More than a century of local success: East Asiatic Company
This is the second in a short series covering some of the major businesses operating in Thailand which began as foreign enterprises in the capital well before the Second World War and have prospered despite the vagaries of the local political and economic climate.
Rapidly approaching its 120th year of operation, the East Asiatic Company, or EAC, has been an integral part of the economic landscape of Thailand while its parent company in Copenhagen, Denmark has tentacles that spread across the globe in the shipping, trading and industrial sectors.
Starting as a shipping company under the auspices of Captain Hans Niels Anderson in 1884, the EAC was originally known simply as Anderson and Co. The name East Asiatic Company was adopted in 1897, after Anderson returned to Denmark.
Operating out of Copenhagen and Bangkok, the EAC grew rapidly. In Bangkok, the company was chiefly concerned with importing goods and the forestry industry. Teak and other wood was in huge demand in those fin de siecle days and the Bangkok branch of the EAC soon had its own sawmill.
Next it was rubber and the company acquired rubber plantations while it opened offices in countries as diverse as Malaysia, China, South Africa, and France. Within Thailand, the EAC opened branches in Hat Yai, Surat Thani, Lampang, and Chiang Mai. By this time the company was running a fleet of steamships, though in 1912 they were replaced by diesel vessels.
The EAC survived the ravages of the two World Wars and stretching into the 1960s it began supplying Canadian wheat to China.
At one stage in the 1970s the EAC was considered the biggest company in Denmark in terms of turnover. Naturally, a lot of its profits also emanated via its operations in Thailand.
Yet, when economic times became tough in the 1980s it looked for a time as though the company would be lucky to survive. Severe financial losses necessitated a restructuring alongside management changes and layoffs, but by the late 1990s the EAC was once again prospering.
Anders Normann became chairman of the Thai side of the business and in 1996 he saw the EAC register a turnover of 3.9 billion baht.
Over the last 15 years or so, the EAC has expanded its distribution of industrial ingredients into the primary markets of South Asia and Southeast Asia, from India to Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, and, of course, Thailand.
Normann credits the EAC policy of treating their staff as their most important asset as being a major reason for success. Wherever possible the company employs only locals and offers tertiary education to selected staff.