‘Bangkok Post’ honours exceptional women

'Bangkok Post' honours exceptional women

To mark International Women’s Day today, 12 extraordinary personalities have been named as the Bangkok Post’s Women of the Year.

They hail from a wide range of fields, and have inspired change and had an impact on the public and in their communities as a result of excelling in their respective arenas.

In a series of in-depth profiles beginning today and continuing each Wednesday for a month, their stories will be told. These articles will also be available on a specially designed microsite providing further insights into their rise.

The series also highlights the sacrifices each of these women has made to succeed.

This week, the first three women have been honoured. They are Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul, who serves as co-founder of the G Steel Group and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC); Pannalin Mahawongtikul, the chief financial officer of PTT Plc; and young golfer Atthaya Thitikul.

Thailand’s inspirational heroine

Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul’s exceptional record of helping keep the Thai flag flying high internationally, coupled with her remarkable business prowess, arguably make her most deserving of the title ‘Woman of the Year 2023’

Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul is undoubtedly an influential and dynamic woman with outstanding success in business, sports, music and education. She is committed to dedicating her life to the service of the nation. In the past year in particular, Khunying Patama has played important roles in creating benefits for Thai society in various aspects.

In business, she is indisputably an influential and dynamic woman with outstanding success in various sectors and industries, including steel, hotels, hospitals, logistics and others. For example, she is a co-founder of Asia Metal Plc, Chularat Hospital Plc, Leo Global Logistic Plc, Arnoma Hotels Group, G Steel Plc, and GJ Steel Plc. She always employs professional management to run her business.

Her business strategy involves long-term investments. She has invested in Chularat Hospital for 30 years since the company’s inception. Chularat Hospital is a listed company with approximately 45 billion baht of market capitalisation.

It also ranks as the SET”s 4th most profitable hospital in the healthcare (hospital) sector.

For the steel business, Khunying Patama is one of the major shareholders in G Steel Group, which is one of the largest producers of hot-rolled coil (HRC) steel products for automotive and general industrial applications.

With a combined capacity of 3 million tonnes per year, G Steel Group has the largest mills in Southeast Asia using the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF), a green steel technology.

Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul has played important roles in creating benefits for Thai society in various aspects.

A recent development is the investment of Nippon Steel Corporation (NSC) which is the world’s fourth-largest steel producer. As a member of the NSC Group, G Steel Group will shift from being a national HRC producer to becoming a world-class steel producer, managed by a professional team from the NSC.

Khunying Patama is married to Dr Somsak Leeswadtrakul, a business tycoon who was cited in 1994 Forbes Chinese magazine in Hong Kong. It said Dr Somsak is the third-richest Thai man of Chinese descent in the country.

She is also a noted philanthropist giving support to sports, music, culture, education, and hospitals and helping people on the periphery, whereby she has donated around 580 million baht to various social causes.

Continuously last year, she generously donated a total of 130 million baht: 52 million baht with Ladda Leeswadtrakul to Ramathibodhi Foundation, 35 million baht with Grace Leeswadtrakul to the Thai Red Cross Society, and 43 million baht to various social causes.

Khunying Patama has been an Executive Council Member in many sports organisations, both international and domestic. She was elected as an Individual member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the 131st IOC session, which was held in September 2017, in Lima, Peru.

She became the first Thai woman and the fourth Thai to hold such a position, after Field Marshal Praphas Charusathien, Air Chief Marshal Dawee Chulasapya, and Dr Nat Intrapana.

Since she became an IOC member, she has fostered closer cooperation between the National Olympic Committee Thailand (NOCT), the Olympic Committee of Asia (OCA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Khunying Patama is a person with a unique character. She is down-to-earth, friendly, caring and helpful to everyone regardless of status, which has made her well-accepted by friends around the world.

