ANNUAL FACULTY SEMINAR MAY 24-27.2001
Edited version of speech by Prof. Dr. Kanok Rongtrangan,
President and CEO Robinson Department Store
Former professor of Chulalongkorn University, Former
Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of University Affairs.
Mr. President, Faculty Members, Ladies and Gentlemen. First, I would like to thank Assumption University for inviting me to such a prestigious gathering today although I must admit the size of the audience makes me a little bit nervous because I had been away from this kind of meeting for many years.
This afternoon I would try to address a few issues relating to the topic given to me in the agenda which is "Strategy for the Future". I would speak on this topic on the basis of Thai society and particularly higher education. Before I get into the agenda and the strategy I believe that this morning Dr. Thanong has already given you some ideas on the current situation and this afternoon I would deal quickly with some of the so-called phenomena to which I believe we need to pay attention before we can go to the agenda and the strategy.
The first issue is the future world characteristics. Before we answer or look for any Agenda and Strategy, we should ask ourselves what the world in the future will look like. With that understanding, agenda and the strategy can be addressed. I would like to point out the characteristics of the future world. The first is that the future world will be a world of change particularly due to Science and Technology. I remember well that some of my former colleagues both Thai and foreigners
once told me that from now on Science and Technology will be the dominant factors according to research findings published in university journals. As we read the publications the findings are already out of date. So you can see that the pace of Science and Technology changed rapidly. Therefore, new knowledge, new theories, new methodologies and new modes of enquiry will change quickly and no one should hold on to the old and rotten textbooks. I believe that you don't have that kind of person in this community.
The second characteristic of the future world is globalisation. I would like to pick the other side of globalisation whose existence we cannot deny, and that is local culture. You can see that everywhere in the world where conflicts arise there is always some kind of conflict between global and local issues. Therefore, the issue for us is how we in the local society who practice local culture adjust ourselves to the changing environment caused by globalisation? The new world order is already at our door. The education reform in which your president is deeply involved at the moment is also a very concrete example of reality. So the question for all of us is how we could adjust ourselves in a productive and proactive way to the globalisation and at the same time do not sacrifice our local values. Therefore, the social and cultural transformation will be a very important issue for our future. The basic value of life of a particular human being and his society will be challenged. Do we have a basic value today? If not, certainly there must be something wrong. We had it before but we are not quite sure whether it's right or wrong or whether, it will be changed or not. That also reflects another kind of problem regarding basic value of life because the reality is life is still life, human being is still a human being. We cannot let Science and Technology turn human beings into some kind of moving and intelligent robot? So that's the issue of globalisation and local culture.
The third characteristic is technology We know that our society today and in the future will become even more complex. The complexity 01 human society and our environment is inevitable. Therefore. the ability to organize and manage complexity will be a very crucial factor in the management of our future. On the social. cultural. political. economic side and even in a more concrete term; business side of the organizational complexity. you can come up with all kinds of questions along this line which affect the subjects we are teaching today at the university. Can we tell ourselves that we really can address those questions? If not, then what is the reality of our knowledge? What do we have on our campus? Whether it's relevant, whether it's valid. Therefore on this particular point, new methodology and skills are needed to manage the complexity of our future world.
The fourth characteristic concerns the limited resources and the growing demands of our society. We have to admit that resources are limited and at the same time the demand is growing and keeps growing every single day in a more rapid way. As a consequence, competition, conflict and eventually war for more resources will take place around the world. The question for us is how far we should go in this direction? If we cannot manage our supply which many scientists and technologists believe that we can provide unlimited supply but so far up to now. we have learned that demand always grows faster than supply. Therefore, what should we do? How could we go about it? These arc four future characteristics which I would like you ? to take a close look at and give serious attention to.
Now with that picture in the back of my mind, I move on to the second point: Agenda for the future. Let me point out four agendas for our future according to the future characteristics of the world that I have already described.
The first agenda is the master or slave of Science feeling which certainly reflects the value of our lives. And not only our lives about which we have to learn but also the interaction between individuals in our society. We need to learn about our life and our society We know that in the past we ran into serious social crises and problems. That was simply because we hardly looked at ourselves and our society in a common and complementary direction. We try to dissociate the success of our lives and our society in different directions. As a result, crises arise. Therefore we need to learn all those issues: To develop and create a firm foundation of value particularly to implant and integrate human beings according to what is reflected by our value judgement. I would like to pinpoint in a very specific manner like this. Can we ask a Thai politician, Thai businessman, Thai public figure how we could access and integrate that person. Any decisions they make today affects all of us. Does it reflect a coherent and consistent value foundation? If not, then certainly we cannot
predict the decision of the politician, public figure in a similar way. If we cannot predict the decision, predict behavior, what will be the implication of that? Then no one knows how to place himself in the interaction of that complex issue. And in that case as a consequence, social cost and all kind of costs will follow. Therefore the agenda for us particularly for Assumption University is how could we educate young men and ladies to have integrity in their lives, to have a firm value which they will follow and use it to base their value judgements on any issue which they will contend in their future lives. That means the second agenda for us is to understand, to appreciate and to commit to basic value of human life and society. This is an agenda for our future. With that agenda we would know what is the difference between right and wrong? We will see the differences between justice and injustice and will see difference between happiness and
suffering. May I reflect on the simple phenomenon in our society today. Many people in our society cannot differentiate between what is just and what is unjust. They cannot tell us whether we are happy today or suffering today.
