Project Development Manager,
Tirawan Pangsrivongse says she still has a long way to go as a hotelier but she said she will surely get there as she’s learning from the best – her father.
By Percy Roxas.
We met at Siam Paragon where she, together with her brothers and cousins, have just opened a restaurant – a sort of high-end version of the traditional Thai noodle shops – where she made me eat the signature dish while we were talking. Pretty, stylish, articulate, and obviously very well bred, she guided me on how to best eat and enjoy the dish, my first time to be eating while interviewing. It was a great dish – the “kuaytieaw nuea” (traditional Thai beef noodle served with traditional Thai sauces), but made with premium Wagyu to bring out what she called healthy premium flavor. And it was a great concept I think: bringing those great noodles that Thais used to enjoy only in small noodle shops or street trolleys to the chic atmosphere of a plush department store. Most of all, I was in great company: I was with Tirawan Pangsrivongse, business development manager of Kasemkij Hotels, the daughter of managing director-owner Tirapongse Pangsrivongse.
Waew to her friends, Tirawan has an industrial engineering background (Chulalongkorn University); has taken up Art History and Appreciation (Sotheby’s Institute of Art, England); and holds a master’s of management (Imperial College in England). But even with such formidable credentials and pedigree – her name, which means “lineage of the sage,” was given by HRH Maha Chakri Sirindhorn — she has remained down-to-earth and very well grounded.
Waew and her father run the company today but even with her duties and busy schedule, she still finds time for her own projects – like this restaurant, which has nothing to do with Kasemkij, and which she says she is very proud of. “My partners and I believe this is a good idea; a very sound investment. And this is something we all enjoy doing as a family.” Family is very important to Waew, which is why she traded a potentially lucrative job with Unilever – where she worked for a while after getting her masters degree – to join her father in the hotel business.
The family actually started in pharmaceuticals and factories. Then her grandfather built the first property, the Kasemkij Building. “After that, my Dad built his first apartment in Sukhumvit Soi 7, when he was 24. It was one of the first luxury apartments back then,” Waew says. Soon her father was building his first hotel, Cape Panwa in Phuket and the company grew. Today they are into their 17th property.
One of their latest projects is the 59-room, all-pool Cape Nidhra Resort Hua Hin, which opened last year. “It’s the first project I developed,” she says, “from scratch. I was involved with everything, from designing the uniforms to selecting the chopsticks.”
Waew is often described as Kasemkij’s project or business development manager. But that’s more of a job description than a job title. “We don’t really stick to titles in our company,” she explains. “It’s like you can be anything according to what you do. Since joining the company I‘ve been developing new projects all the time, so I am called the project development manager.”
Kasemkij is involved in many things: hotels, serviced apartments, houses for rents, etc. Waew looks after the serviced apartments and hotels.
“We have properties under three brands: Cape Collection, Kantary Collection, and Kameo Collection,” she says. “Cape Collection is all about very good location, very good service, big rooms, and something a little topnotch. Kantary is like good location, very big rooms, and home-away-from home. Kameo is like the baby sister, the one that offers very good price (read: relatively inexpensive based on existing market rates) for what you’re getting.” Depending on room category and location, Kameo rates range from Bt1,300 to Bt2,000-something.
While most of the new Kasemkij properties have been developed only in the last four years, Waew was quick to point out that the company is not into any kind of aggressive expansion. “We’re a very small, family-owned company,” she says. “We are not in any stock market or anything, so we can expand as we please. If we see an opportunity, we think the product is right, and we think we’re ready – then we do it. It’s not about having to do three or four projects this year or next year. Some years we don’t have any project at all.”
Indeed, Kasemkij owns and manages their properties only. “We don’t have to please any shareholder; we are the only shareholders. We don’t manage other people’s properties so if we have to change something, we can act right away. So when we see, ‘oh the garden looks terrible already and the room is already coming down to pieces,’ we don’t have to wait for anyone to approve the budget. We just say, okay, let’s do it tomorrow.”
She thinks this is better for Kasemkij because “even if the company grows slower, maybe, it certainly grows more stable.” Probably better for her too, because again, it allows her to still do things that she love, such as traveling, which is what she does when not cooking, painting, or engaging in a variety of sports.
In both official and individual capacity, Waew travels a lot — which also reflects her passion to look at the best service, construction, architecture and interiors — trying out new hotels, visiting new places, and immersing herself in other cultures.
As a businesswoman and hotelier, Waew admits she still has a long way to go. “I don’t think I have achieved what I wanted to yet,” she says. “I’m still too far away from that. I still have a lot to learn, a lot to change in myself: But I am working hard at it and I’m sure I’ll get there soon. I’m learning a lot and I’m learning from the best – my father.” At this point, she said all she wants is to see Kasemkij “grow firmly and bigger, provide steady jobs, get more well-known, and make everyone in the company happy.”