Although he is the scion of one of Thailand's oldest, most conservative banking families, Banthoon Lamsam's management style is downright iconoclastic. He's brought in foreign consultants to help him run Thai Farmers Bank, aggressively written off bad loans, and introduced a "performance culture" for his 10,000 employees, including a controversial early-retirement plan for 2,000 staff unable to keep up with new technology. "You have to be a bad guy if you want to change anything," Banthoon explains.
As a result, the 47-year-old graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School is the first in Thailand to engineer a turnaround at an ailing bank. Banthoon, who built his gleaming headquarters in accordance with the dictates of Chinese feng shui, says the Asia crisis helped him dismantle the old banking order he inherited. It allowed him to redefine traditional client relationships and apply more rigorous standards. He persuaded the family to dilute its holdings to 6% from 17% so the bank could be recapitalized. As a result, Banthoon wrote off nonperforming loans one year ahead of the central bank's December 2000 deadline. The payoff is in the bank's bottom line: a first-quarter profit of $8 million.