(TCCC President Peter van Haren)



When Peter van Haren first learned he was being posted to Thailand he went to a used bookstore in Red Deer, Alberta and started leafing through old issues of National Geographic. A librarian had given him a tip that's where he could find out more information about `the Land of Smiles.' Well, he found stories on the bird's nest caves, and some photo-op pieces on palaces and wats but nothing to really prepare him for his future travails in the kingdom of Thailand.    


So Peter showed up expecting lots of jungle, monkeys, and  snakes. His job was to hook up fibre-optic telephone systems by aerial cable running along the sides of Thailand's railway lines. 


Now working on the eighth of a series of one year contracts for Com-Link Co., Ltd, it's obvious that the president of the Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce has adapted to this country very well. 


Peter has only been associated with the Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce for a year-and-a-half, yet already he's the president. He says "without the past presidents and board members I couldn't do the job. They give me a lot of support and credit for what I do. If I didn't have these guys pushing me, and challenging me, and giving me some fatherly advice, it would make my job a lot more difficult."        


Peter's folks immigrated to Canada in 1953, but they hail from the Rotterdam area of the Netherlands, which is where his older sister Mary was born. Peter was born in Red Deer in 1955. He says, "I continually call myself Canadian but there is not an ounce of Canadian blood in me, it's all Dutch. I wanted to be totally Canadian so I balked at the idea of learning to speak Dutch when I was young because I thought it was inappropriate for a Canadian boy so I just never did it."


Peter has built a house for himself back in Red Deer. "It was a good experience, a good confidence builder. Any one that goes through the experience of almost single-handedly building their own house is going to gain a lot of confidence in their ability to achieve something that is somewhat monumental. If you have any doubts about your abilities before you start, you realize that you quickly learn how to cope and how to make decisions."


So how did Peter get involved in hooking up telephone cable? "Before I came here, I worked for AGT (the Alberta Government Telephone Company)," he says. "And I spent a lot of time travelling throughout Alberta working with customers in rural areas on a province wide private line campaign that AGT was promoting. We engineered the job, and installed and commissioned the equipment. It was a very large project. 


"But, when I wanted to settle down and stop moving from motel to motel, I took up an office job with the same company. At first, the job entailed workload coordination and project management, but then I recognized the chance to do more than just work on the technical side of things. I saw there was more potential in working the business side of things so I started to go on more business related in-house training programs and to attend night school.    


"I then moved over towards budget administration, preparation, and the monitoring of our telephone projects. At the same time, I started getting interested in computers, and I applied this interest to building applications that would increase and monitor the productivity of our offices, as well as the workload that was being done, and the products that were being shipped to the field. And how much all of this was costing us in trying to keep a balanced budget.


"At the beginning, I wasn't really sure of myself because I had never really done anything like it before, but my boss soon asked me to help him prepare the budget for the following year. I did it, and when I was finished he said `It looks really good, now you can go and present it to the panel and the provincial director next week.' When I protested due to my inexperience, he looked at me and said: `Peter, don't be a shrinking violet.' Well, I took that as a challenge, and I went ahead and did it. I continued to work in that department until the opportunity to come to Thailand arose." 


As mentioned earlier, Peter's firm builds and maintains telecommunication and fibre optic networks. It was established on 9 Dec 1988, and in early 1990 became bidder for the establishment and installation of fibre-optic cable along the railway routes of the State Railways of Thailand (SRT). Out of five companies, the company submitted the winning tender to undertake the cable installation for a period of twenty years along the railway routes in co-operation with the Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) as well as the SRT. The contract was signed on 21 Dec 1990.     


John Kortbeek, a Canadian, who was working for the international division of Alberta Telephone International (ATI) saw an opportunity to get involved with the US$200 million fibre-optic project that was being implemented in Thailand a decade ago. But he couldn't get sufficient support, or financing, from Canadian companies so he decided to resign from ATI and look for a number of Thai financiers to invest in the project instead.


He was successful and those shareholders today include: the Thai Farmers Bank; Telecom Holdings Co., Ltd; Jintamai Co., Ltd.; Mr Santi Bhirom Bhakdi; Mr Siritaj Rojanapruk; and Pol. Maj.Gen Vimol Indamra.


Peter came into the project because Kortbeek had already made an agreement to bring in employees from ATI if he did get the contract. "When I was interviewed for the job here,  I said I wanted to go over, I don't know what jobs you've got, but I'm interested in the project, and I feel comfortable and confident that I can do anything you want me to do." 


Mr Van Haren recalls the initial stages of the operation: "In the beginning, we were responsible for keeping the network operating, so any failures, which happened a lot, we had to repair. I spent countless evenings sitting in my pyjamas in the living room of our small apartment directing emergency restoration work from the telephone." 


All of Com-Link's lines originate in Bangkok and they stretch to Chiang Mai, Udonthani, Ubonratchathani, Prachinburi, Rayong and Yala. The system backhauls telephone organizations circuits from the provinces to Bangkok and vice versa, and they are mostly used for long-distance phone lines.


