Interview

DTGO’s Ahriyavraromp: Ensuring social impact equivalent to paying staff salaries

By Chris Georgiou

As a leader and advocate of the ‘business-social’ system of governance, Thippaporn Ahriyavraromp, group CEO of business group DTGO in Thailand, fosters a corporate culture and structure that serves a social purpose while helping raise the standards across the real estate industry

  • Each group member of DTGO donates 2% of its topline revenue to charity
  • Business-social philosophy ensures long-term sustainability of business and therefore continued funding for social and environmental impact
  • Research & Innovation for Sustainability Center is open to “competitors” to help raise standards across the real-estate industry

While the primary business of the DTGO Group is real estate, including the construction of the tallest building in Thailand, the first line in the company mission is to “nurture children in need of a better quality of life.”

Wealth and Society discussed with Thippaporn Ahriyavraromp, the founder and CEO of DTGO, how her personal philosophy and precise company vision manifest into commercial success with social and environmental responsibilities.

Chris Georgiou (CG), Wealth & Society: Can you please share with me how DTGO was first established?

Thippaporn Ahriyavraromp (TA), DTGO: After I finished my studies and returned to Thailand, my father (Dhanin Chearavanont) asked me to help orphans. He didn’t want me to be an engineer. Later on, I found out that he had done a lot of social work and didn’t actually need my help – but it was his way of persuading me.

My father also asked me to help with family assets, in other words the family office. So these were my first two jobs. He didn’t allow me to simply donate the money, but gave me the funding and asked me to make sure the money grows and for it to prosper – in effect a social enterprise. He told me not to just look at the orphans, but at the ecosystem as a whole, including the teachers.

For example, we built a chicken farm, to produce 6,000 eggs per day to give to the children. The advisors also sold the balance of the eggs to cover higher wages for the teachers, in addition to selling chickens to set up a teacher fund. I thought business was so easy, but really the advisors were there doing everything.

When we needed more funding I would always go back to my father and ask him. However, I didn’t want to be a burden to him. So I thought why not set up a business so I can get a consistent income for what I want to achieve, such as giving 10% of profits to underprivileged children.

We started with property development, as the quality is not there for low-income housing. However, this was at the time of the Asian financial crisis and our customers lost their jobs and couldn’t pay us, but we had already constructed most of the units. So there was no profit, and therefore no 10% to give; but the kids still had to eat and our employees needed their salaries.

Therefore, at that time, I changed the policy to mandate that 2% of revenues are to be allocated to the orphans, in effect making them members or employees so that no matter what happens, they get paid. Before bonus, before everything, we have to give the 2% first.

Being capable is not enough

CG: I’d like to ask you more about the company culture of DTGO. Your vision mission is “To be a global, evolving and living organisation that fosters a community of smart and good-hearted people who care for society at large.” Why did you choose to use these words?

TA: Business is more than making profit for shareholders. Although I’m getting older every day, and so are my team, everyday there are new orphans. What happens if I die? The philosophy is to find a way to make the company lasts for a long time.

As for the vision, people who are only capable might not do it – they need to be both capable and have a good heart and be fostered. Everyone is capable in certain areas, but I don’t believe in building or changing people, I believe in fostering people to bring out their capabilities. You cannot force an artist to be good at math. We don’t have a human resources department, but a cultural development department.

CG: “Research-driven insights into human behavior” as well as “behavioral psychology” are two terms associated with your companies. How are these human insights put into practice in your construction work?

TA: If you design a good functional home, you can help solve a lot of internal problems of the family. Research suggests that a married couple often argue over very small things, such as bathroom routines and etiquette.

For example, lighting gives a person’s skin a different complexion. When they get older, women can be very sensitive about their appearance. How they feel when they get ready to go out can determine the mood they are in for the whole day. In marriage, the husband can often become the victim, as the wife may think she looked better before and attribute blame to the husband, which can lead to arguments. The right lighting and quality of mirrors can make a difference by helping people to feel better about themselves, in particular older people.

Cleaning up the Real-Estate sector

CG: Across the world, real estate companies are notorious for damaging the environment, destroying local cultures and often pursuing projects at the expense of the poorest people in the community. Could you explain the meaning behind the term business-social that operates throughout DTGO?

TA: Some of our new mid-management members also experience a culture shock when they arrive. Because we start from social, we have to always remind ourselves not to take advantage or to do bad things in order to do good.

When we enter the business world, if we are not careful it is easy to be very selfish in managing cash flow which can be unfair to wholesale suppliers for example.

We have a 40-year strategic plan, but we have to study beyond 40 years to plan 40 years. My team asked me if our number one mission of helping underprivileged children should change since now we have a wider reach, which includes animals, the environment, disasters, elderly and education.

My response is that helping children is still our core objective, but (we also help) the others because of the nature of our industry. If we are not careful we can destroy so much.

For example, a lot of plastic waste comes from construction. A lot of material is wrapped in plastic, and we are researching how to reduce and recycle where possible. That’s why RISC shares the knowledge with other developers.

We also have a marketing campaign to re-locate city trees that local households want to chop down. Although it’s very expensive, it’s a good reminder for people to protect the trees. We also go and buy trees that are burdensome to rice farmers and move them.

I wouldn’t say it is corporate social responsibility, but it’s a responsibility that our industry has and we are trying to see how we can change the industry. During construction projects a lot of animals will die but we are putting in a protocol to save the ones we can. For example, we have moved all of the fish out of a pond to a safe place and then return them after completion.

CG: I understand your Research & Innovation for Sustainability Center (RISC) is the largest hub for new eco-designs in Thailand and is open-access and free to use. So even your competitors can access it for free?

TA: We never call them competitors, we call them friends. I believe they also want to do good as well, but often don’t know how. Since we spend so much resources on research and development we should share the knowledge. They can even do better than us once they have the knowledge and that’s how we move the industry. It’s a win-win situation. This is another objective for us.

DTGO is an integrated business group active in property development, design and construction management, commerce and technology, finance and investment, and social contribution. It is a self-defined ‘Business-Social’ organisation which is dedicated to the generation of well-being for society.

The group includes Magnolia Quality Development Corporation (MQDC), an international luxury property development company which co-constructed the tallest building in Thailand, as well two major philanthropic arms, Buddharaksa Foundation and Dhanin Tawee Chearavanont Foundation.



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