To mark International Women’s Day this month, extraordinary women from a wide range of fields who have inspired change in their communities through the pursuit of excellence have been named the Bangkok Post’s Women of the Year.
A series of in-depth profiles of these women began on March 8 and will continue each Wednesday this month, as well as appearing on a specially designed microsite which provides further background on their achievements and insight into their rise.
The Bangkok Post‘s Women of the Year series highlights the sacrifices each made to succeed. It also paints a more human picture of these exceptional women.
This week, we honour Maneerut Anulomsombut, Chief Executive Officer of Sea (Thailand); Vira-Anong Chiranakhorn Phutrakul, Head of Retail and Brand, UOB Thailand; Kawita Vatanajyankur, a media and performance artist; and Lalana Kongtoranin, a medical doctor.
SEA CEO EXPANDS HORIZONS
Under Maneerut’s leadership, entrepreneurs are given the tools to reach customers around the world.
Maneerut Anulomsombut, Chief Executive Officer of Sea (Thailand), says her company is at the forefront of digital platform supporting Thai entrepreneurs expanding their channels to foreign markets.
Disruption is the digital world’s moment of truth. It terminates everything unable to adapt to the new reality and constitutes the key driver in business, particularly online-related ventures, going forward.
Digital platforms benefit consumers in terms of time- and cost-saving while helping merchants expand their business online.
Sea (Thailand) is at the forefront of digital platforms that support many people and local businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), helping them reach customers not only in Thailand but also international markets while sustaining business growth.
Maneerut Anulomsombut, Chief Executive Officer of Sea (Thailand), the local operating unit of the NYSE-listed tech company Sea, which runs Shopee, has played a crucial role in supporting Thai entrepreneurs expanding their channels to foreign markets with ease and convenience through the Shopee International Platform (SIP), which helps create export opportunities and reduces global obstacles for local businesses.
Ms Maneerut joined Sea (Thailand) in March 2014 as Chief Operating Officer and was promoted to CEO two years later. With an industrial engineering background at Chulalongkorn University and an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, she synchronises technological advancement with management skills to drive growth and the business strategies of Sea (Thailand) while concurrently promoting local businesses.
Founded in Singapore in 2009, Sea has three core businesses covering Garena, an online games developer and publisher; SeaMoney, a provider of digital financial services; as well as Shopee.
Sea (Thailand) recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in the kingdom. Formerly known as “Garena”, the digital gaming business morphed into “SeaMoney” digital finance services, then evolved into “Shopee”, the e-commerce shopping platform collating thousands of small business owners from Thailand and overseas.
The company has worked with the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) to upgrade and enhance the potential of Thai entrepreneurs, particularly SMEs, to sell their products online and increase awareness and access of foreign buyers to Thai products.
Thai businesses that participate in the SIP will also receive support from Shopee in-store management such as overseas stores, product and stock management, a chatbot with buyers and shipping abroad without additional fees.
By focusing on technology and innovation, Ms Maneerut can respond to the requirements of a fast-changing economy, customer behaviour and disruptions to drive business growth and maintain sustainability.
The ultimate digital economy transition entails tremendous technology disruption, requiring the emergence of innovative tools and talents to forge a way forward along a wild path.
“Digital literacy is a definitive catalyst for Thailand to bridge the gap in the transformation and propulsion to an unknown destination where risks are challenging but somehow manageable,” Ms Maneerut says. “Our attempts to experiment with new concepts and ideas have defined our weighty mission and illuminated our path to business growth.”
Thailand’s e-commerce market is one of the fastest growing in Southeast Asia. Gross online merchandise value grew 8% in 2022 and is expected to expand by 13% annually until 2025.
While the digital economy has been emerging over the past few years, the need to address the “gender digital divide” has also increased. Women face more restrictions in terms of access to digital education and entrepreneurship opportunities than men. Driven by the havoc wrought by Covid-19, with the loss of jobs and income, cyber security and personal security became even more concerning for women.
Sea (Thailand) adapted to the new normal and continues to respond to constant change. A collaboration with Creative Economy Agency (CEA) to launch “Women-Made” created an empowering programme to boost risk-taking female entrepreneurs. Thus, more women are inspired to tackle business challenges in the new digital realm. They know that through creativity, technology, and innovating their brands, products and business strategies, they can face uncertainties with resilience and perseverance.
From 2019–2022, Sea rolled out Digital Education. Today, it hosts over 8.87 million learners who can access digital skills training and resources through over 100 programmes under the “10 in 10 initiatives”, which extend to over 500 educators. Sea Academy is firmly established as a platform consolidating Sea knowledge in relevant business areas and continues to aim to cascade knowledge to the broader public.
“Among the 4Es of staff management, namely, Engagement, Excitement, Empowerment, and Empathy, as a female CEO, listening to staff perspectives and sharing pain points with compassion is supportive,” says Ms Maneerut. “It all helps to drive the organisation forward, which, in turn, helps to cultivate Thailand’s digital economy so that it grows strongly and we can all confidently look forward to an increasingly powerful digital ecosystem going forward.”
