Vice president of Heritage Group, Thailand’s leading manufacturer, wholesaler and exporter of healthy premium foods and beverages, Vittavat Phonphaisan joined the family business in 2004. “I initially joined the company as project manager before becoming export manager and now VP,” he says.
Established in the 1980s by his parents, the company that began as a wholesaler of cashew nuts now boasts more than 10 businesses under its umbrella, facilities in the United States and China and sales offices in numerous other countries. With countless leading brands under Heritage, the company is also the exclusive manufacturer and licensee in Southeast Asia of the well-known Blue Diamond nuts brand.
For Vittavat, work is more than helping to run a successful business. Rather it is the onerous duty to maintain and build on a family legacy. Overseeing the different aspects of the company and the export of its products to over 60 countries is no walk in the park. “The biggest challenge for me was to fully understand how the company worked and to find my place in it—to enjoy the experience while following in the footsteps of my parents,” he says. “It’s a tough goal because they built the business from scratch. I mean, how do you trump that?”
Prior to joining the family conglomerate, Vittavat attended boarding school in the UK before studying at the University of San Francisco. Enrolling in the university’s 4+1 programme enabled him to simultaneously earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics within five years. Growing up abroad, this self-confessed third-culture lad admits his return to Thailand and introduction to the company took some getting used to. Since then however, albeit with a heavy workload and tremendous responsibilities, Vittavat has settled into his role leading the company in a new age.
“There is so much junk in the market right now,” he says. “Our mission is to produce food, beverages and snacks that are healthier and in doing so hopefully we can help the industry as a whole move towards that goal.” Of course, healthy and clean often translates to more expensive. For this reason, Vittavat stresses the importance of helping consumers understand that it is not solely about price. “Because we are selling products at a higher price, we have to be very good at what we do. Our goal is not to be pricy but natural ingredients that are better for you are more expensive, while many products out there are full of chemicals which help to cut costs but are bad for you,” he explains.
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There was a time when his childhood dream was to become an architect but Vittavat says that being involved in the design and packaging processes provides an outlet for his inner artist. His favourite pastimes include sports such as badminton, basketball and football but these have taken a back seat to his numerous business responsibilities, which include the launch of new products such as the company’s latest Almond Breeze milk.
He is also constantly on the move. Having visited as many as five countries in as little as 10 days for work, to call him a frequent flyer is something of an understatement. “I once flew to Paris for a day only to fly black to Thailand to attend a meeting before flying out again,” he says, adding with a laugh, “That was brutal and I can’t do it anymore.”
These days, he has narrowed the trips down to approximately one a month and tries to include leisure time and visits to his international friends in his itineraries. As for his parents and four younger sisters, he is grateful for technology, which allows him to regularly stay in touch with them. “Also, there are many of us so there are birthday get-togethers every couple of months,” he laughs.
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