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How to Succeed: Kawin Tangudtaisak, Managing Director of The 1

The world is full of successful CEOs, innovative entrepreneurs, and risk-taking business owners, but every person follows their own path to the top. Welcome to ‘How to Succeed’, our interview column in which we pick the brains of industry leaders to find out how they got to where they are today.

Real Bangkokians know shopping at Central means membership perks with The 1 are an absolute must. Though most of you probably know The 1 as their longstanding loyalty program, today’s version of The 1 is much more than that. As we move from swiping our wallet-sized membership cards to scanning our smartphones, The 1 has also caught up to us – and they’re maybe even steps ahead.

Recently spun out as a standalone business, The 1 has morphed from merely a support unit of the Central Group to a full-fledged technology company. As the new digital lifestyle and loyalty platform, the app is more than just about collecting your loyalty points. You’ll find deals (goodbye discount code emails), prizes for redemption, and your next shopping suggestions all within your fingertip’s reach.

This change is all thanks to The 1’s managing director, Kawin Tangudtaisak, who was personally tapped by the Central Group to lead The 1 into the age of technology. Within only 1.5 years, he has grown the team to twice its original capacity and completely transformed The 1 into a tech company with an in-house engineering unit.

In this edition of How to Succeed, we took a visit to The 1’s office space at Central World to get Tangudtaisak’s perspective on the importance of data-driven marketing, working as an outsider in a family business, and juggling his career with his family life.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your upbringing.

I grew up attending international school from kindergarten through high school. Back home, my parents tried to get me into taking Thai classes and making sure that I have that Thai upbringing. But at the same time, and also because of my schooling, it was very international in terms of the way I was brought up.

At school, I enjoyed both science and arts. I took mathematics and physics alongside arts, which allowed me to express a lot of my creativity as part of my largely scientific background.

Did you have an interest in tech and business from a young age? Did this influence your choice of study in university?

I actually wanted to be an architect. But oddly, my parents, or my mom, in particular, said that if I wanted to be an architect I would be out of a job by the time I graduated. Back then the dot com industry was booming so she wanted me to become an engineer – any type of engineer. So I studied computer engineering and economics, and ended up with a dual degree (BA/BS) from UC Santa Cruz. That’s where my balance between technology and business came into play.

After that, I continued my masters in the UK where I also ended up with two masters degrees from the London School of Economics (LSE). My courses were more focused on the managerial side of things, so that allowed me to strengthen my knowledge of technology and business.

What are some of the roles you’ve entailed over the years?

I went through a couple of stints in consulting at PwC and The Corporate Executive Board before going into financial services in the UK. Eventually, one of my friends invited me to return to Thailand after working in the UK for a couple of years. One of the interesting parts was that we were to set up a new digital banking unit within Siam Commercial Bank. I think that was the early days of digitisation for many banks.

After 3 years at SCB, I moved to LINE where my initial role was to look at strategy and new services. I was responsible for the overall strategic direction of the business, but also to build businesses as well. That included the food delivery service LINE Man, the news platform LINE Today, and the video streaming platform LINE TV. All that allowed me to eventually foray into the content business. I went from being head of strategy to looking over the entire content business for LINE itself.

I think that was where I was able to balance some of my more structural business acumen with my creative side. I had no experience with content whatsoever. Being there allowed me to understand more of the content business, the dynamics of how it works, and the people.

What were some of the challenges you faced, and what are some of the challenges you face today?

The biggest opportunity I saw when I moved to The 1 was that, unlike many other organisations, the company was very strong in data and analytics. But at the same time, the opportunity to fully capitalise on these assets was still in its infancy. We want to become a leader in this space, and I think that’s one of the biggest excitements for me in being in this role.

I believe many organisations in Thailand can be much more data-driven in how they work. Partnering with someone like The 1 would allow them to do just that. The challenge is that it requires a lot of education and understanding of the value of data itself.

How did you bring new perspectives to the business?

What’s exciting about the new vision is that we are gearing towards building an entity that extends beyond Central Group. This allows the team to think about new businesses that are not confined to the needs of the group, but our entire user base as well as partners. The team has even (jokingly) contemplated building an online dating service!

What are some of the achievements you are most proud of?

