Find the Right Manager for Thailand

How to find the right Manager in Thailand for my subsidiary?

The success of a business will stand or fall with its management. This is particularly valid for freshly founded subsidiaries, but also and especially for organizations in a critical situation. It is not uncommon for start-ups failing on this question. Or else they have to accept heavy initial losses until a subsequent improvement is made.

When considering the right Manager in Thailand, three questions of primary importance arise.

  1. first, specifically for Thailand, one must understand what a successful management structure needs to look like.
  2. next, one must know how the leaders must be “knitted”, i.e. what skills they must possess in order to fulfill their tasks.
  3. and finally, it’s about how to find that person for the properly defined structure.

Sanet CREATING CAREERS, the German-speaking recruitment agency in Thailand, specializes in filling managerial and key positions for international medium-sized companies in Thailand. In providing its consulting services, CREATING CAREERS draws on 20 years of experience of the Sanet Group in Thailand and ASEAN.

The proper management structure in Thailand.

“Thai buy from Thai” is called one of the principles of Thai business culture, which – although sometimes smiled at by ignorant foreigners – is one of the most important considerations for foreign subsidiaries in general. It means nothing else but that the active Sales Management needs to be Thai staffed. It is a fact that we at Sanet are convinced in favor of a CEO or General Manager from a German/European Business Culture. But this is not to say that this person – even if absolutely sales oriented – has to prepare and close the deals with Thai customers on his own. Thai customers appreciate the advice of the Western manager, and of course they would like to recognize by a direct contact the respect for their being a customer, but they clearly prefer to do the negotiations and closings with counterparts from their own country. It is therefore ideal if the company management is staffed as a “tandem” by both a Western and a Thai manager. The Western manager should be commercially and managerially up to speed, but he should rely on a Thai sales manager from time to time to accompany him to the customer. That experienced Thai salesperson then acts as a “bear leader”, supported by his manager in sales or technical terms. Another key person is the HR manager, who becomes indispensable whenever the number of employees goes beyond a mere “office team” or, let’s say, 12 employees. Thai workers appreciate the foreign boss. But he rarely directly leads them. For this, he has the middle person of the HR manager, who knows the team mood and the personal circumstances and can assess where to show understanding and where to show severity. Foreigners run the risk of being seen as being weak if they are accommodating, or racist or uncultured if they are strict. Therefore, people management should be monitored, and delegated to a Thai HR manager. As an aside, HR does not necessarily imply that its manager will also have recruitment skills. The majority of Thai HR managers, even with otherwise excellent performance, are overburdened with these skills. They simply do not know the European expectations of loyalty, language, and teamwork well enough.

The perfect Manager

He who finds a young man from within his own company who has the interest and talent to manage his subsidiary in Thailand will be the lucky one. He will know the parent company at home, enjoy – hopefully – the trust of the management and become the ideal link between “his” operation in Thailand and the various departments overseas. Do you have such a man or woman? Then put him or her to work as early as the preparation stage on the project, send him or her to a language course, and stand by him or her as soon as he or she defends his “own company’s” interests, even vis-à-vis the employees at the parent company. Just make sure that he brings commercial and management skills in addition to his technical abilities. In summary now, what an ideal manager of the foreign company must bring along:

  1. the trust of the management, ideally also the knowledge of the internal structures of the parent plant. If he does not come directly from the parent organization, a new employee should spend a few weeks or even months there for establishing lines of communication and getting to know the company.
  2. some knowledge of Thai business culture, which he can bring with him or learn during project preparation.
  3. Commercial and leadership skills, because despite possible other major fields, he will play a leadership role as “your man” or “your woman” in Thailand.
  4. understanding of Asian expectations. Asia is fast. You don’t wait weeks and months for offers and drawings. In Asia, as a leader, you are on call 24/7. If you cannot reconcile this with your “work-life balance”, it is better to stay at home as long as this is (still) accepted there.
  5. interest and empathy to the host country. If he can’t cope with the Thai mentality and some of the different ways of thinking compared to our home environment, the job will become a burden for him, and thus he will become a burden for his company.

How to find the right “own man”?

As mentioned, those who can recruit their own Manager in Thailand are lucky. Just support him by offering him a local consultation during the preparation and foundation period, that will be necessary anyway for legal and organizational matters. This should introduce him to the legal and official world, and help him with organizing, e.g. procuring rental space, service providers, his own apartment, and recruiting. In addition, the advisory service should be “entrepreneurial”, i.e. it should discuss and explain business and national culture with him again and again. For those who don’t find the fortune in their own house, Thailand still offers extremely good chances to find a manager from the German-speaking area. E.g., large companies such as multinationals or large logistics companies frequently send young management assistants abroad for a period of time to gain experience. After two or three years, however, these employees have to move on. However, many have then learned to love Thailand, its people, its culture and its living conditions, and not seldom have they found personal relationships, too. They then no longer want to move away, and many decide to look for a management position at a medium-sized company under somewhat improved local financial terms. There are also mature managers who are a bit older, perhaps no longer play the role they are used to in their current company and then want to spend the last years of their professional life once again contributing all their experience to a European “start-up” and then retire to live in Thailand. They are ideal candidates if you are looking for a manager with a good knowledge of the country, who can set up and organize a company “off the cuff” and who also already possesses a certain network. Without “jealously guarding” their own position, these managers see it as their natural task to develop a young manager, mentor him and then hand over the reins to him after a few years.

Recruitment – what to consider!

And now a final hint: Of course, a country-specific search and an intensive pre-selection of candidates for such a position is part of competent risk management. Those who forgo a qualified search are simply “buying a lottery ticket” to install the right leadership. Look for a recruitment firm that thinks entrepreneurially, has many years of experience specifically in Thailand, presents the screening process to you in detail, keeps you informed at key stages, and offers a qualified opinion on the candidates being presented in a real “Executive Summary”. This is definitely better than letting headhunters from Singapore or Hong Kong do the search for candidates who are capable of standing their ground in the very special Thai Business Culture. CREATING CAREERS is a recruitment agency, dealing daily in the environment of Sanet Group in the field of law firms, trading companies and management consulting, with entrepreneurial tasks up to the construction of Foreign Direct Investments. It understands recruitment from the overall viewpoint of business management and considers each recruitment as highly individual.