The third agenda is for preparation as a global citizen. As we know globalisation is inevitable and we cannot stop it. Therefore, If we have to educate young people to live in the new global society what kind of citizens they would be, what kind of characteristic, what kind of quality they should have. Let me share some of my thinking on this one. 1 believe that a global citizen must have an ability to understand, to appreciate, to learn, to work and to live with individuals from
a different culture or society. Let me give you an analogy in a relatively extreme fashion. Imagine a young Thai after the first degree form ABAC, he goes to U.S. and gets a Master's degree and after that marries a New Zealand girl. And then he gets a job and works in Kenya and becomes very successful and then retires in Switzerland. What kind of motivation that person will have. Should they know only management, know how to speak English properly? Certainly not, there must be something more than that. And we cannot deny that the analogy that I draw is impossible. Because that cross-country management, employment and retiring in different society is quite common phenomenon in our society. today. We encounter a lot of Japanese retiring in Bangkok or somewhere today. It is quite common for an Australian to try and get a Thai wife. After they retire, and then use her both as domestic help and a wife. This may be quite sarcastic in a way but, it's a fact. Therefore we can see that future implication of globalization is very complex and is a multi-faceted situation for which we have to prepare our people not only to survive but also to be productive and to contribute to the future society. That means we cannot deny that human beings will need more ability in the future and it will be so enormous and 1 would like to dramatize that it will be beyond imagination. May I recall that a few weeks ago a man traveled to the space and then returned. In the near future, someone may travel to Mars and enjoy his vacation there.
What it implies is that we need to educate the students to be better equipped for the future. More ability in English and computer skills will be basic. We are talking about the third language. At the same time, we need to learn how to compete and how to cooperate. "It's the duty of the state to bring out the maximum potential of human beings" according to Aristotle. It implies that after the parents gave birth to us, our parents and the nature give us much potential but quite often we hardly ever recognize our potential. If we don't then we will be in trouble in the very near future and at the same time, whatever we do must be practical. Excellent idea it may be but when we apply reality, we need to
spend so much resources and it is so difficult for people to follow and if only a very few people can do then the impact on our society will be limited. Therefore excellent ideas and excellent theories must be transformed into very practical solutions and the challenge we have to do for our society means we need good and effective results for our society. Let me give you a concrete example. As I left the Ministry of University Affairs I knew nothing about retail business. I joined a retail corporation as an executive board member responsible for non business policy because I was a university professor. It was during the year June, 1997 when the government adopted the floating currency policy, and then the financial crisis followed. When my board reviewed all the performances and the status of our subsidiary companies we found that Robinson Department Store was in trouble financially at that time.
Then, my board looked around and said we must salvage this company and everyone already had their business
responsibility except me so my CEO pointed at me and said that Dr. Kanok must take over and I enquired if he was sure about his decision. I knew nothing about business and unfortunately I did not go to Assumption University. If I did I would be more confident but I didn't. My CEO said Dr. Kanok you go, we'll support you. When I walked into Robinson Department Store and began to learn about the complexities of the business and the financial crisis we faced I decided that we needed a topnotch researcher. I set up research and development department inside the company and then I gave one simple message to my team, you must know your customer as much as possible, if possible you must know your customer more than the customer knows himself. That was my message and we did so many researches and finally we knew what our customers wanted. That's the first issue I handled. Second I asked, my creditors to invest at the time of crisis because I believed that experience, good feeling and common sense would help to solve future business problems.