She has also contributed tremendously in promoting Thailand to the world in her various capacities in sports, such as IOC Chair of Culture and Olympic Heritage Commission, OCA Chair of Culture Committee, Chair of Thai National Reform on Sports, Deputy President of BWF, Executive Board Member of the Association of National Olympic Committee (ANOC), President of Badminton Association of Thailand under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King and many others.

Under Khunying Patama’s leadership and guidance, the Badminton Association of Thailand has achieved many great accomplishments. There are now more than 30 Thai badminton players in the top one hundred of the world ranking across all five disciplines.

Hundreds of young athletes are given support in training and development so they can become members of the national team in the future. Badminton has become very popular among Thai people and is one of the most played sports in the country.

In the first week of December 2021, Khunying Patama was invited by HRH Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, the Sports Minister and the President of the Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee, to watch the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabia Grand Prix 2021 held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Through the arrangement by HRH Prince Abdulaziz, Khunying Patama was given a special audience twice with the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

During her audiences with the crown prince, Khunying Patama took a great initiative to facilitate the re-establishment of the diplomatic relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Thailand, which had lapsed for over 32 years.

FROM Left TO Right HRH Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal Al Saud, Minister of Sports of Saudi Arabia and President of Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee; Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Executive Council Member of the Association of the National Olympic Committees (ANOC); and HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Senior Vice-President of the Executive Council of the ANOC and President of the Qatar Olympic Committee.

Khunying Patama’s noble initiative had carried the solidarity, friendship, and sincerity of the Thai people, which is believed to have touched the crown prince’s heart.

The effort and contribution of Khunying Patama should be acknowledged, as less than a month after those special audiences, the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand received an official invitation from the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to hold a preliminary meeting on Jan 25 and 26, 2022 in Riyadh to discuss the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms.

Last November, the Thai people were expecting to watch the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar live on TV. However, it was unclear which department or who would be able to obtain the broadcasting licence.

The problem was the price of 1.6 billion baht, which was considered to be an over-budget issue.

To resolve the issue, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, President of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand and Dr Gongsak Yodmani, Governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), asked Khunying Patama to help negotiate since they had not enough budget.

She thus contacted FIFA President Gianni Infantino, a fellow IOC member, Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairman of the organising committee for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, and President of Infront & Media.

Shortly thereafter, Thailand was able to close the deal as the last country to broadcast the 2022 World Cup live at a reduced price of US$33 million, approximately 1.2 billion baht, bringing joy to all Thai football fans.

On another occasion, Khunying Patama’s influence in sports was evidenced.

In October 2021, Thai sports were in turmoil following an announcement by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) that Thailand, Indonesia and North Korea had violated its doping rules for athletes, and they stood to suffer serious penalties, including the banning of the Thai sports teams and athletes from international events.

The Thai national flag would not be allowed in competitions, and Thailand would not be allowed to regional or international sports events.

Meanwhile, the Thai government and SAT tried to resolve the issues by amending laws and regulations.

Khunying Patama, as an IOC member, helped to coordinate with the related agencies in efforts to persuade Wada to remove Thailand from its non-compliance list as soon as possible.

In February 2022, Wada duly announced that it had removed Thailand from the list, giving Thai sports the opportunity to recover their glory.

Apart from businesses and sports, Khunying Patama has continuously dedicated herself to the field of music by holding many important positions, such as Honorary Chairperson and Founder of Thailand Choral Association, Chairperson of Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, whereby she has given strong support since it was established.

Also, in the areas of social charity and culture, she holds important positions such as Director of Ramathibodi Foundation under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Chairperson of the Cultural Promotion Fund, Department of Cultural Promotion, Ministry of Culture, and Chairperson of the Center for Morality Promotion (Public Organisation).

Not only is she an advising director, but she is also a strong supporter of many organisations.

Finally, at the beginning of February 2023, she was honoured by the Sports Reporters & Photographers Association of Thailand on the occasion of its 30th anniversary as “The Person of the Decade”.

