The Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce (TSCC) has appointed a new Executive Director. Master’s graduate Katarina Ekelund, the daughter of her Thai mother and Swedish father, has in August 2017 replaced Ms Jiraya Chanchon who has decided to concentrate on own businesses.
“I understand that Jiraya has done a great job for the chamber, as its Executive Director, but her own business increasingly demanded her time. So she decided that she needed to focus on her business projects,” comments Katarina.
Internship at Swedish Embassy
As a mixed Swedish-Thai she grew up in Sweden and finalised her master’s degree in International Business and Politics from Copenhagen Business School in 2016. As part of her studies she did an internship in 2015 at the Embassy of Sweden, Bangkok.
“There, I worked for the trade and promotion section under the then Deputy Head of Mission Charlotta Schlyter, assisting the commercial work of the Embassy. The work included handling promotion of Swedish trade interests in Thailand but also promoting Swedish culture. This experience sparked an interest in business internationalization and trade promotion. I found that to be very interesting and exciting to work with!”
“The internship connected well to my master’s, as the work covered international, political and economic dynamics. My studies provided a fundamental understanding of what an embassy and also a chamber of commerce works with, especially in terms of promoting trade interests in a larger political context – and this knowledge is highly relevant, not least in Thailand!” she continues.
This stint at the Swedish Embassy would later play an important factor in that Katarina has now landed this role with TSCC. Her former supervisor at the embassy initially recommended her for the job when TSCC was hunting for a replacement to Ms Jiraya. Meanwhile, Katarina had returned to Thailand after finishing her degree in Copenhagen.
“I actively searched for opportunities in Thailand and initially came back for a job at an international sustainability company, South Pole Group [world’s leading premium emission reduction project developer] and worked there mainly with communications. Later, another job opportunity came up for one of the South Pole Group founders, at his Germain-Thai start-up. That role overall fitted me better as I was tasked to help them grow, working mainly on the financial side managing investor relations, communications and funding.”
Then she suddenly got a call from TSCC’s representative, and several meetings followed to discuss the role.
“I thought it sounded very interesting, and things moved on fruitfully from there. Both parties felt that we had a very good match.”
From start-up to TSCC
Katarina was in the start-up world which she describes as “very vibrant” and “very exciting”, and where she had a very exciting and fast-paced job that she enjoyed. And yet, the Swedes in Thailand could entice her to move over to the world of the chambers of commerce.
“What was decisive was the potential to develop both personally and professionally. The combination of working with helping businesses grow and with trade-related questions, while also dealing with political institutions in Thailand and at the same time having this Swedish connection – I think it is a rare match and very exciting. My previous roles have focused more on one single area, while this role is very broad – plus this is a role requiring a high level of leadership and personal responsibility, something that was lacking at my previous jobs.”
Commenting on her appointment the TSCC President, Mr Eric Hallin says: “We were pleased to have the opportunity to employ Katarina as our new Executive Director. We believe that her personality, strengthened by a great educational background and an interesting work history, her Thai/Swedish heritage and not least an entrepreneurial spirit, will help the Chamber to prosper.”
What Katarina wants to achieve in her role as ED she says is partly to develop the collaboration more with other organisations sharing the same end goal as part of Team Sweden such as the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and Business Sweden. “I’m confident we can have a closer collaboration and utilize the synergies that are there. And the collaboration with other Nordic Chambers can be strengthened, which is also something I would like to work on. The Nordic economies are small compared to other Western European countries, but together we are stronger. Other larger chambers of commerce (German, French etc.) are already leveraging the benefits of collaborating closely, I have understood.”
Being attractive to members, and increasing the Chamber’s growth is another must priority: This is something we must work more actively with and we need to become better at showing what value we can offer to members. We must review our current offerings; what benefits we provide, and if there’s anything more, or else, we can do. I think the Chamber has a pretty good member base now – around 120 – so it’s very important for me to sustain and increase this base in the coming year.”
Having grown up in Sweden, one wonders how her Thai language is. “I’m trying, faltering a bit.” she laughs. In Sweden she did not speak much Thai other than listening to it on the occasions when her mother scolded her.
“We tended to speak Swedish since my father cannot speak Thai. The older we became the less Thai me and my siblings spoke. Now I understand quite a lot of basic Thai conversation, if they do not speak too fast. I have a bit difficulty in overcoming the barrier of speaking myself, since I am not used to actively use the language. But now I‘m trying and will take lessons once a week, as I already know basic reading and writing.”