From carrying out her duties as Miss Thailand to being a doctor, Lalana Kongtoranin has dedicated her life to helping those in need.
Dr Lalana Kongtoranin. OMEGA
There are many talented women in Thailand hailing from a wide range of backgrounds and with diverse interests who have inspired change or otherwise made valuable contributions to the history and culture of our society.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Bangkok Post‘s Women of the Year 2023 has made things a little more manageable by creating 12 categories. One of them is public health, and in this regard Lalana “Jeab” Kongtoranin is absolutely inspirational.
She’s a beauty queen, an actress and a TV personality. She’s also a doctor, known by many as Doctor Jeab. Apart from being one of the dedicated medical professionals who cared for infected patients during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lalana has made other indelible marks on healthcare nationwide.
From the outside it may seem success has come easily to the multi-talented Lalana. After earning the Miss Thailand title back in 2006, she completed her studies in medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital where she’s now an emergency medical doctor. At the same time she juggles life in the worlds of showbiz, modelling and TV hosting, occasionally landing acting roles in well-known movies and TV dramas.
However, Lalana is the kind of successful person many people can relate to. Born in 1987 into a family with three children, Lalana says she didn’t show that much promise during childhood.
“I wasn’t the brightest one and not at all a school nerd. I was more like a mischievous one who enjoyed many activities, loved playing games and sports, and didn’t like studying at all,” she said in an interview with the Thai Health Promotion Foundation in 2019. “At first, my dream job was to be a dentist, but I only thought of it as a well-paid job. So I then set a goal in life to pass the entrance exam of the faculty of dentistry.”
In the end, Lalana didn’t choose dentistry. A turning point in her life was when she had the opportunity to work as an intern at a small hospital in her rural neighbourhood. “Seeing pictures of sick people who were poor, all gathered together, made me think. Why are they waiting in such a long queue? How come the hospital has only one doctor? More questions came to her, she said. “How can we gain the skills to better treat these people?”
After winning the crown of Miss Thailand in 2006, Lalana often spoke of her dream to open a free clinic for underprivileged people, and how she hoped her fame and status would help her in fundraising for a clinic. Just a little more than 10 years later, Dr Jeab’s dream came true and in ways even bigger than she had thought possible.
Lalana established the foundation Let’s Be Heroes with her university teachers and some friends. The foundation encompasses three main activities: teaching basic life support and the use of AEDs; providing a free mobile specialist clinic; and running Let’s be Heroes for Animals, an animal rescue programme overseen by veterinary teams.
Let’s Be Heroes may be a small foundation but it has big goals. Under the concept of “anyone can be a hero”, it passes along knowledge and skills on basic first aid methods to the general public while also being a life-saving tool for others.
As for her own life, Lalana had many options.
She could have chosen a more comfortable life, perhaps stayed closer to home and not been able to lead a less stressful life But in the end, she became someone who has dedicated her life to helping those in need.
“People always ask me, since I seem to have had a lot of options, why did I choose this way? The first thing is to look at yourself and see if you love what you’re doing. What kind of life do you want to have, regardless of career? Because every occupation has its own meaning and value. It depends on how much we value them.”
UOB’S RISING RETAIL STAR SHINES
Vira-Anong navigates the integration of consumer banking business, cut-throat competition to emerge with own vision for sector.
Vira-Anong Chiranakhorn Phutrakul, Head of Retail and Brand, UOB Thailand
Retail banking is a crucial aspect of a bank’s operations, providing essential financial services to individuals, generating revenue and contributing to economic growth.
One who is chosen to take the helm of a retail banking business must possess excellent leadership and strategic planning skills, prioritise customer satisfaction, and adapt to changing market conditions and customer needs.
Vira-Anong Chiranakhorn Phutrakul is a highly seasoned and accomplished professional who has taken on the role of Head of Retail and Brand at United Overseas Bank (Thai) Plc, known as UOB Thailand.
She is entrusted with driving retail growth in Thailand by ensuring that UOB’s brand values remain prominent and delivering a seamless transition to business operations.
Prior to joining UOB Thailand, Ms Vira-anong was the first Thai executive woman to be appointed as Consumer Business Manager at Citi Thailand’s Global Consumer Group. As Consumer Business Manager, she oversaw over one million customers with cards, credit lines, loans, and retail banking products and related services.
She began her career at Citibank in 1994 as a corporate finance specialist, and became head of Securities Services for Thailand in 1998, and for Hong Kong/China in 2000.
She returned to Bangkok in 2002 and assumed the role of Global Transaction Services Head, leading Cash Management, Trade Products, and Securities Services, as well as taking charge as Coverage Head for Financial Institutions, Public Sector, Global Subsidiaries Groups and Commercial Banking until 2010.
As Ms Vira-Anong’s career has progressed, she has been given more opportunities to make an impact in the banking arena. She has achieved success in managing large teams of employees, reaching targets, building relationships with clients, and providing services that exceed expectations. Her extensive corporate transactions and consumer banking background set her up well for success as UOB Thailand’s Head of Retail and Brand.
