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  • Writer's pictureDatuk Dr M Gandhi

Can you do magic for me Khun Taungthana ?

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

This article is to give tribute to my Executive Assistant, Khun Taungthana Suyanand who has been my colleague for 13 years and just stepped down from Informa Markets Thailand, due to my decision to exit from Informa permanently as Group Managing Director (ASEAN Business) and JV Partner. I hope this is also a Tribute to all Executive Assistants and Secretaries throughout the world. 

In the year 2009, after four years of 15 hour-days building the trade  exhibition business in India from scratch, I returned to Malaysia to rejoin my family business which is in property and oil palm plantation. I had the privilege of working with wonderful colleagues in Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Calcutta, without whose support the business could not have grown to become the largest private exhibition organiser in India.  

In late 2010, the CEO of UBM Plc then, David Levin, who I have tremendous respect for, asked if I would be interested to build UBM’s business in ASEAN. After some negotiations participated by David and Jime Essink (President of UBM Asia), in December 2010 during CPhI India we agreed to establish a joint venture holding company ; UBMMG HOLDINGS SDN BHD  (A JV between UBM Plc and my family Company; BUMIATI HOLDINGS SDN BHD, to develop the ASEAN trade exhibitions business. 

The fundamental principle of the JVCO was to operate the whole of ASEAN as one operating business with 7 subsidies in 7 countries. The concept was to repeat the success achieved  in India however view ASEAN as one economy of 650 million people. We had a clear master plan and vision to grow by organic launches and mergers & acquisition. On the outset it was clear in my mind that I must travel extensively throughout ASEAN to build, motivate and lead a young and energetic team. Given our business is face-to-face, the need to be present continuously in every country to meet stakeholders would require me to be in the air as much as the ground was obvious. 

In view of the above; the first thought in my mind was to recruit an Executive Assistant who will be able to coordinate my punishing schedule. I called Khun Taungthana Suyanand (Noo), my former Assistant when I was the Managing Director of Thailand business from 2003 to 2006, before I moved to India. Khun Taungthana understands both my professional and personal preferences. For example, I would travel after office hours and weekends, stay the night at the destination and start my meetings the next morning. Second row aisle seat; vegetarian diet; hire the same drivers; stay in the same hotels; entertain customers and partners in particular restaurants and be ready for last minute change given the complexity of the operations. 

We were fortunate to have been able to attract the best talent in each country when we set up the business, however, the biggest challenge I faced when the business grew from a 10 people organisation to 600 people operating 67 events annually in 7 countries was the ability to be physically present in several locations at the same time! For example, there would be the opening of Intermach- Thailand’s leading industrial machinery exhibition in Bangkok on May 9th followed by another important event on pharmaceuticals in Jakarta on the next day on the 10th. The schedule will require detailed planning of meetings in Bangkok at BITEC, and timing to leave for the airport so as to be able to catch the flight on time. The bigger challenge would be while all the plans are in place you get a call from your colleague that a meeting with the Minister of Construction in Myanmar at Nyapitaw, the seat of the Government of Myanmar, that we have requested have been just fixed for the 11th afternoon. 

Every time such a situation arises; I would call Khun Taungthana, my trusted Assistant based in Thailand and say “I need you to do magic for me Khun Taungthana. “ She will immediately know that there is a last minute change that will require her to make changes to flights, hotels, cars, and also reschedule existing confirmed meetings…etc. Without any hesitation or frustration, Khun Taungthana goes into action and organises a flight back from Jakarta, staying in transit in Singapore Changi Airport Transit hotel for me to take the first flight in the morning to Yangon, and drive four hours from the Airport to Naypyitaw for the meeting at the Ministry. 

I could give numerous examples of Khun Taungthana doing magic to ensure that I was able to deliver my job. On occasions, I address Khun Taungthana as Nong Taungthana. “Nong” in Thai is younger sister (or brother).

Such is the dedication and commitment of an Executive Assistant who is always behind the scene and does not have the prominence of many others in a complex organisation. The success of an organisation is due to dedication of many individuals, may it be the accounts assistant who ensures that AR and AP figures are correct, the messenger who ensures that critical documents are delivered on time and others. I wish use this opportunity to give tribute to Khun Taungthana, my assistant, and every Executive Assistant of CEO’s in the world for their contribution, without which CEOs would not be able to do their job!

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