He was born in Chiang Mai, but his family had left there by the time he was one year old and he spent the rest of his years in Bangkok. His father worked for the French Embassy and as a young boy Malai spoke French; however, when war broke out in Indo-China his very astute father quickly said, “Switch to English!”
Malai Sakolviphak 1932 - 2012
He was one of the most fluent of English speaking Thais, which he would joke came from playing truant as a schoolboy and watching English movies.
When he finished school he wanted to be a pilot, but found that his eyesight was not good enough. With his heart set on aviation, he did the next best thing by starting work for the Pan Am airline as a messenger, but was then called up for national service. However, this was delayed as he had enrolled at Thamassat University to study law on a part-time basis. To support himself he continued to work for Pan Am during the six years it took him to graduate as a lawyer.
After graduation he did not practice law, but joined the army for the 2-year stint required of him. However, he did not give up Pan Am, getting special dispensation to work at night with Pan Am.
After national service he worked full time and found that it was possible for him to continue with self education through the Pan Am manuals and files. “When a situation occurred that I was unsure of, I would look through the files to see how these events had been handled previously.” They say that experience is the greatest teacher and Malai was able to capitalize on the experiences of those who had gone before him.
He stayed with Pan Am for 30 years, rising through the ranks until he gained the top post as country director for Thailand, Burma and Laos. But like all aspects of life, there were constant changes and one was Pan Am selling off its Pacific routes to United Airlines. Planes arrived in Thailand badged Pan Am, to leave the next day with UA stickers. However, Malai stayed, becoming director of Thailand for United.
During this extended period with the airlines he found he was adept at understanding the different nationalities and their differing cultures and different ways of thinking. “You learn negotiating skills. It is very different between the Americans, the Europeans and the Asians. We Asians understand compromise.”
Malai also realized that when you visit somewhere overseas it is much better when you have friends there, and one association which supplied “instant” friends was the international Skål Club, the world-wide tourism and hospitality group which he joined in 1974. With his ability to travel in his airline position he became Thailand’s international councillor for Skål in 1986. This was for a 2-year term, but there never was a replacement!
He finally retired from UA and did some part-time lecturing to fill in his days and then a friend asked him to assist him in the Pacific Leisure Group. “I came back part-time till I got bored, so I became full-time!”
His capacity for work was almost endless and he was one of the prime movers behind the World Skål Congress which was held in Bangkok in 1996, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Skål Club in Thailand. This was a great success.
He was deeply involved with the bid to hold the World Skål Congress in Pattaya in 2006, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Skål in Thailand. Again this was successful, and much of that success was due to the endless enthusiasm of Malai.
For Malai, success was merely to achieve what you want to be able to do. During his life, he was very successful, with his list of achievements being very long and comprehensive. His advice to the young people was, “Work to the best of your ability. Read manuals, get involved in self education and make reasoned decisions.”
Malai Sakolviphak was an ambassador for Thailand, of whom this country can be very proud. He believed in the great potential that Thailand has, being an attractive destination for the international tourist. That the great potential grew to be reality under Malai’s stewardship. He cannot be replaced, nor will he be forgotten.