Mikael Wahrn, was born in Helsinki,
Finland, in 1950 and has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics from
the Helsinki School of Economics. He is fluent in a number of languages
including Finnish, Swedish, German, and English.
He joined the international banking arena in 1981, with the Union Bank of Finland (now known as Merita-Nordbanken, the largest bank in Scandinavia). From 1981 to 1984, he worked for the bank's international division in Helsinki, learning, working and later developing various financing products for trade and export.
In 1984, he was sent to Luxembourg where initially he headed the Trade Finance Department. It was then heavily involved in the lucrative, mainly East European, 'a forfeit' market ("a forfeit" is originally a French term, now used universally, to describe the technique of discounting trade related bills of exchange without recourse to the seller). He eventually rose to the position of Deputy MD, working his way up through various departments including Corporate Banking and at the same time he was given the responsibility of establishing a Capital Markets Department.
He returned to the head office in 1989 where he was promoted to Vice-President of the Corporate Division, reporting directly to the Board. He worked as an account officer for 20 of the banks most important corporate clients in the paper and paper, shipping and energy industries. These included Kvaerner, UPM Kymmene, Carnival Cruise Lines, tampella, EFFJohn, Waertsila and Masa-Yards. Due to the severe recession in Finland at that time much of his work involved restructuring companies and, in some cases, entire industries.
In 1993, Mr. Wahrn was appointed Managing Director and General Manager for the bank's subsidiary and branch office in Singapore and given full responsibility for the Group's Asian operations. The bank was at that time concentrating on large scale project financing such as greenfield pulp mills, mobile phone base networks and energy projects as well as trade finance. He was also responsible for the implementation of the merger between UBF and Kansallis International, later renamed the Merita Bank.
He left the bank in mid 1997 and in November of that year was appointed General Manager for Swedish Motors Corporation, which was partly owned by Volvo. His assignment was to lead the group through a complete restructuring. When he resigned as General Manager, after completing the restructuring, the new shareholders appointed him to the SMC board.
In 1998, Mr. Wahrn established his own consulting company, RMP International, which is really a one-man show. It provides financial consulting and advisory services for both local and foreign companies in Thailand. It has helped to restructure a number of companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. It has also successfully obtained, on behalf of its customers, funding for expansion or new investments in Thailand both from local and foreign lending institutions.
With 20 years of experience in international banking, as a corporate executive and as a board member of various companies, Mr. Wahrn has been a frequent speaker at universities, conferences and seminars, and he has also served as an expert in a number of publications related to the banking industry.
Today Mr. Wahrn's focus is to go into a company, which is having trouble, help it get its house in order and move on to his next project. The most obvious example being Swedish Motors, when he took it over the company was delisted on rehab on the Stock Exchange of Thailand but by the time he left it had been relisted again.
You could call Mr. Wahrn somewhat of a recession expert. He honed his craft in his native Finland. In 1989, Finland had a recession similar to the one Thailand experienced in 1997 except Finland's was more severe as its GDP dipped 16%, and unemployment rose to 22%. He recalls, "It started in the same way with our currency being defended by the central bank and the rumors were that supposedly the same people, George Soros and crew, who later attacked the Thai baht attacked the Finn mark. As a result, the central bank of Finland lost all its reserves, and had to devaluate and float the mark and it lost about 50% of its value. The trigger was the breakdown of the USSR, (where 16% of Finnish exports were headed) and bubbles in both the real estate and stock exchange market."
Mr. Wahrn happened to home in between foreign postings at the time: "I was in Helsinki during the recession and it was very good learning experience for me. Nobody knew what to do including the banks, the Central Bank, the companies or the government. After 1929, this was not supposed to happen again. So we had to learn how to cope very quickly and we did."
Mr. Wahrn joined the Thai-Finnish Chamber (T-FCC) in October 2001. Then he became president in October of last year. He jokes that he was elected because has a lot of free time on his hands but the reality is he was the Managing Director for the biggest Finnish bank in the region, where he got to know all the major players in the banking world in this area. And his job as GM of Swedish Motors was also very high profile, which fits the profile of a Chamber president perfectly.
He stresses the Chamber can be an important voice for its members in expressing their concerns and fears to the Thai government. But only if it works with the other Chambers in the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce because by uniting they have a much greater chance of getting something done than if they go it alone.
He says his job involves a lot of administrative duties. Along with the Chamber's Executive Director Supatra Buranatham he must organize functions, speakers for the monthly luncheons, oversee the budget and make sure the Chamber's finances are in order.
Khun Supatra informs Mr. Wahrn of meetings and functions he needs to intend either to simply put in an appearance or gain information. These range from trade and export fairs to the Board of Trade monthly meetings.
"We have 92 members, Finnish
or Thai companies with an interest in Finland comprise 67%; hotels, travel
agencies and the like 20%; and consultants and lawyers (myself included)
13%. Unfortunately, many of our Finnish members, who are working for large
firms have responsibilities that stretch from the Philippines to India,
China and back to Australia so they are not actually in Bangkok that often,
so like other chambers, we have problems with quorums," he says.
The T-FCC also acts as an information center fielding questions from its members on everything from travel advisories for possible terrorist threats to questions on SARS.
