When my daughters were young one of the bedtime rituals we had was reading a story. One of their favorite books was called “The Book of Virtues” and their favorite story from the book was “Little Children Wiser than Men”. They delighted in a world where kids outsmarted adults (including their parents).
Today in a large meeting room in Thailand I was reminded of that story.
I have done business in Thailand for over a decade. I was early middle age when I started coming. On my first trip I met with an 80 year old owner of a company that still traveled to the US once a quarter on business. My initial impression of doing business in Thailand came from this meeting. I imagined Thailand to be a country that was totally dominated by the "old boys network". The real lesson was that first impressions are often wrong.
Since that first meeting I have come to Thailand at least twice a year. As I get older the people I meet with seem to get younger. Of course this feeling is natural as you age but today it was not an impression. In today’s meeting my company was trying to secure a large contract with a Joint Venture company (between a Thai and a Japanese company) that is investing over a $100 million in a new plant. Yet despite this being a major project, the eight people on the other side of the conference room table were on average less than 30. One young lady looked to me like one of my daughter’s friends from her 6th grade class. The other thing that struck me was that three of the four key players from their side were ladies. It is not unusual for me to meet with younger ladies when doing business in Thailand but I found it impressive that a very young women was in charge of such a large project. Of course, the Japanese involved were male and older than their Thai counterparts but the deference they showed the Thai “alpha female” was surprising.
Thailand and China (yes, I know this shocks people who have never been there) seem to be the most progressive of the Asian countries in letting capability guide who gets to be in charge. For me, dealing with ladies that aren’t much older than my daughters is a welcome change from the average meeting I attend in Japan, the US or Europe.
Of course, I realize that Silicon Valley is full of young people that have started companies and made millions but I am not in the software industry, I spend much of my time selling to companies making chemicals – one of the world’s more conservative and stuffy industries.
As the two hour meeting progressed, I was very impressed by the capability of the young people before me. I tried to imagine what the baby faced group thought of the aging bunch on my side of the table. I am not sure whether I was “outsmarted” today or not but I am impressed that in a world with so many under-employed young people, Thailand is progressive enough to be developing a new generation of professionals more rapidly than many of their peers.