(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Samsennai, Bangkok, Thailand
Tel: (662) 617-2075
Fax: (662) 617-2088