Thanks to her contributions and exceptional achievements in recent years, Ms Vira-Anong was appointed to oversee UOB Thailand’s retail banking business following the UOB’s acquisition of Citibank’s retail banking businesses in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.
The sale of Citigroup’s Malaysia and Thailand consumer banking businesses to UOB subsidiaries was completed last November. The integration doubles UOB Thailand’s total individual customer base to around 2.3 million.
“The retail banking industry is a really cutthroat environment that actually benefits customers with more options and newer digital-centric capabilities,” she says.
“At UOB, we believe that technology is an important factor for the future. Therefore, we are investing heavily, to the tune of 13 billion baht, to ensure that our digital banking platform and features are efficient, convenient, stable and secure.
“Our key mission is to bring our services to the next level. We aim to integrate our brand into the lives of our customers in the true sense, using data-driven analytics and insights from customers, to design offerings and marketing specially designed to meet the demands of different customers.”
In addition to maintaining existing business partners, the bank has been adding new partnerships both locally and internationally, including Michelin Guide, Shopee, Club21 and Singapore Airlines, to provide better services and privileges to customers.
Apart from the credit card business, the bank also plans to strengthen its wealth management, deposit and mortgage businesses, and cross sell suitable products under the integration.
UOB Thailand expects to double revenue from the retail banking business, in line with its goal of doubling growth in its customer base from the integration.
Ms Vira-Anong said the bank would expand the customer base to cover the younger generation, especially via UOB TMRW, its digital banking platform, which can onboard new customers digitally.
With her expertise, Ms Vira-Anong looks to set a new standard for upholding UOB’s status among the most preferred banks in Thailand. Moreover, she manages to do it all despite a variety of competing priorities at play.
“As a woman leader, you have to be a good executive for your company, a good manager for your people, a good mentor for aspiring young talents, and a good daughter, wife and mother for your family. Therefore, it is important to have a strong support system, from your family to your managers to other professionals in your workplace.
“Furthermore, it is essential to have good self-care in order to stay strong physically and mentally to rise up to the everyday challenges,” she said.
Body of work
The art of Kawita Vatanajyankur shows that some toil is far from a labour of love but in fact is undervalued if not ignored.
Kawita Vatanajyankur, a media and performance artist
Kawita Vatanajyankur is a media and performance artist who utilises her body as a medium to convey messages that address the exploitation and oppression of female labour. Her early videos feature candylike visuals reminiscent of marketing tactics, which lure people into overconsumption. However, behind the beautiful products lurks a dark side of labour exploitation.
The artist gained recognition in 2012 when she created the video series Tool, which aimed to criticise the traditional attitude of not recognising women’s hard work on household chores. Kawita refers to these chores as “invisible labour” because they often are unnoticed and undervalued. In Tool, she transformed her own body into various household implements such as using her face as a sponge to clean dishes and her head and body to scrub a toilet.
“This series did not require research because I saw the issues everywhere. Women work outside the home, but they still must provide emotional support for their families and take care of the house and children. However, their hard work is not valued or recognised,” she said.
The artist was motivated to raise awareness about labour issues after the death of her father, who was a famous TV host and for whom overwork contributed to his death. She said her father’s death made her question the working conditions of labourers.
In 2018, Kawita created the Performing Textiles series. After the artist visited factories in many countries, she created the first video, Knit, wherein she uses her entire body as a machine to weave red yarn into a piece of fabric. The performance was inspired by a circular machine with a needle in the middle that she saw in a factory.
“This series focuses on people who work behind the finished products in the textile industry that consumers do not see when they purchase the product. During my research, I interviewed factory labourers who said they felt they were treated like machines or objects and had to do the same work repetitively.”
Kawita’s performances are captivating because she uses her body to portray a machine. She explained that since she does not work as a labourer, she would not understand the dehumanisation if she did not put herself in the position of a person working like a machine. In fact, because of such dedication to her work, Kawita has been injured several times in her performances.
Due to the effective visuals and message, her work has been extensively showcased in various regions, including Asia, Australia, the US and Europe. Her notable exhibitions include the 57th Venice Art Biennale, Albright Knox Art Gallery in New York in 2019 and the Bangkok Art Biennale in 2018 and 2022.
In response to issues surrounding the impact of artificial intelligence on the labour force, Kawita created a performance, Voice Of Oppressed, at BAB 2022 where she performed live with two AI beings that look like her. These two AIs were fed with Kawita’s personal data but were created to have different mindsets. The first AI believes that oppression in the current system is necessary, while the other AI advocates for a new system that brings justice for all.
Kawita always experiments with new tools to convey her messages. While some public figures are concerned and worried about feedback from the audience, Kawita is not worried whether viewers will like her work or not.
“I created a video and performance about AI because it involves messages that I wanted to convey, although I was not sure if it was considered art or not. I am not afraid of experimenting with new things and I am not afraid of being unaccepted by viewers, but I hope people recognise my efforts. The older I get, the less discontented I become. I also have fewer expectations in my career.”