Originally, Peter's job was to co-ordinate the work force and materials to get the project finished. "It was quite monumental," he says, "because we had equipment and materials coming in from all over the world, places like  Australia, Holland and North America. It was quite a task to co-ordinate and to make sure the procurement staff were getting everything cleared through customs, and then in turn getting it out into the field so that the work could get done. We had to make sure the bills got paid, and that the budget was balanced."   


Peter admits he's a workaholic and he also says it has hurt his home life. "Work is a very high priority in my life, and my personal and family life have suffered for this. I devote a lot of my energy towards my job. I cannot sit still. I cannot just sit on the couch, watch tv, and talk about daily life with my family. I've got to be doing something. After supper I go into my office and do some more work, or I go and work on one of my hobbies."


Peter's wife has take their kids, ten-year-old Jared, and three-year-old Deanne (who was born here) back to Red Deer to be closer to Peter's parents, and so that she can further her education.


So why has Peter stayed in Thailand for so long? "Originally, I got so involved with the work, and so involved with getting things done that time just flew. And I saw some results, and I also had some gratitude come back to me in the form of advancement, additional responsibilities, and in the form of increased benefit remuneration. But really the first three or four years went by very quickly because I was so involved in the project.  


"Since it was a Build-Transfer-Operate (BTO) project we had to handle the transition of the project as well as the  operation and that meant maintenance, routine and repairs and I was responsible for setting all of that up as well as  organizing the `clean-up' too." 


Was it more difficult working in one particular part of the country? "The southern part of Thailand is the most challenging to work in," van Haren says, "The accessibility and terrain are more difficult, and the southern culture is different as well. To get things done in Thailand you have to work very closely with the people. If you work in the North-East you deal with the friendly Issan people; in the North, you deal with the congenial northern people but there is a different agenda in the South, and the attrition rate for foreigners working for our company in that region was much higher than in any other area."      


How does Peter relax? "I try to go golfing once a week,  I find it quite relaxing, and I meet people that way so it gives me a bit of a social life." 


He also flies remote control helicopters for a hobby, and he says it's a great way to relieve stress, "Being somewhat technically inclined and always liking to do something with my hands, whether it be pushing a pencil or just tinkering around, flying helicopters is quite a challenge. To maintain, set-up and operate a remote controlled helicopter is quite involved, it's quite technical, and it's quite difficult. It gives me a chance to vent.


"Flying these helicopters requires concentrating one hundred percent on what you are doing or you will crash. So it totally blocks out family, work, and personal problems."


Peter says there are some organized sites in Thailand where there are other fliers, so there is a social aspect to it as well. 99.9 percent of the other fliers are native, so it -gives him a chance to brush up on his Thai too.


Despite his serious business side, Peter does have a keen sense of humor. Recently, at a luncheon put on by the Thai-Canadian and Thai-German Chambers, van Haren sat beside Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai who complemented Peter on his Thai. At one point during the event, van Haren had the PM in stitches after telling him a joke that unfortunately we can't publish.


Ken Lewis of the Canadian Embassy first approached Peter about joining the Chamber. "I thought I could use my house building skills, my organizational skills, and hard work to be of benefit to the Chamber," he recalls. "But, when I was first approached about running for president I was unsure about taking the position, so I talked to my old friend John Kortbeek, who echoing the Nike commercial, said, `Just do it.'"


His thoughts on the Chamber? "Any Chamber of Commerce is a business oriented organization. But it's also performs a social function, especially in a place like Thailand. The core of the Chamber is not profit-oriented, we aim to break-even, although we have to keep our coffers up to maintain a certain budget to pay our staff, maintain an office and have some working capital.


"I want to increase the profile of the Chamber. We must give our members more value for their money. Most of them are companies, and they look at the Chamber as a tool to increase their business, and make further business contacts.     

So we have to have lots of functions where members can come in and meet other members, meet new members, and meet government officials. 


"I think the staff we have at the Chamber are excellent. We have a very good board as well where we've got a good mix of lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and young people with good social and marketing skills. We are trying to tap into all their skills to give our members more value for their membership.      


"One of the problems we have at the Chamber is the lack of feedback from our members. This being the case, it's very difficult to decide which direction to go in. That's why I'm encouraging our board members to identify themselves at all our functions and to go and ask our members what types of improvements need to be made, and how we should make them.


"I hope that the Chamber will grow and be more visible, and with that growth will come a desire of non-members to become members. If we can be active, positive, and desirable then people will automatically want to become members of the TCCC."   


There is no doubt that Peter van Haren pushes himself, and the people around him, but its only because he wants the best for the organizations he's involved with. You expect that anything he sets his mind to do, he'll do well. 


You can contact Peter c/o:


21st Floor, Boonpong Tower, 1193 Phaholyothin Rd.

Samsennai, Bangkok, Thailand



Tel: (662) 617-2075

Fax: (662) 617-2088




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