The Scout who became a Senator

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Sutham Phanthusak is one of Pattaya’s success stories.  His ownership of the Woodlands Resort and Woodlands Suites is well known, as is his taking the Tiffany’s Show to the worldwide prominence it has today.  He is today a man with influence and position.

However, he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, in fact he came from very humble beginnings.  He was born in Trang, in Southern Thailand.  His father was a simple rubber farmer, toiling in the plantations while his mother stayed at home to look after Sutham and his five sisters.

Sutham Phanthusak, commissioner of the National Scout Organization of Thailand, shows King Carl VI Gustav of Sweden our front page when we featured him visiting their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand to say thank you for help for the tsunami victims.  The man in the background is the chairman of the World Scout Foundation, Dr. Eberhard Von Koerber.  The pic was taken at a Scout camp outside Rome April 22, 2005.Sutham Phanthusak, commissioner of the National Scout Organization of Thailand, shows King Carl VI Gustav of Sweden our front page when we featured him visiting their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand to say thank you for help for the tsunami victims.  The man in the background is the chairman of the World Scout Foundation, Dr. Eberhard Von Koerber.  The pic was taken at a Scout camp outside Rome April 22, 2005.

Sutham would get up early in the morning and walk around his village selling the bean sprouts that his mother had grown for 25 satang.  When he was at school he would sell toffees that his mother had made as well. “Mother taught me how to save money, and I would take my own lunchbox to school, rather than buy lunch there.”

He left school when he was 16 years old, and initially hoped to join the military, but his grades were not sufficient as he had not worked hard enough with the books, and selling toffees was not in the curriculum.  His family could not support him financially, and so he moved to Bangkok and entered the hotel business as an assistant night auditor; there were no lower positions!

So there he was in Bangkok, 16 years old and no rubber plantations or family close by.  He stayed in the hotel in Bangkok, sending money home to help pay for the education of his younger sisters, as is the way for dutiful children in Thailand.  However, he was swayed by an offer to come and work in a hotel in Pattaya as a cashier, because it offered free board and lodgings.

From there, he moved to the Royal Cliff Beach Resort to be the assistant manager of administration and personnel.  He was by then 22 years old.

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presents a token of friendship to Sutham Phanthusak in 2009.His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presents a token of friendship to Sutham Phanthusak in 2009.

After another three years he was snapped up by the Holiday Inn chain to be the personnel director at their Pattaya property, in charge of 300 staff.  He was only 25 years old, and it became obvious that this was a man with a rare talent and vision.

By this stage he was married to Orawan (and they are still happily married today) and they decided they should start a little business.  Sutham noticed there were no commercial banks in Pattaya, and tourists could only exchange money in their hotels, at less than favourable rates.  This resulted in dissatisfaction in the tourists and Sutham’s vision could see a niche.  By doing what Sutham described as, “carrying out business in a manner fair to all concerned,” they opened a currency exchange, with Orawan working there, while Sutham worked in the hotel.

Jan Olav Aamlid (left), Dr Iain Corness (2nd left), Pratheep Malhotra (2nd right) and Suwanthep Malhotra (right) congratulate our new senator, Senator Sutham Phanthusak.Jan Olav Aamlid (left), Dr Iain Corness (2nd left), Pratheep Malhotra (2nd right) and Suwanthep Malhotra (right) congratulate our new senator, Senator Sutham Phanthusak.

There was no fanfare of trumpets or lavish grand opening ceremonies.  They had saved up 100,000 baht and borrowed another 100,000 baht, and Sutham left the hotel to throw his energies into their own business.  “We were the first to be licensed by the Bank of Thailand,” said Sutham with some pride. “My life was just starting.”

The currency exchange was successful beyond their wildest dreams and Sutham began to look around as to what else he could do.  He began a real estate business, and was approached by a small company called Tiffany’s Show.  They had a tiny theatre with 10 actors in South Pattaya, but it was going nowhere.  “Transvestites had no career at that time.  I asked myself, what are we doing for them?  I felt some kind of social responsibility, so through my real estate company we built a theatre for them.”  He was asked to become involved in the business and he built up Tiffany’s Show from 10 actors to its current level of over 100 actors and a similar number of staff members. “It is now the largest theatre in SE Asia, and the best!” said Sutham with a smile.

