Chumpol NaLamlieng has a compelling reason to keep his shareholders in mind: Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is one of them. Chumpol is president of Siam Cement Group, founded in 1913 by King Rama VI. The Crown Property Bureau, which holds the Thai monarchy's vast assets, still owns 36%. "We make a great effort to be squeaky clean," says Chumpol, 54. "[The royal family] expects companies that carry their symbol to behave in a proper and honorable way."
Chumpol has upheld Siam Cement's honor by dealing head-on with the crisis of 1997 when it lost $1.3 billion. "The worst thing is when investors and lenders think you've got your head buried in the sand," he says. He hired McKinsey & Co. to draw up one of Southeast Asia's most radical restructuring plans. The group focused on its core businesses: cement, petrochemicals, and pulp and paper. Chumpol raised $1 billion by selling stakes in 20 companies ranging from a bathroom-fixture manufacturer to a tire plant. Chumpol also wiped out the group's $4.5 billion in foreign debt in 1998 by floating local bonds and generating cash internally. Last year, the group eked out a $960,000 profit on sales of $2.8 billion.
A former World Bank loan officer with a Harvard MBA, Chumpol, 54, is well known outside Thailand. He travels frequently, including to the U.S. Chumpol, however, calls himself "just a hired hand." His chief worry, he says, is not his own celebrity, but how Siam can pay dividends again by next year and replenish the royal purse.