Dairy business with a Danish experience

Read also the interview with Sawaeng Kongpetsak 20 years later.

Sawaeng and Helga Kongpetsak have spent more than 30 years liv­ing and working in Denmark. His entire life is enriched with agricul­tural experience particularly in the dairy field. Sawaeng is currently working as a plant manager for T.D. Dairy Foods Co., Ltd. in Thai­land.

Sawaeng’s life in Denmark has its roots back in 1962 when he was working at the Thai-Dan­ish farm in Muak Lek, Saraburi. After working at the farm for six years, the company gave him the scholarship to study dairy tech­ nology in Denmark .

After completing the degree, Sawaeng met his wife Helga and they married in 1971. Meeting Helga changed Sawaeng ‘s plan about his stay in Denmark , ex­tending it to over three decades . That time, Sawaeng was working for the Danish dairy com­pany MD Foods Co., Ltd. – today Arla Foods. Sawaeng worked as supervisor in various factories in the Arla Group for 25 years until he retired two years ago. (2002?)

The offer to work as plant manager at T.D. Dairy Foods in Lop Buri, Thailand came through one of his many Thai friends in the industry.

“I knew this friend of mine because he came to Denmark several times to buy equipments and machines for his factory and I helped him out ,” says Sawaeng. The Thai friend opened a milk factory in Thailand and wanted him to help develop the business.

“I was retired and was look­ing for new experience. So after all these years working in the dairy field, I did not hesitate to take the opportunity ,” he remarks.

Sawaeng moved to Thailand in 2002 for a five year contract with the company and now lives in Muak Lek. His job include con­sulting and handling the techni­cal aspect of the factory . He also trains worker on how to use the equipment and the necessary knowledge used for the dairy pro­duction .

Sawaeng’s goal is to develop the product, which is drinking milk Pan Pan. He plans in addition to develop other products such as cheese and butter, which is an­ other project waiting in line. At the moment , the company focuses on fresh milk and is currently working on yogurt drinking milk.

“We are going to expand our product lines but before going on to something else, we have to prove that our milk products are of quality and worth the price,” says Sawaeng .

The milk is sold directly to the schools, hotels and factories throughout central Thailand.

The experienced manager came to the factory when it was merely a small operation . Today, it is slowly and steadily develop­ing and growing with the work of one man and his knowledge and experience in Danish dairy tech­nology and the cooperation of en­ergetic co-workers .

Sawaeng, now 63, holds a Danish citizenship and feels pretty much Danish about him­ self. As a Dane, he feels that punctuality is as important as re­sponsibility and frankness.

“I still have to adjust to the Thai culture and society after having been abroad for almost all my life,” says Sawaeng.

“Many Thais are afraid to lose face and don’t know how to say no to others. For westerners, it is only yes or no and I’ve seen many Thais who will accept an order even if they know they can’t do it,” he adds.

“I think it is important that people say exactly what they think instead of trying to be too considerate because that can affect work,” he comments.

As a senior in the company, Sawaeng does not emphasize his superior experience. He so­ cializes and works closely with people to create trust and re­ spect.

“I want to train my employ­ ees to be more frank . I also en­ courage democratic leadership. I’m willing to listen to comments from subordinates and follow their advice on certain cases because I’m not so familiar with the way of living here yet. In turn, I give them advice on what I have knowledge of , which is dairy technological know how,” he remarks.

Regarding cultural differ­ences , Sawaeng finds it easy to adapt and enjoy a good life and career here in his home country. “I can’t say that which culture is better because Thai culture is good in its own way and it’s meant to be applied here and not somewhere else, so does the Danish culture,” he comments .

“There is not so much of a culture shock here because I’m Thai but there are many other things that are new to me and I have to get used to that,” he adds.

Back in Denmark, Sawaeng was involved in setting up the Thai-Danish Association in 1985 in Jylland, Denmark. He was the Chairman of the association until 2002, when he resigned.

Today, with a new chairman, the association is still active with a large number of Thai members and activities going on. The as­sociation publishes Sawasdee Sarn twice a year in Thai, Danish and English, which Sawaeng con­ tinues to subscribe to here in Thai­land.

“I started the Thai-Danish As­sociation in Jylland because there are more Thais coming to live in Denmark and I believe that we should stick together and help each other,” says Sawaeng.

“Today, it is still active with various meetings for the Thais to get together,” he adds.

In Thailand, Sawaeng and his wife Helga, do not have the op­portunity to join the Scandinavian functions since most of them are held in Bangkok.

Sawaeng still has connections in Denmark as his four grown up children Henrik, Malene, Inger and Henning live in the country.

“When I’m done with the con­tract, I hope to return to my fam­ily,” he adds.


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