Since 2011 Vareeporn Udomkunnatum, more commonly known as Rena, has been the managing director of real estate company Elysian Development, a role that has seen her grow the company with a number of large scale projects including the prestigious Swan Lake condominium residences in Khao Yai and the Rosewood development in Luang Prabang. Designed by the renowned architect Bill Bensley, this ultra-luxury sanctuary situated on a hilltop in the Laotian forest is the first resort with unique tented villas by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
While Rena discusses her work with much enthusiasm, she admits to challenges. Overseeing these projects requires a varied skills set but she says, “I think the most difficult thing is management and leading your team because it is all about people.” She reminds us that in today’s constantly changing world, with fickle consumer behavior and rapid technological advancements, her industry faces many unexpected obstacles. “The ability to lead in such an ambiguous environment, to be able to motivate and instill confidence in your team, is paramount. Another important consideration for me is how to create a company culture that can thrive effectively without me.” This is a notion instilled in her by her mentor, property tycoon Anant Asavabhokhin, and has a significant bearing on the way she approaches her daily work.
Despite her busy schedule Rena is not one to shy away from new experiences. In addition to her role at Elysian Development, she serves a director of Active Nation, a privately owned chain of sports retail stores, for which she oversees the strategy and financial functions. In 2014 she was also appointed an independent director and member of the audit committee at leading IT distributor and retailer, ComSeven. The mother of four children aged between five and 16, it takes a highly disciplined person to juggle all these roles. “You must prioritise not just your days but your entire life,” she laughs. “There’s no such thing as trying, there is only do and don’t do.” It works for Rena because in the midst of her busy schedule she manages to squeeze in regular exercise sessions, dropping her kids at school and family vacations.
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She’s a versatile lady with numerous interests who loves learning new things, something that is reflected in her past experiences. Born in Thailand, Rena was sent to Singapore at the age of six in the hope that she would become fluent in English and Mandarin. At 16 she returned to Thailand and enrolled at ABAC. “I decided to major in finance and marketing because I was really no good at finance and needed to learn,” she explains. Keen to not waste any time, she took up night courses so that she could work the subjects in parallel. Six years later she graduated with an MBA from Columbia University. “At the time I planned to work in investment banking and live the high life in New York,” she grins. Asked to come home to be with her family, she returned to Bangkok still hoping to work in the finance sector but the onset of the Asian financial crisis caused her to change plans.
Instead, she went on to work for Grammy Entertainment where she spent three years. She also owned her own flower shop and a now-defunct fashion line. “Behind every success there are always a few failures,” she says. “I have had to face my own demons and disappointments but they were also important learning experiences.” A bookworm at heart and a certified appearance, behaviour and communications coach, she enjoys reading about psychology and human behavior. “When I have the time I would love to write my own book one day,” she smiles. There isn’t the space here to list her many other life ambitions, except to say that she is currently working with her husband, American lawyer David Doran, to establish a school that offers an affordable quality education to all.
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