make myself clear and straightforward in business talks. Once a deal is made, I do my best to serve my partners and clients.”
Apart from her sincerity with her clients, Mrs. Karuchit also offers the same sincerity to Sahathai’s numerous business partner. As mentioned above, Sahathai Terminal plans to partner up with more international organizations in the near future. Thus, finding a balance in business deals and engaging with organizations of different cultures and work ethics calls for Mrs. Karuchit to facilitate her maternal instinct. “I think I am lucky to be a mother to four sons. The upside of having a number of children is developing the skill to be able to find a balanced negotiation between each boy so that none of them collide with one another. I’ve applied the same method of finding a delicate balance to dealing with my clients and partners. Other than this method, one thing I maintain is never taking advantage of other people. At Sahathai, we do not take advantage of people. Rather, we find a balance where both parties can have a win-win situation, so we may move forward together.”
Mrs. Karuchit explained further that her way of thinking has derived from a close relationship to her family. This close relationship also makes her manage business with all the team members in mind, both internally and externally. “If you were to ask if cost matters in business; everyone would say, ‘Yes, of course.’ But more importantly, the profit gained should never be the result of insincerity or inconsiderate cost lowering. The logistics business will always need people. No matter how much automation you have, you will still need people to work with. If your people are being worn down by work, they lack sleep, or their wages are lowered so much they don’t have enough; my question is would they still be sincerely willing to work for you? The answer is most likely, no. Therefore, if you are insincere to your people, you will have a workforce who doesn’t want to work for you.”
“I find what makes my clients the happiest is the way I treat them and how I deal with them sincerely. I make myself clear and straightforward in business talks. Once a deal is made, I do my best to serve my partners and clients”
Although Mrs. Karuchit mentioned that she has worked her entire life, there is no sign that she wants to retire from the ever-expanding Sahathai Terminal business anytime soon. In fact, she’s prepared for Sahathai Terminal to be traded publicly on the Thai stock market in the third quarter of 2017. However, Mrs. Karuchit says she would rather leave business expansion into neighboring countries within the ASEAN zone to the next generation, like Mr. Banchai Karuchit, her second eldest son and the Deputy CEO of Sahathai Terminal. “A lot of people have asked me the same question. Personally, I prefer to stay in Thailand to develop the business locally to its full potential. Whether to expand the business to other countries or domestic development will be left to the next generation to decide. For me, I want to perfect our business in Thailand in every aspect, such as transportation, human resources, CSR activities, and community development. Those are the things I want to focus on and improve.”