We needed information to solve our business problems, therefore we invested more money into this area or that to bring out immediate information of our business operations to our management. The first thing, I did, I tried to reorganize my corporation into a very simple organization which should arrive at quick decisions and provide quick direction. Therefore I reduced the top structure of my company from six to only three. You should get at anything inside the company within 3 steps. Finally I motivated my staff, my people to commit themselves to turning the company around. I am mentioning these experiences, to illustrate the points being explained to you. As I said I walked into a company 4 years ago, I found everything so complicated, I needed someone to analyse critical data and make an abstract of the issues involved and then put things in simple terms to look like a practical business operation and finally we succeeded and completed our restructuring. I need not go into details because it becomes a legal and sensitive issue because we are listed on the stock ex-change but it was a huge operation that turned the company into a solid and sound financial position and last year we made profit already and I believe that this year the profit will grow 50%. The point that I would like to make for you is to think carefully whenever you educate or teach or preach to your students. It must be practical because university people are regarded as a kind of species living in the ivory tower. I have to admit that when I joined the business community while working in the Ministry of university Affairs many people thought that I was crazy, but I told myself that I needed to prove that university professors can run a successful business as well I had to organize
the complex issues and then I identified the simple and practical solutions directly related to those complex issues. Therefore any knowledge or teaching at the university must be related to reality. We should ask ourselves all kind of questions-what subject we are teaching, whether our teaching has relevance to reality or our society of today. Assumption University or ABAC has been known as an excellent institution in business administration. Now, let me ask you a few questions on the issue of business administration degrees of your graduates-can the graduates manage a business company. We have to ask our-selves sincerely whether our students can run a company. If yes, congratulations. If not, then why?, why is it the case? I have quite a number of MBAs working for me at Robinson Department Store both from Thailand and from abroad. I can tell you one thing, they got MBA in Marketing, Management, Accounting, Finance and IT. But no one has an MBA with a major to manage an entire business operation. They are trained to manage a part of the company but they are not trained to manage the whole company. Robinson Department Store needed to reeducate your graduates to know how to manage a company rather than a function or line of company and this reminds me of a saying that you may have 10 best number 2 men but never find a good number one man. and I think that this is attributable to the current system of business teaching in our universities. I know that Assumption University also has an Engineering Faculty. Let me ask a question. You start to laugh and say well my good-ness, the answer is no. You know my question before it is splashed out and so that proves that you are much more intelligent than me. Can an Engineering Graduate operate a coded computer system. Of course they got a degree in Computer Science and also many other things but could they operate a system.
Let me move to a little bit more abstract area, can our graduates grind out a good novel? These are very simple questions but very critical. It goes deep down into the foundation of the teaching and foundation of the knowledge we are offering. It does not only question the subject matter but it also questions the scope of our teaching and methodology of our teaching. 1 can go on and on with this kind of questions but I need not do so, and now you can see the point that I mentioned that knowledge must be related to reality. In that case, knowledge will become useful, will become more valuable to our graduates and our society. In a simple term, Excellence and Practicality if it is like what I just described will lead to productivity and profitability. With that kind of logic and research for new knowledge and application of that practical knowledge to advance our society it becomes more important to our future and I believe that one of the major missions of any educational institution should be a second strategy on excellence and practicality. The second strategy, I would like to bring out is the ability to organize and to manage in order to produce results. In the field of our subject matter in order to produce results, we need skill to organize and to manage different inputs. In order to produce effective results in the area of business and in the area of scientific research, in the area of sports competition, in the area of movie production we need skill to organize and manage in order to produce effective result. How could we go about it in our university? In the subject we learn, we must learn organizational skill and management skill, whatever we do it will involve organizing people therefore we need to develop skill of our graduates to be able to organize and manage those inputs. It was very surprising to my MBA managerial staff at Robinson Department Store. When I had a workshop with them, and told them if they can now see the point. They all said "Well, that is quiet simple, that is nothing new" and I told them "Yes, you're right, that's nothing new" but may I ask you one question. If it's not new why didn't you do it before me? It's true and then I told them that, "Yes, you're still correct". It's not new but what you did not have, it's not only me but how to organize those simple things into a strategic package and make it work. That's very important issue for all of us and the ability to translate strategy into the business plan and action, is very essential. I asked my expatriate colleague from a different company, one evening, 'Could you assess Human Resource in Thai society, using your company's top supermarket as an example?" He said that for operational manager and middle managers, Thai managers are excellent. They're very efficient, they know all the skills, they know all the techniques. They are very disciplined to do their jobs. That's a strength of Thai business community but it's so difficult to find top management and I asked him "Harry, Could you expand on that?" He said "To run a business, you need someone who must know the strategy and translate that particular strategy into different functional action plans, you need to know the strategy of your company and translate that into marketing action, you need to know that particular strategy and translate that into your production action plan and so on but unfortunately, in Thai society we are so awfully short of this category of people and unfortunately we cannot find one to replace him from our society. So, I believe and I hope that may be 10 years from now graduates of Assumption University will replace Harry because we need top management when we are old.
