Leonowens, more than a famous surname
The surname Leonowens will almost certainly be familiar to anyone who has visited, lived or worked in Thailand. It was, of course, made famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, by Anna Leonowens, who was for a time a tutor at the Royal Court of King Mongkut in the mid-nineteenth century. She would become the subject of a novel, a stage play and a couple of Hollywood films, none of which have ever been greeted with much enthusiasm in Thailand.
Yet the trading company Louis T. Leonowens (Thailand) Ltd is one of the most longest-established and prosperous in Thailand, and was founded by Anna Leonowens’ son in 1905.
Louis Thomas Gunnis Leonowens was born in 1856. In his mid-twenties Louis came to Siam and was granted a commission, as a captain, in the cavalry. He only stayed for a few years before deciding to go into the prosperous teak trade. From this he founded the company that still bears his name.
Initially, LTL, as it is commonly known, dealt primarily with teak leases and as an agency for imported champagne, whisky, and cigars as well as cement and typewriters. Louis became less involved in the general running of his company after 1906 and he left Siam in 1913, never to return.
LTL prospered up until the Second World War. As with many other companies, it was taken over by the Japanese military in the period 1942-1945. However, by the 1950s LTL was once again well and truly back in profitable business. Its forestry lease had expired so LTL was restructured and moved into the area of general trading.
By the 1960s there were LTL offices and subsidiaries all over the region. In Thailand, LTL opened a tractor assembly plant.
In 1986 LTL became part of the Getz Group in a merger with Muller and Phipps. It then expanded to include trading in industrial products, building material and equipment. The 1997 Asian financial crisis hit the company hard and forced it to restructure.
The end result has seen LTL focus more on distribution systems and improving its manufacturing and service sectors.
The company currently has five divisions: Agricultural, Building and Architectural,
Chemicals, Firearms, and Hardware. Products in each division are considered the best in its class.
With four distinct business units (Chemicals, Marketing, Constech or Construction and Technical and Special Projects), LTL has what it considers the right mix and range of marketing, technical, sales, and administrative professionals to provide its business partners and clients with a completely professional operation. Quite a change from the teak-focussed business it was just 108 years ago.