Khunying Patama’s exceptional record in helping to keep the Thai flag flying high internationally, coupled with her remarkable business acumen and prowess as a sports leader, have made her the most deserving person to be given the title “Woman of the Year 2023”.

CFO helps drive PTT’s balanced approach

Pannalin Mahawongtikul plays a key role in PTT’s drive to balance the pursuit of profit with its efforts to make the world a more liveable place

Pannalin Mahawongtikul, chief financial officer (CFO) of PTT Plc, is one of the leaders helping to transform the national oil and gas conglomerate, with a mission being to make the world a better place.

Pannalin Mahawongtikul, chief financial officer (CFO) of PTT Plc, is on a mission to help support PTT’s increased emphasis on clean energy and digital technology, as well as attempts to build a healthier society.

Her tasks, both in a financial and non-financial context, support PTT’s greater emphasis on a shift towards clean energy and digital technology as well as attempts to build a healthier society.

All of them fall in line with environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards when it comes to running a modern business.

Ms Pannalin said the role of PTT not only ensures national energy security, but also aims to develop the quality of life of Thai people as well as taking better care of the environment.

This is the latest chapter in PTT’s long journey, she said.

Established as an oil retail company in the 1980s, PTT later became a leading gas supplier in the country and, through its subsidiaries, the operator of a variety of businesses ranging from petroleum and petrochemical production to non-oil businesses.

New businesses PTT is establishing not only refer to those in the non-oil category but also ones that are aimed at improving the environment and people’s quality of life, rather than solely focusing on business growth.

Ms Pannalin has helped PTT develop “green” accounting in a move to awaken executives and staff to a non-business motive to work towards a better environment which is as important as profit.

Issuing PTT green bonds to finance reforestation is among the projects which fall under the concept of green accounting, she said.

The company announced last year it planned to increase its reforestation area to 2 million rai, up from 1 million rai in the first phase.

Initiated in the 1990s, the first-phase of the programme is able to absorb 2.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and release 1.7 million tonnes of oxygen annually, according to PTT.

PTT aims to achieve carbon neutrality, a balance between carbon dioxide emissions and absorption, within 2040 and a net-zero goal, a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and reduction, by 2050.

The company’s environmental goals, together with efforts to help improve society, is being pushed ahead under a vision entitled “Powering Life with Future Energy and Beyond”, said Ms Pannalin.

She is one of the executives helping PTT develop and operate projects that promote future energy and S-curve businesses, with the potential to grow rapidly. This will allow the company to have additional sources of revenue and contribute more to society.

Future energy includes renewable fuels for power generation, which is the responsibility of Global Power Synergy Plc, the power generation arm of PTT.

PTT and Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, a multinational electronics manufacturer, are also jointly developing an electric vehicle factory to support the use of clean energy in Thailand.

According to Ms Pannalin, PTT has diversified into businesses in the life science field through its subsidiaries to make cancer drugs and high-quality materials that are often used in the medical industry, such as N95 face masks.

“These businesses will definitely support national economic growth, promote people’s quality of life and conserve the environment to achieve Thailand’s carbon neutrality and net-zero targets,” said Ms Pannalin.

PTT not only allocates several billion baht in capital spending to fuel these businesses but also invests in human capital by establishing educational institutions, including Kamnoetvidya Science Academy, a high school for talented science students, and Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology.

Ms Pannalin also helps PTT apply digital technology to key business functions, especially in the finance and accounting sections, for faster workflow and smarter decision-making.

The company implements enterprise resource planning to ensure smooth end-to-end operational processes and robotic process automation (RPA), also known as robot software, to support accounting activities as well as digital work processes for treasury and tax calculations to boost efficiency and reduce human error.

She said these digital tools can manage finance and accounting functions more efficiently and in a more timely way at a lower cost.

“These tools free up our staff from repetitive work processes so that they can focus on more valuable activities in line with ESG standards,” said Ms Pannalin.

Ms Pannalin stepped into the spotlight as one of seven chief financial executive officers at PTT, an opportunity to fully put her expertise into use at management level.