I cannot remain with Robinson for another IO years, 20 years-impossible. To run a business, to oversee a company from my practical experience I can say that you should not be older than 45 years because to run a business, you have a lot of pressure. Your physical condition and your brain must be alert and working, functioning all the time. every single minute and here I need not mention the responsibility and implication of your wrong judgement. Therefore I would urge that you please produce top managers for our society because I know that only a few universities in Thailand can do that and within this limited choice, Assumption University is one of them. I hope I would not be wrong, therefore with that kind of strategy and to translate such strategy into action we need to run an organization at a low cost and at the same time, at the highest effectiveness and at the same time to make every one concerned in the company to be motivated and happy. If you can do that, you're successful and you can contact me tomorrow because I still cannot finish and still cannot do it, I have to admit. Now let me move on to the third strategy. In the future we must be flexible and open, we have to open our mind, our thinking to new information, new ideas, new lifestyles, new cultures and so on as I have already mentioned to you at the beginning of my speech, In the way that we are living in a rapidly changing world, new ideas, new theories always come so we need to open our mind. I have to confess to you that one of the most difficult tasks in turning around my company was to convince my team to open their minds. It took me so much time to let them open and think about their jobs I have to admit that sometimes 1 despaired of them and this is by way of releasing my frustration a little bit here. As an educated person we are convinced that we need to use positive action, positive thinking to convince our students to see the value of education and then we will learn. I have to admit that when I was at Assumption College, Bangkok, my mother remonstrated with me so many times-l stood on the couch at 4 o'clock, memorizing all the books and now I am grateful for that kind of training-I could use that memory today. Sometimes we have to learn discipline and at other times we have to discipline ourselves.
As long as a human being is still rational inflicting corporal punishment is unacceptable. In other words, using force is legitimate only when human beings become irrational but I'm not suggesting that you flog your students. but I would ask you to teach discipline because in the future, good discipline will be a very important factor for success. At one time I happened to meet one of the best racing car drivers. I asked him That's the secret factor for you to win in this sport?' He said there arc three factors. First, you must have competence in a particular sport, second, you must make quick decision, third, you must be disciplined. He said, if you're not disciplined driving a car at a speed of 200 miles per hour can kill you in a split second. You cannot ask, could I do that, could I do this. No, you must be disciplined to follow your procedure strictly. So, I hope that this analogy would illustrate my point that when we're flexible or when we're open it doesn't mean that we don't have discipline. We tend to think that being flexible, being open means we do what-ever we want. Actually it is not. It's quiet the opposite-the more you're flexible, the more you are open, the more discipline you must have "What does it mean". If you're an engineer, you have a discipline of an engineer, why? Because you know that in your calculation of this building if you reduce specification of the materials the building will crack. Regardless of how much the contractor tries to pay you to reduce the specification, your discipline always tells you that no, you cannot do it. Therefore discipline in this respect becomes professional ethics. When we say professional ethics, it doesn't imply the principle of Catholicism, it's your ethics only, that part of it but the discipline of your profession quite often is even more important regarding ethic of work therefore we need to know new ideas, we have to open ourselves at all time and more importantly we have those information and ideas we must know how to digest and analyze in a critical manner. It's essential to our openness, without critical thinking we will fall to the trap of new information, new ideas and so on which will lead us to a loss of our dignity and our soul eventually. We have to be flexible in adjusting and adapting ourselves to the new environments and circumstances. Let me move on to the last strategy for today-we need to build a harmony of self and society. It is necessary to learn and actualize ourselves and the question is how to learn, how to maximize our potential, for self actualization and advancement of our society.
To be more specific let us get back to our basic value of life and society. Our future needs a direction toward a goal of life and society. Where we're going and eventually how, life and society will bring about happiness peace and justice, depends on education. How could we educate our people, our students to search for harmony of life and society rather than a higher salary and higher position. In conclusion, I would like to bring out a few points. First, a university must be prepared to deliver those strategies and address those agendas, quality of the student will be determined by it's products namely your graduates quality and your research quality. If your graduates have knowledge, skill and attitude as well as value to match challenges of the future, then your university is an excellent one, if not your university will be more of a vocational or skill training centre. Whether your university will be a community of intellectuals or vocational trainees, it's up to you all to do and deliver. The second point of my conclusion is about university personnel- it's specifically academic personnel, who can con-tribute to this success. How can we develop a community of Intellectuals in a true sense, how can we make our professors teach our students in truly professional sense-on how can we make our academic personnel interact with our students in order to develop their social responsibility? I remember Bro. Bancha just mentioned to me in the reception room before we came to this hall. He said "that we have only a few great teachers because if they're so good then other schools ask them to help them improve teaching and finally those great teachers never teach their own students. Great teachers must teach their own students and I have to admit that I used to be a great researcher but not a good teacher, simply because I always concentrated on research. How can we make our students angry or upset when they see social injustice because if an intellectual person does not react to evidence of social injustice, who will? And the future of our society needs social responsibility. Finally, this is a very difficult mission but it is not difficult to achieve if you are strongly determined to do it.