William E. Heinecke, 48, knew hard times were ahead when Thailand devalued the baht. The son of Americans parents in Bangkok, Heinecke became a Thai citizen after surrendering his U.S. passport several years ago. He built his fortune betting on Thai consumers, with his Minor Group spanning food, hotel, and trading companies that control local Pizza Huts, Swensens, and a Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum.
CEOs across Asia might ponder Heinecke's quick action and dispassionate pruning of his businesses. With recession looming, he froze salaries, sold unprofitable businesses, cut prices, and raised cash by slashing inventories. "We prepared for the worst," says Heinecke. The effort paid off. Stock of his Pizza Co. is up 35% on the year, compared with a 22% decline for the market as a whole. And Heinecke is using cash raised by selling small stakes in a hotel chain to increase his holding in Bangkok's Regent Hotel. "This is the time to buy really great assets," he says.
An avid race-car driver, Heinecke was supposed to join the Bangkok-to-Beijing rally in December, but he scrapped those plans. The challenge now is to maneuver the tortuous road he faces at home.