Currently, four of the seven chief financial executives are female.

In her view, it does not matter whether executives are male or female.

“I think what matters is how to find a balance between discipline and flexibility and find ways out when facing a ‘red team,’ ” said Ms Pannalin.

“People may think women are conservative, but they can find a good balance from these differences.”

The rise and rise of Thai wonder girl Atthaya

Atthaya Thitikul was one of the most outstanding players on the LPGA Tour last year.

The Ratchaburi native, then 19, claimed two titles and won the LPGA Rookie of the Year award.

Atthaya also shot to the top of the world rankings, becoming the only second Thai golfer to achieve the feat after Ariya Jutanugarn. She was ranked fourth at the end of last month.

The young Thai won a play-off duel with Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen to capture the JTBC Classic in March for her first LPGA crown at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California, in only her fifth tour start.

“It’s just crazy,” said Atthaya, who is affectionately called Jeen or Jeeno by the media and fans.

“I cannot believe that I’ve become LPGA winner. It feels amazing as well.”

In September, she sealed another play-off win for her second LPGA title.

Atthaya rolled in a birdie putt at the second play-off hole to edge Danielle Kang of the US at the NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club.

She reached No.1 in the world rankings in October.

Atthaya is still only the second player under age 20 (19 years, eight months and 11 days) to be No.1, joining Lydia Ko of New Zealand who was 17 years, nine months and eight days when she first reached No.1 in February 2015.

“It is such an honour to have my name at the top amongst the biggest names of the game,” said Atthaya.

“It is very special to get to the top. I still have a lot to learn from all the legends and current players both on and off the course. I will continue to work hard for my family, my team, my fans and my country.”

Atthaya was the No.1-ranked amateur for 12 weeks in 2019 when she was 16.

She began her rise on the international stage in 2017 when she became the youngest player ever to win a professional golf tournament.

She took the title at the Ladies European Tour’s (LET) Thailand Championship as an amateur at the age of 14 years, four months and 19 days.

Atthaya won the tournament again in 2019.

Meanwhile, in 2017, she won the individual and team gold medals at the SEA Games.

In 2018, she won the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific title and then teamed with Vanchai Luangnitikul to win the mixed team gold medal for Thailand at the Youth Olympics.

Prior to joining the LPGA Tour, Atthaya became the youngest player ever to win the LET’s Race to Costa del Sol, also secured the circuit’s Player of the Year and Rookie of the year honours.

She turned pro in January 2020, at the age of 16.

The month she turned 17, Atthaya finished fourth in the Women’s New South Wales Open in Australia.

Then Covid-19 hit the world and she returned home to Thailand where she won five times on the domestic circuit.

In May 2021, she finished second in the Honda LPGA Thailand, a shot behind Ariya.

That finish and an easing of travel restrictions prompted her to head to Europe for a season on the LET.

The Thai also has a compelling personal story.

“No one in my family plays golf,” Atthaya told Golf Digest.

“As a child, I was sick a lot. It wasn’t anything serious, but I got colds constantly. A doctor told my dad, Montree, and my mum, Siriwan, that I needed to play a sport — either golf or tennis — so I’d be outside, and I could control my own schedule.

“We watched golf on TV, and I chose that over tennis. Tennis requires too much running.

“My dad owns a car wash, and my mum is a hairdresser. They worked around their schedules to take me [to golf courses].

“I liked golf immediately. It was challenging and fun, and there were other kids to play with.

“At 10, I knew I loved golf and competing. I also realised back then that if I got good enough, I could support my family.”

She said she always wanted to be the same person. “No matter where I am [whether it’s] No.1 in the world, No.2, 3, 4, 5, 100, 1,000, I want to be same [person],” Atthaya said after becoming world No.1 last year.

“I want to be the same as before, not changing myself. I want to have fun, not really taking [golf] too seriously.

“I don’t want to think about myself like a superstar or act like I’m No.1 in the world.”