“You need to adapt very quickly otherwise you won’t survive.”
Throughout his career, Kongkiti Liwcharoenchai (MBA 2017) has demonstrated a thirst to see the bigger picture and go beyond the core function of his role.
While the 38-year-old Thai national had obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Chulalongkorn University, he wanted to have a thorough grounding of business fundamentals and strategic management practices. This was one of the main reasons why he had embarked on an MBA journey at IMD.
“In my first job as a production engineer at SCG Cement, I spent much of my time focusing on improving the production process. I was also involved in investment and budget approvals, areas that explored the ‘bigger picture’. I like that part of the business and I wanted to learn more,” he said. “That really sparked my interest in business development.”
It helped that IMD’s MBA was a year-long program, which implied that there would be minimal disruption to Liwcharoenchai’s longer-term career plans. “I didn’t have to take too much time off work,” he shared.
More importantly, the MBA program dovetailed with his plans to further his career in corporate development. “I still want to be in the manufacturing industry and expand my scope of work to include financing, M&A and even startups,” he added. “In the course of my MBA, I studied various use cases of corporate ventures and startups. That really gave me a huge confidence boost to do even more in this field.”
The startup approach
Shortly after earning his MBA, in 2018, Liwcharoenchai took up a role at the corporate venture arm of the SCG group, which had sponsored his MBA.
As a member of SCG’s corporate venture capital team, Liwcharoenchai built relationships with early-stage external startups with high growth potential and helped them to scale and grow.
Liwcharoenchai was no stranger to the startup culture and its high-pressure environment. His MBA stint had given him a head start on what to expect in a startup ecosystem.
“The MBA was like a pressure cooker and IMD’s approach is more like a startup,” he said. “You need to adapt very fast otherwise you won’t survive. It changed me a lot.”
Speed was of the essence, he said. “During the MBA program, we had very limited time to deliver our projects that came with deadlines of between two and five days. To deliver our project successfully and on time, we had to work as a team and ensure that everyone did their job.”
He recalled his final year project which had presented daunting challenges. “It was a consulting project for Crans-Montana ski resort. Can you imagine, back then, I had never skied before!” he quipped.
A significant challenge faced by his project team was the location of the resort. “It was situated on the sunny, south-facing slopes, so the resort didn’t have a lot of snow during the winter season,” he explained.
But Liwcharoenchai saw an opportunity where others didn’t. “Depending on how you market the resort, its ‘unique’ location can both be a disadvantage or an advantage,” he said.
Another key takeaway from the MBA was that executives who engage in introspection and self-reflection can improve their leadership skills.
“Some people might think that a leader needs to focus on control and how to influence others. But I’ve learned that it’s much more,” he said.
“It boils down to thinking about how to tackle the problems at hand by having a deeper understanding of your own thoughts. This means asking yourself how others will respond to your proposed solutions, and if there are better ways to solve the issue.”
Finding his real career passion – entrepreneurship
Over the next two years, Liwcharoenchai saw how his work as a corporate investor contributed to the creation of sustainable, long-term value in promising startups. While the process was fulfilling, it made him reassess his real career passion.
“I thought to myself: ‘I’ve successfully invested in other entrepreneurs through corporate venture funding. So why couldn’t I create something on my own and make it work?’”
Together with two co-founders, Liwcharoenchai started an entrepreneurial venture funded by SCG’s in-house incubator program, ‘Hatch, Walk, Fly’.
“We didn’t start with a clear vision of what we were going to do,” he said. “We pivoted many times. But one thing was for sure: we wanted to create something that leveraged all our skills and knowledge.”
Eventually, they set their sights on the logistics industry, plagued by manual operations and high volumes of disparate, non-digitized data.
In January 2020, Liwcharoenchai and his co-founders set up ZUPPORTS, an online freight management service that connects importers and exporters with international freight forwarders. The startup aimed to address the pain points of logistics customers by improving operational efficiency and supply chain visibility as well as lowering freight costs.
While many sectors, including the logistics industry, have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 – and more recently, macro-economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions – Liwcharoenchai sees silver linings amid dark clouds.
“People now need to restructure their supply chain,” he explained. “That’s where the digital part comes in: you want to be more agile and speed up your decision making.”
There are plenty of growth opportunities in the sector, he said, even as global companies shift production away from China and diversify their manufacturing bases. “These issues have presented us with new opportunities. For example, India is opening up. And in Southeast Asia, we still have sizable growth.”
Four tips for those looking to move from a corporate business development role to starting their own business.
- Love what you do
Being a corporate guy and starting your own business is totally different. You need to think hard before you decide. Ask yourself whether you really want to take this entrepreneurial path.
- Make a commitment
Never give up! Have the courage to tackle any obstacle that comes your way.
With limited resources, especially time, one really needs to focus to achieve extraordinary results.
- Analyze and pivot
For startups, be prepared to fail fast and learn fast! We investigate, analyze, and carry out experiments. How fast you pivot will determine how quickly you can grow your business.