PAGE 8 BANGKOK POST - BUSINESS - MONDAY JUNE 29, 1998


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PROFILE : SRISAKDI CHARMONMAN
Logging on to new opportunities at 60
The 'father of the Thai Internet' prepares to devote all his energy to helping people take advantage of the online world
SUPHAPHAN PLENGMANEEPUN

    Srisakdi Charmonman knows all about big families, being the 25th of his father's 32 children. Today he heads a huge family of his own, in his role as the Father of the Thai Internet with more than 500,000 members.
    The chairman of the KSC Group, the country's largest Internet service provider, says his real extended family now numbers at least 300, and they still get together at least once a year.
    He has led a charmed life inside and outside academic circles. He was awarded the title of professor, an unusual distinction since it took place before he had delivered a single lecture in Thailand (though he had been a professor in the United States where he took his PhD).
    But now as he approaches 60, he believes his life is just beginning as he maps out a plan to devote all his time to his own business.
    As a man who did not have to start from zero, Mr Srisakdi said he had been the object of some envy, but his family background helped him to deal with such problems.
    Growing up, the 32 children of Phraya Nitisatrabhaisal (Won Charmonman), Mr Srisakdi's father, lived in a big house on Khao San Road, now better known as a hub of cheap tourist guesthouses. In a family so large, members had to learn to deal with interpersonal problems, he said.
    "My father was a solicitor, so whenever his children had a fight, he caned each one three times, as a verdict. Therefore, we tried to settle problems before the 'case' reached my father. That was a lesson to prevent problems from growing," he recalled.
    He studied at Thep Sirin School and Triam Udom Suksa School before enrolling in the Facullty of Engineer- ing at Chulalongkorn University.
    "When I was a small child, I dreamed of being a likay hero. My home was near Sanam Luang where there were many entertainment events during festivals. Although my father closed the gate, I climbed the fence to see likay (traditional song and dance drama) at Sanam Luang. I wanted to be a likay hero because these performers were followed by lots of femal fans."
    But the stage had to wait. He became a civil engineer and earned a doctorate in computer science from Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States. At 36 he was a professor of computer science at the State University of New York.
    "I had no idea of going back to Thailand at the time. However, on one visit home my step-brother, Malai Huwananth, a former deputy interior minister, took me to meet Field Marshal Prapas Charusathiara, who was planning to establish a computer centre for storing Interior Ministry data."
    Mr Srisakdi said he was persuaded to work as the director of the centre. He did not want to come back to Thailand but it was difficult to refuse Field Marshal Prapas, one of the two most powerful men in the country at the time. He asked for the title of professor as a condition.
    "I hoped that this condition would be a reasonable excuse for me not to work in Thailand because it was against the regulations of the Civil Service Commission for a new civil servant to be entitled 'professor' without any working experience."
    However, Field Marshal Prapas was so powerful that he could do anything to get what he wanted. On his recommendation, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, the prime minister, amended the civil service rules and Mr Srisakdi was given his title.
    "I had no choice but to fly back to Thailand," Mr Srisakdi recalled.
    As it turned out, Mr Srisakdi did not become the director of the Interior Ministry's computer centre. Ten days before he was due to start work, the student uprising of October 14, 1973 took place.
    After the bloody suppression of the protest, the "three tyrants" --- Thanom, Prapas and Col Narong Kittikachorn --- had to flee the country. That also marked the end of the national computer centre.
    Mr Srisakdi, armed with his professor's title, was recruited to work as a professor-lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida). He was also approached to work as a part-time adviser to Siam Commercial Bank.
    After three years at Nida, he was voted dean but resigned because it was against regulations for the dean of Nida to be a private-sector adviser.
    Leaving Nida, he became general manager of the Royal Turf Club, which operates the Nang Lerng horse race course. In his first year there he succeeded in reversing years of losses and turning a profit.
    "I believe that if one has the right intention, no kind of work is too hard to complete. However, if one does a task with good intentions and fails, one can always start again. Don't be serious about failure.
    "With this philosophy, I don't restrict myself to one thing. I can do many things, such as running computers in many places."
    While working at Royal Turf Club, he was invited to become the honorary vice-president for planning and development of Assumption University, a position he still holds.
    After three years at the racing club, Mr Srisakdi was approached by Chatri Sophonpanich, executive chairman of Bangkok Bank, to be an adviser on the construction of the bank's Silom headquarters building.
    When construction was completed, he moved on to become a professor at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology at Lat Krabang, where he was worked to this day.
    "I will retire in October when I will devote myself fully to doing business. It may not be wrong to say that my business career will start permanently at the age of 60."
    The Internet will be the focus of the business. Internet Knowlede Service Centre Co (Internet KSC) was founded in 1994 with capital co-invested by Mr Srisakdi and his favourite student, Kanokwan Wongwatanasin. Dr Adisai Bodharamik, the major shareholder of Jasmine International Group, later signed on and now holds 25% in the company. Mr Srisakdi hold 30% and Ms Kanokwan 45%.
    Thailand has about 500,000 Internet users, with 200,000 of them subscribing to the KSC network.
    As the local Internet pioneer, KSC appears to have a secure future in a business that is growing rapidly. And while the company has had to slow its investments during the slump, KSC is determined to become an international telephone operator once the market is liberalised, he said.
    As a major figure in the computer field, Mr Srisakdi was approached by the Commerce Ministry to help draft laws related to electronic commerce.
    In the near future, he believes, the Internet will be the major factor in internationnal trade, given the efficiency and cost savings. But before Thailand can take full advantage of electronic commerce, it must have proper laws to protect all parties to online transactions.
    The process has not been easy. An early draft of the Internet Promotion Act, was criticised by users who believed it contained excessive controls on freedom of expression. Others questioned the amount of power that would be given to a proposed Internet Promotion Committee.
    Mr Srisakdi, one of the draft;s main authors, has said that future versions would concentrate more on promotion, not control.
    In addition to working on the new law, he chairs several other groups such as the National Computer Committee under the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Istitutional Research Committee under the Ministry of University Affairs.
    "I have seven secretaries to help me. I can never remember what I have to do on what day." He is also aware that his high profile and many positions cause envy.
    "I know that many people dislike me because I seem like a man who has been walking on the clouds since my return to Thailand and being given the title of 'professor'.
    "I am the chairman of many committees. I know all the time who dislikes me but I don't care because I believe that no one can hurt me as long as I do the right things."
    These days he rarely has any free time. He cannot swim or jog as he would like, but he does do some exercise every day.
    "I do aerobics for 30 minutes by following the step on video. This exercise is convenient and doesn't take a long time and helps me to keep in good health.
    "Besides exercise, I am selective about my diet and drink fresh orange juice every morning. I don't take starchy food but I prefer fruits and vegetables because I don't want to be fat. For 30 years I have worn the same size of clothes.
    "If I have a little free time, I relax by taking an 'adventure' through the Internet, seeking some knowledge. Sometimes I write a poem which is my favourite hobby."
    Asked if writing poems meant he was a romantic, Dr Srisakdi laughed but gave no answer, leaving questioners to decide for themselves.