When Jorgen lb Hedes arrived Thailand in 1990, Sun Paratech was only a plan about to be realized. The factory floor had been cast, but the design of the buildings not yet finalized. The production machines were or¬dered, but the staff to operate them not yet employed.
The product was decided. Sun Paratech should produce wooden floorings, three layer cross laid parquet, for the world market.
“I was there because my old friend John Dyrholm, whom I have known since my early days in EAC, had introduced me one year before to the owner, Khun Santi Vayakornvichitr during our vacation to Thailand,” Jorgen lb Hedes explains.
Celebrating Jorgen lb Hedes 70 year birthday on September 3, 2002, is impossible without celebrating also the success of Sun Paratech, which he has brought from nothing up to a production of more than a million square meters of three layer parquet since his arrival to Thailand twelve years ago.
“We receive seven truckloads of rubber wood coming up from SuratThani every morning. We have four truckloads of sawdust leaving the factory every afternoon. Every week we ship 15 container loads full of parquet to our dealers in Europe and America. That gives you an idea of the size of our operation today,” Mr. Hedes proudly explains.
Today, the turnover of Sun Paratech is over 800 Mill. Baht and the company employs are more than 400 people. Most of the employees work in the factory under the supervision of factory manager Khun Kumpol, who has been a member of Jorgen lb Hedes’ management team since the beginning.
“Thailand is the perfect place for production. The workers do what they are told – nothing more, nothing less. However, sometimes things may still go wrong,” Hedes says, using the drying oven to recall a situation where the workers “did the wrong thing for the right reasons” as he calls it.
“We had a backlog and needed to dry a lot of wood. So the workers filled up the ovens to the last square centimeter. Then last minute, they squeezed in all the sample pieces right in the front before closing the doors.”
“They knew they had to perform the tests. They didn’t know that they became insignificant if not taken from representative places around the wood to be dried.”
However, in most cases the Thai worker is good for industrialized production for exactly the same reason, he adds.
“If instructed properly to do their part of the process in a certain way, they do exactly that until you tell them to change. They don’t start experimenting with other ways of doing it, which would make it easier for them – but make the job of the next man in the chain impossible.”
Further down the production line, the wood is cut into shape for assembly into the three layers of the parquet. These three layers are joined in a process, which first adds glue to the layers, then places them on top of each other and finally presses and hardens them in an advanced high frequency press.
“These presses work much like a kitchen microwave oven – just on a large scale at 18 Million Hz,” Jorgen lb Hedes points out. Apart from pressing the parquet together and squeezing the glue into all small cavities of the parquet, the high frequency radiation hardens the glue.
Recently, Hedes and Khun Kumpol implemented an investment of 1 Mill. Baht in increasing the efficiency in these presses which brought down the pressing time from 105 seconds to 85 seconds.
“It means that for a one time investment of 1 Mill. Baht we were able to in crease yearly earnings with 10 Mill. Baht provided of course we can sell the increased capacity,” he explains.
Coming back as a 59 year old to Thailand where he had worked thirty years ago as a young EAC employee, was for Jorgen lb Hedes the chance of a lifetime to establish a new factory from scratch. His first decision was to do all machine installations, administrative procedures and market penetration by the book. Lots of books. Technical books, economic books, machine manuals, market reports, you name it, he read it.
“I wanted to avoid the typical pitfall of cutting corners to fix a solution – which always means cover up a more fundamental problem. Treat the cause not the symptom,” Jorgen lb Hedes says using one of his many idioms, which he applies all over Sun Paratech today.
“I always stress the importance of `pre-emptive maintenance’,” says Jorgen lb Hedes.
To drive home the message, he has even re-phrased the wellknown Maersk slogan “This company does not accept losses which could have been prevented through due diligence” into his own: “This company does not accept unscheduled downtime”.
An example of ‘pre-emptive maintenance’ is an elaborated monitoring system of the machinery which Jorgen lb Hedes years ago developed together with a Danish engineer. The system measures among others the energy consumption of each single machine. When the energy needed to run the machine rises, it is typically a symptom of a more serious problem like a saw in need of sharpening or a roller needing new ball bearings.
A mechanical workshop takes care of most of these internal repair jobs, including sharpening the band saws and fitting hard metal tips on the teeth of the saws.
A typical pitfall is to believe the machine operator when he suggests you to modify the machine to hide the symptom, claiming that it was never meant to work under such extreme conditions as in Thailand.
