By Michelle Cabula
Jareeporn Jarukornsakul, the 53-year-old businesswoman heading the WHA Group, is listed as one of the 50 richest citizens in Thailand in 2020 by Forbes. Her success story combines women entrepreneurship, attention to sustainability and virtuous synergy between public and private sectors.
After a Bachelor's Degree in Health Science from Mahidol University and a Master's Degree in Business Administration from Bangkok University, aged just 26, Jareeporn Jarukornsakul made her entrance into the field of logistics and in 2003 she co-founded the WHA Group with her husband Somyos Anantaprayoon. Today, she simultaneously holds the positions of Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Executive Committee (CEO) of a Thai leading company in the field of integrated logistics, warehousing and industrial facilities.
Besides the US$480 million net worth (which has earned her 48th place in the Forbes’ ranking of her country’s 50 wealthier people), what is surprising is the presence of Jarukornsakul among the most influential figures in a field that is still considered to be predominantly male-oriented. Despite the divorce from her husband has cost her a fall in the ranking (they were ranked 32nd together in 2015), the businesswoman has been able to make a decisive impact on business since she took it over six years ago, intending to turn it into a multinational company within three to five years. Already in 2016, on the occasion of the acquisition of Hemaraj Land And Development Plc. (operating as a real estate developer), Jarukornsakul was determined to expand its business both in the domestic market and in foreign markets, focusing on an increasingly articulated and complete expertise.
Under the leadership of Jarukornsakul, the activities of the WHA Group have been intertwined with the Eastern Economic Corridor (ECC) initiative, the Thai government pilot project aiming to convert the Eastern coastal provinces - Chachoengsao, Chonburi and Rayong - into a regional technological and industrial innovation hub through the development of public transportation and logistics infrastructure. The company is committed to meet the needs of high-tech industries on different levels, being ready to operate in advance in those commercial districts designated to become increasingly attractive to investors in the future.
With an investment plan of 43 billion THB (approximately US$1.4 million) announced in August 2016, the Chairman has also made clear the company’s intention to become the leading provider for comprehensive logistics, real estate and industrial solutions in the Asian Economic Community (AEC). “Through Hemaraj, we play an instrumental role in the development of the automotive, electronics and petrochemical clusters, and we are now committed to being an active partner in the development of future industries”, she declared.
The launch of the WHA Industrial Zone – Nghe An in February 2017 represented "a firm statement of the company’s commitment to the country and the Southeast Asian region", to the point that the company is already thinking of replicating the experience. Future plans include the realization of another industrial zone near Hanoi that would become a new production base for Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese companies and ASEAN investors looking to relocate their businesses to escape economic damages originating from the US-China trade war.
Jarukornsakul has defined Vietnam as "the new bright star" of the area, stressing that its geographical location, its rapidly expanding economy, the availability of an educated workforce and its involvement in numerous free trade agreements make it a privileged destination for investment by the company, which already has 30 years of experience in Thailand. According to the company’s website, the WHA Industrial Zone - Nghe An takes advantage of existing infrastructure to contribute to economic expansion and the creation of new job opportunities in the Nghe An region, in the respect of social, cultural and environmental aspects.
At the end of last year, the WHA Group was awarded the "Thailand Sustainability Investment 2020", an award granted by the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) to companies that pay particular attention to environmental, social and governance issues (ESG). The group has proven sensitive to sustainability issues, in the awareness that "growth and progress must come with responsibility", as stated by Vivat Jiratikarnsakul, Chief Operating Officer Industrial and International for the company.
The WHA Group’s attention to social issues was concretely reflected in the virtuous project Clean Water for Planet. The initiative launched in 2016 consists of a series of collaborations with various educational institutions and government agencies aimed at raising awareness of the importance of proper management and protection of water resources and at providing clean water to local communities. The program also provides wastewater management services to customers: in 2019, the company announced the completion of a facility in the Pluak Daeng district in Rayong Province designed to treat wastewater through biological purification processes.
The initiative embodies the principles of the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) conceived by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, father of the current ruler of Thailand. This innovative approach to development "implies that we act with moderation and reasonableness and that we always seek knowledge and morality in proposing and implementing development projects". The business model promoted by Jarukornsakul fits in perfectly with the strategies developed at the national level: a perfect example of how state and enterprise can work in unison. Not surprisingly, in 2021 the Bangkok Post has chosen her as the "woman of the year" for the industrial sector, celebrating her leadership skills and strategic vision.
Jarukornsakul’s story resonates well beyond Thailand, as shown by the numerous international awards that the entrepreneur can boast. Among others, her name appears on Asia’s Power Businesswomen 2020 list, in which Forbes staff brings together those Asian women in leadership positions who, in the face of the pandemic challenge, have been able to show resilience and that are conceivably preparing to lead the enterprises towards the recovery.
In addition to portraying a successful entrepreneur, the story of Jareeporn Jarukornsakul heading the WHA Group tells us about some virtuous corporate social responsibility practices that are taking hold in the area of Southeast Asia. More and more companies are engaged in a shared effort alongside government authorities and regional organisations to generate local development and improve connectivity in the ASEAN area. The pioneering experience of Jarukornsakul also becomes a source of inspiration for future generations of young women and men entrepreneurs who, increasingly sensitive to sustainability issues, will be well disposed to embrace the values of inclusive entrepreneurship and responsible business conduct.