The family business history of Naphaporn Bodiratnangkura, Managing Director of Nai Lert Group, dates back over 140 years, with multiple companies from various interests, later invested in Nai Lert Park property, which was eventually to become the Swissôtel Nai Lert Park Hotel opening its doors some 36 years ago. Today, hospitality is in Naphaporn’s blood, but it was not so long ago that she realized from personal experience that there was something missing in Thai hospitality.
“Thai hospitality is so warm and lovely and its due to our culture but there are areas to improve and we aim to educate on expertise and proper knowledge of how to give good service from an international standpoint, to compliment our existing culture. For example, customer experience is crucial, you can have the most stunning restaurant but if the welcome, ordering experience, timing, every detail is not quite right, the customer will leave disappointed.”
“Our focusing is on efficiency, quality, detail and raising expectations of a higher standard of service,” said Naphaporn when asked about the reasons why she chose to start the Nai Lert Butler School here in Thailand where the hospitality is already very well known.
Nai Lert Butler partners with the British Butler Institute in London where all the courses originated. Apart from learning etiquette and manners, one very important thing that Nai Lert Butler is teaching is how to love what you do.
“People might think of a butler or waiter as a low-class job. That’s not the way to think about it. If you’re not proud of your job, you’re in the wrong job. I believe every position – at all ranks– must have pride. Pride in yourself and pride in what you do.”
Since the school’s clientele includes both private individuals and hotel staff, I asked if training competitors of Naphaporn’s own hotels were an issue? She replied simply that she isn’t here to compete but instead quite the opposite – the idea of having the Nai Lert Butler is to complement gracious Thai hospitality and take it to the next level.
While Nai Lert Butler is currently the talk of the town, I couldn’t help but ask Naphaporn about her next big thing, her latest hotel and residence project, and the hype around the investment? ‘We are investing in Thailand hospitality for the long term and believe in the industry. Nai Lert Group like to do things in our own way, we don’t compete with others – we just try and do our best and we do things for the long term.”
Coming back to what she holds close to her heart, this new project will be under the family name as Nai Lert Park Hotel and Residence.
“Our family name ‘Nai Lert’ has a strong legacy, I feel it is a good name in Thai society and want to build on the successes of the past and this foundation will support my objectives of launching new Nai Lert brands in the future, which I hope will become the next chapter of the Nai Lert legacy.”
Again, I come back to how Naphaporn will compete with thousands of suppliers in an over-supplied city like Bangkok.
“We’re not competing. I’m here to complement. The customers should be the people to choose and ultimately benefit. Hotel owners shouldn’t be competing on price but it’s the nature of the industry. Thailand has the most beautiful hotels in the world. Hotel owners put a lot of money into it and after 5 years need to renovate – and the price for these amazing rooms is 4-5,000 baht a night. It’s insane! This competitiveness means margins are tight, so certain areas are poorly funded, sometimes service and additional customer experience, this is something we should address and correct as it will benefit all in the long term.”
“There is such a variety of customers whom come to Thailand and often we don’t have the people software to cater to them. We have so many amazing things and I aim to support having the right human touch for all occasions, and through Nai Lert Butler School, that’s our goal.”
“That’s why I want to build our own brand – the Nai Lert brand. We have the heritage, the tradition, the stories, and I want to tell them to enrich all whom experience the Nai Lert brand.”
Going fast isn’t her game plan but the opposite. “We need to slowly grow. We play a long-term strategy.”
Talking about long term, Naphaporn said she still keeps the majority of her employees from Swissôtel after the acquisition, some of whom are long time, loyal employees “We look after our employees, it was a principal of Nai Lert to hold a mutual respect of one another and is testament in how many employees who have stayed their entire working career. I want to continue the Nai Lert principals, especially for our staff and to remain a family orientated business, this is their home.”
With many things on her plate and a very busy schedule, Naphaporn comes across as a hands-on boss, who gets down into the details. But in considering a family business, you may wonder whether she makes the decisions alone or if all the family get involved.
“In family businesses we have so many emotions – siblings are all owners along with Mom, Dad, etc. When they wanted me to be the MD for the group I told them that if I did, they’d need to give me the authority or nobody would respect me and it would be a mess,” she said firmly, though with a smile.
“My staff are also my family. But of course, I’m still the boss and the owner. I value their opinions because they see the customers more than I do. I will say, ‘OK tell me – you tell me,’ and then we discuss it and make decisions based on what’s good for the company.”
It seems that everything is falling into place very nicely for Nai Lert Group, and we are all excited about the new Nai Lert Park Hotel and Residence which is set to open in 2020. Before we parted, though, the final words of advice from the Nai Lert Group boss were to “always keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities.” For me personally, that is a good business lesson to add to everything we have learned from Naphaporn Bodiratnangkura.