In addition to the normal business
events and networking luncheons the T-FCC also holds an annual dinner to
celebrate its founding as well as a Christmas party and two golf tournaments
every year. These are also ways for the Chamber to generate revenue.
As Mr. Wahrn is a well-respected financier, it's only appropriate to ask him how Thai banks and bankers changed the way they operate since 1997: "They have changed their way of thinking when it comes to giving out loans: they used to think collateral, now they think cash flow. In the past, if you asked for a loan, they used to say do you have anything of value, like stock shares or a house, and if so, you could get the loan. But after '97 the value of the collateral plummeted. So now if you ask for a loan they want to see your source of refunding, they want to see your business plan, your cash flow. Collateral is not good enough anymore.
"Something else I don't think people realize is that Thai bank managers have become much more knowledgeable and savvier since the crisis. It's easy to give out a loan based on collateral, but it's much more difficult to do so by analyzing cash flow. You have to have a financial background. Their knowledge base has expanded tremendously and that's a good foundation to build upon."
Ed note: Mr. Wahrn pointed out, and it is very interesting to note, that Nokia makes a substantial amount of money off of it's operating systems not its phones. Likewise, Swedish Motors (Volvo) makes money off its servicing agreements not its car sales. And it's the same with Kone, which also makes money off its servicing agreements not its sale of elevators and escalators. So in many cases with the big companies, it's not so much the sales but the after sales service where they make their money.
The Thai- Finnish Chamber of Commerce (T-FCC) was granted its charter on September 21, 1992 by the Royal Thai Ministry of Commerce.The forerunner of T-FCC was the Thai- Finnish Trade Association (T-FTA), organized during the visit of General Prem Tinasulanonda, Prime Minister of Thailand, to Finland with a Thai Business Delegation in May 1998. As a result, the Finnish companies in Thailand and Thai companies, which had common trade interest with Finland, were invited to join the inaugural meeting on the 1st of February 1989 to discuss the founding of an association to serve and promote trade activities between Thailand and Finland.
The election of the first T-FTA committee was held, and the founder members were Mr. Viravat Cholvanich, Mr. Esko Pajasalmi, Mr. Nadha Indhakara, Mr. Boonchai Bencharongkul, Mr. Jyrki Lehtovaara, Mr. Chartchai Lertsachanant, and Mr. Viboon Vongsiridej. So on March 6th, 1989 the Thai-Finnish Trade Association was established in Bangkok with 26 companies as its founding members.
During the early years the key players apart from the founding members were the Embassy of Finland and the Commercial Section of the Embassy. This was a ground- breaking period for the business relationship between Thai and Finnish companies. Thai exports to Finland soon grew four fold, and with growing awareness of Finland's industrial expertise the Thai preference for quality Finnish imports increased as Finnish trade grew 10 fold from 1989 until 1992.
The T-FCC was primarily founded to respond to the acceleration in trade between Thailand and Finland and to provide broader Thai-Finnish business contacts. Once established, the Chamber defined its basic objectives. It would act as a contact, resource and information point for Finnish business in Thailand and similarly for Thai enterprises interested in doing business with Finland and also help to develop relations between the two countries in all spheres.
The T-FCC is a member of the Board of Trade of Thailand (BOT) and as such the T-FCC President is automatically a Director of the Board of Trade.
The T-FCC is represented by a representative- who has to be citizen of a European Community Member State - in the Council of the European Community Business Association (ECBA), which is made up of all the individual EU Chambers of Commerce, and representatives from the Diplomatic Missions of EU Member States, which do not have Chambers, and the EU Delegation to Thailand. The ECBA' role is to promote, support and protect EC business interests in Thailand.
The Chamber maintains close relations with other foreign chambers of commerce and through an elected representative is part of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of Thailand (JFCCT), which handles issues of general concern to the foreign business community.
This month Mr. Wahrn will also become the Chairman of the European Chambers of Commerce Thailand (ECCT) as it is Finland's turn this year. The Chairmanship rotates on a yearly basis in alphabetical order and he will take over from Tom Sorensen, President of the Danish Chamber. The Chamber also has links with various business organizations in Finland and works closely with the Embassy of Finland and Finland Trade Center in Bangkok.
The T-FCC has the following objectives:
1. To promote business activities in general, and especially between Thailand and Finland. To provide member-support functions in the areas of locating sites for statistics, research and other relevant information.
2. To provide a forum for members to discuss and exchange opinions and ideas, and to offer assistance to members in the promotion of networking within and outside the T-FCC.
3. To act alone, and/or together with other chambers of commerce, as a link to the Thai government and other relevant Thai authorities to further develop the business environment in Thailand from a practical and legal perspective.
4. To work in close co-operation with the Ambassador of Finland, who is the patron of T-FCC, the Embassy of Finland and the Finland Trade Center (Finpro Thailand) in order to promote trade and investment between Finland and Thailand.
5. To organize entertainment and social functions for the recreation and networking of the members and their families.
6. To publish a news bulletin and maintain a web page for the benefit of both members and potential members. To pursue linkages with other Finnish chambers in the region as it means of promoting cooperation and adding further benefits to membership.
7. And to undertake all these activities in a way which keeps T-FCC economically self-sufficient.
Tel: (66) 02-255-3251
Fax: (66) 02-253-7910