Sutham Phanthusak then needed another project, and his experience was in hotel management.  This next project was to have his own hotel, and a small Woodlands Resort was built.  Again, through astute management, this grew until it became obvious that it would have to be redeveloped, which was carried out a few years ago, and with the addition of the Woodlands Suites, has become a very fine example of a family resort in Pattaya.

Stephane Bringer (left), general manager joined the Phanthusak family (l-r) Sutham, Alisa, Lalida and Varassaya in a toast to officially launch the Woodland Suites in 2009.Stephane Bringer (left), general manager joined the Phanthusak family (l-r) Sutham, Alisa, Lalida and Varassaya in a toast to officially launch the Woodland Suites in 2009.

On his own family front, he and Orawan have seen their three daughters grow up, being educated in Thailand and then sent overseas for further tertiary education.  All have responsible jobs, and with their middle daughter Alisa now taking over the management of the family businesses, this left Sutham saying, “Now I am free!”  But that ‘freedom’ left him free to look after the needs of others.

He then began to research the requirements for child development.  “I looked at the Scouting movement and found it was very useful to develop our young children in terms of discipline and ethics – a basic need in youth development, especially in developing countries.”  To that end he swung behind the World Scouting Organization many years ago, with his efforts even being rewarded by the King of Thailand, and then by the King of Sweden.  He wears his Scout uniform with deserved pride. He is now chairman of the Advisory Board of the National Scout Council of Thailand.

Historically, those needs of others have not been just Pattaya, but Thailand as well.  Whilst the Scouting movement took up much time of his time, he has never shirked from public duty either.  He was appointed by the Ministry of the Interior as a city councillor, serving 12 years.  He was also retained by a former Thai PM as an advisor, as well as being asked to be a member of the Education Development Foundation.  He joined the Rotary International movement, there serving two terms as the local president and another as district governor.  But all of these positions were carried out in Sutham Phanthusak’s modest manner.

The latest position to which he has been appointed, is to the Senate in Thailand, to be one of the 150 Senators who are involved in the ‘checks and balances’ of the political scene in this country.

I asked him to think back to the early stage of his career after leaving the South, and did he ever imagine that one day he would be a Senator?  “I never expected to be in this position as a senator.  This is the high point of my life’s achievements.  Nobody knows where life will lead us and what goes on in life.  But once we have achieved this we have to complete the task or we have to do our best, which means I have to do the best for my country.”

He went on to describe the function of the Senate and its Senators.  “The law process starts from the lower house.  The upper house analyzes and comments on the proposals and also checks on the legitimacy of the laws under consideration.  We are there to ensure checks and balances.  The senate does not propose any laws as such.”

His own vision for Thailand is all-encompassing.  “To be a senator is definitely not an easy job.  To be a senator is to be a servant of the country.  We have to see what the problems of the country are, problems of the people.  How we can solve their problems and how we can make their lives better.  So this is a bigger and tougher job for me than ever before.  But it is a project that I look forward to, giving my all for the benefit of the country.

“Once you are appointed as senator and I have accepted to do my duty for my country, there is no turning back.  There is so much to do.  Our country needs to come back on the path of reconciliation and peace amongst all peoples.  I would like to see that happen during my term.  Thailand is a great country and we must move forward socially and economically for the benefit of all concerned.  I will do all in my power to help make the dreams of all Thai people real.”

So that is our new Senator, Senator Sutham Phanthusak.  A very successful self-made businessmen in Pattaya, a man who could use ‘modesty’ as his middle name.  It is not often that you will meet a man honoured by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, but Sutham Phanthusak is one.  He is one of Pattaya’s quiet achievers.

We at the Pattaya Mail congratulate our new Senator, and we are quite sure that he will steer this new project through to its successful completion.