We have a relatively young and new team who’s here to transform the business. Even though we’ve gone through many rounds of lockdown and people not being able to work in their most efficient manners, we’ve made great progress delivering on many of the ambitions that we’ve set out for the year. At the same time, we’ve proudly received numerous recognition in terms of external awards from what the team has built. We’ve won the Best Loyalty Programme and the Best Launch/Relaunch Awards from the Loyalty and Engagement Awards, the Best in Future Connectedness from IDC Future Enterprise Awards Thailand, and the Best Omni-Channel Experience from CX Asia Excellence Awards. These are all signs that the company is heading in the right direction.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up at around 6 am because my twin sons go to school at around 7. Then I go jogging (on most days) for about an hour before heading to the office. My meetings start at 9 all the way until around 6 or 7 pm. After that, I take a bit of time to check and reply to my emails, and do a bit more work before shutting down for the day.

What is the key to success?

It really depends on the industry itself on what you say is key to success. But for The 1, the most important part is to focus on the customers ­– to understand their needs, lifestyles, and deliver on the experiences that would delight them. All of this is made possible by obsessively measuring and tracking insights and data.

Because we have data as our assets, we understand what customers want and what they prefer. So, we should be able to design these experiences that cater to them in the best way possible. Most importantly, they should be simple enough for the customers to adopt and engage.

What inspires or motivates you?

Whatever we build needs to have an impact on the customers or brands we are serving. For example, when we’re talking about marketing platforms like The 1, how much does this positively change the consumers’ behaviour? How does it impact the way we interact with customers and retailers in new and meaningful ways, resulting in better traffic or sales for brands?

Can you tell us a little bit about your family?

I have non-identical twin sons. They’re 7 years old and they attend international school, just like I did. They’re at that age where they’re growing very quickly so I try my best to have as much time with them as possible. During busy work periods, you end up realising that after two weeks of not being able to play or spend time with them, they’ve already grown, changed, developed new skills, and made new friends. You kind of miss out on that experience. I try to find as much time as possible to witness them grow.

How do you enjoy spending time with them?

During the weekend, I would try to commit myself to playing sports with them. I take them out to play sports so it gives my wife some time to relax. If there’s downtime at home we play chess, build LEGOs, or watch TV together.

What is your key to work-life balance?

That’s a very difficult question and a way to answer it would be very difficult as well. There’s never really any work-life balance. But it’s always a constant reminder to yourself that family always comes first. Your health comes second, then work. Even though sometimes you’re very passionate about work and occasionally prioritise it over the other two things, most of the time you’re spending throughout the week yourself is already work. So try to focus on the other two things during any time off work.

What do you do to stay healthy?

Running. Being disciplined enough to run at least 3-4 days throughout the week is sufficient for staying healthy. Other than that, it’s just getting my mind off work, so I stay with the kids and try to do something fun with them. I think one of the keys is balancing that stress versus relaxation mindset.

Beyond work and family life, what are some of your hobbies and interests?

Going back to LEGOs. I have a big collection of LEGOs at home (wife doesn’t really approve of the clutter!), mainly from the Architecture Series. I really enjoy building and collecting those pieces and building on the collection that I have.

How big is your collection?

Pretty big to the point that there are a couple that I’ve been asked to bring to the office because there’s no more room at home.

Is there a special one?

One of them is modelled out of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses called Falling Water. That was one of my most difficult finds. I happened to stumble upon that set during one of my visits to Tokyo, Japan and it was just there, so I picked it up. But typically, these things are very hard to find these days.

What are some future trends you foresee in Thailand’s digital lifestyle and retail tech space?

A lot of the conversations right now are around crypto and NFTs. That’s something that, from a retail perspective, could have a big impact on how we do business in the future. The outcomes of that remain to be seen. It feels like the early days of the 2000’s dot com boom where many industries were focused on building the next website. But in the end, after a couple of years, most of them failed and only a few have succeeded. But it laid the foundation to basically what would become the norm of the future.

I don’t know what forms of cryptocurrencies or NFTs would exist after 10 years from now, but at least I’m pretty sure that some form of that will exist. For example, the internet now is very natural to all of us. Back then it wasn’t. It was the Netscapes and Yahoos of the yesteryear, but now those have become Facebook, Google, TikTok, which, more or less, didn’t exist back then.

What advice would you give to young people trying to pursue a career in the tech industry?

It goes back to building something that makes an impact on consumers or users. I’ve always been a proponent of not just delivering technology for the sake of technology. What problems are you trying to solve with technology itself? What are you trying to build so that you can change consumers’ lives for the better? You might start asking yourself these questions first and foremost if you want to step into the tech startup industry.

Minnie Ongsricharoenporn
Managing Editor, Bangkok
Minnie is a distance runner and fitness junkie who is always on the lookout for her next runcation destination. Gyms, spas, and hotels are her natural habitats. She hopes to complete all six World Marathon Majors one day.
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