“This of course is sheer nonsense,” Mr. Hedes says.
“A well-maintained machine has no problems neither with the temperature nor the humidity of Thailand.”
Another pitfall is to believe, that you don’t need to be able to speak Thai to work as a foreigner in Thailand. Here, Mr. Hedes is assisted by his early years in Thailand where it would have been unthinkable that you did not learn Thai as your main working language.
“Imbedded in the language you also find the key to the culture and the way of thinking of the people for whom the language is the mother tongue,” Mr. Hedes says, recalling an epi¬sode from his early period in Thailand, where his tutor took a long detour in explaining something.
When Jorgen asked him why he didn’t just put it straight away, the reply was:
“Oh no, Sir! You see, we Siamese never go straight to the point.”
When back in Copenhagen after his first home leave a few years later, he was called in for a meeting with Managing Director of EAC, Haakon Christiansen, who had himself spent several years in Thailand. Among others Mr. Christiansen asked him if he dreamt in Siamese.
“I believe I do,” Mr. Hedes answered a bit surprised.
“Good, then you will never forget it!”
This proved to be true, when thirty years later Mr. Hedes arrived back in Thailand for his current task. The sound of his Thai is like a machine gun rattle leaving no doubt that this is not a translation but a sentence which is born in his brain in Thai – before later maybe being translated into English to the benefit of the visitor.
“It simply won’t do with a secretary to translate your mail if you want to know what is going on around you,” he says.
“Mail and messages will invariably be screened and rephrased a little bit in keeping with the Thai tradition of not talking about an unpleasant subject, hoping that if you just sweep it under the carpet it may go away”.
As a boy Jorgen lb Hedes initially dreamt of a career within engineering following in the foot steps of the great Danish engi¬neering companies like Christiani & Nielsen. But his high school grades in physics and mathematics wouldn’t allow that. Instead Jorgen lb Hedes decided for a commercial career with East Asiatic Company where he started on 16 July 1951. In 1953 he passed the final test and when he returned to the com¬pany after 16 month of military service he was told right away to apply for a visa to Thailand.
“The voyage to Bangkok was an amazing experience at that time compared to the 11-hours over night flights we have be¬come used to today,” Jorgen lb Hedes recalls.
First he went by train to Livorno in Italy. Here he boarded the MS Malacca for a 30 days sea journey via the Suez Canal to Singapore. Finally on June 18, 1955, he arrived Bangkok.
“I remember standing on the deck of the ship when we ap¬proached the harbour of Bangkok. The only building I could see was the customs house and some wooden huts. I had signed a contract to remain in this place for a minimum of 4 to 5 years.”
Mr. Hedes was appointed Assistant Manager at EAC’s saw mill on Charoen Krung close to the location of Hotel Maenam today. After the contract period of four and a half years, Jorgen lb Hedes was allowed one vacation back to Denmark. During this vacation he married his wife, Bitten, and together the couple travelled back to Bangkok for another period with EAC in Thailand where Jorgen lb Hedes was promoted Manager of the saw mill.
“Bitten never could sit idle for long,” Mr. Hedes recalls.
Within short she had se¬cured herself a job selling Thai silk in a local shop. About 10 months later, she left this posi¬tion for a challenging opportunity with an advertising agency selling out door advertising, which at the time was rather unknown.
During the home leave by the end of 1963, the couple de¬cided to stay in Denmark where he had been offered a good job.
His way back to working in Thailand is an anecdote in itself.
“We were in Thailand on a trip arranged by Lions Club to support the handicap institution Sataban Saengsawang and the volunteer work, which Aks Ammundsen was doing for the institution. We of course also had to meet my old friend John Dyrholm and he introduced me to Khun Santi.”
Ten month later when back in Denmark, John Dyrholm called him from Thailand.
“Jorgen, wouldn’t you like to come back to Thailand to work for the man I introduced you to?’ he asked.
That was the exact right of¬fer at the exact right time.
The 59 year old Mr. Hedes packed his bags and in 1990 arrived Thailand to work with Sun Paratech. His initial 2-year contract has since been extended again and again. Today, he is Senior Executive Vice President of the company.
“Imagine returning to work in Thailand after that many years – it is difficult to comprehend that there is room for this in one person’s life time. The Thailand I knew then and the antique saw mill I was managing and the country and the factory I am working with today are worlds apart.”