How a Man Became a Thai Billionaire By Mixing Eastern and Western Values

Becoming successful in your homeland is one thing, but making it big in a foreign country is another. That’s exactly what billionaire William Heinecke achieved when his company, Minor International, became one of Thailand’s most notable hospitality conglomerates born into a mixed philosophy of Western and Eastern values.

Heinecke, who has a net worth of $1.67 billion, was born in the United States and came to Thailand as a young boy — he has since become a naturalized citizen, and it has been his home for the last 52 years.

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In an interview with Nikkei Asian Review, Heinecke reported giving up his American citizenship and becoming Thai for nearly three decades:

“So that is that I don’t have a second passport. I have only one. Wherever I go, I need a visa. When I go to America, I need a visa. I am treated like any other Thai. But it was absolutely worth it. No question.”

Today, Minor International (MINT) prides itself as one of the largest hospitality and leisure companies in the Asia-Pacific region. It has over 140 hotels and resorts, 1,800 restaurants and 307 retail trading outlets spread across dozens of countries.

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Heinecke also attributes his success to a blend of cultures developed from his unique experience. Mixing Western and Eastern cultural values, Heinecke grew his company with the strengths of each:

“We like to think of our company, although we are a Thai company, as a sort of multinational type. We are strong on good governance which is a very western approach. At the same time, we are Thai in many ways. We understand the importance of family. In many Western companies they will not allow you to employ relatives or friends but we very often employ wives, husbands, children or whatever. We have children of directors that work with our company. They are usually well educated, they have high ethics and they usually know about the company culture because their parents or friends or families have been working for us. They are usually our best employees.

“Why do we say that just because your mother worked for us we won’t employ you? Many Thai companies understand that, while many foreign companies don’t. They just don’t want any conflict of interest, so if you are a member of the family you just shouldn’t be there.

“So we have adopted some of these Thai cultural habits, I would say to be part of our [company]. And it won’t scare me to do that in any world.”

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MINT’s hospitality services operate under popular hotel brands like Anantara, AVANI, Elewana, Four Seasons, Marriott, Oaks, PER AQUUM, Radisson Blu, St. Regis and Tivoli.

Meanwhile, its restaurant companies are spread across 19 nations. Its dining portfolio includes BreadTalk, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Ribs and Rumps, Riverside, Sizzler, Swensen’s, Thai Express, The Pizza Company and The Coffee Club.

The company is also a distributor of lifestyle brands and has Banana Republic, Bossini, Charles & Keith, Esprit, ETL Learning, Gap, Henckels, MySale, Pedro, Red Earth and Zwilling J.A.

Heinecke believes he would have ended up as an employee had he stayed in the U.S., convinced that more opportunities are available in developing countries. He did not attend university and points that timing is more critical than knowledge.

As it appears, the MINT founder stumbled upon the opportunity to build his empire at the right place and time. People want to replicate his success, and he responds, “The entrepreneurial thing was cultivated here in Thailand — the unique culture and the opportunities that were in front of Thailand at that time. You know, people often ask if they could do it today.”

“Today, I think it is quite difficult. But perhaps in Africa, certain parts of Indonesia or less developed or less competitive markets there may still be opportunities. But for the opportunities that I took, certainly the timing was critical,” he told Nikkei Asian Review.

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