Prachai Leophai-ratana

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Prachai Leophairatana is a former Senator and a Thai businessman who founded Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI).

Prachai founded Thai Petrochemical Industry in 1978, based on companies his grandfather founded during World War II.[1] Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI) group begun in rice milling, and had extended to gunnysacks, textiles, and insurance in the second generation. In 1979, the group consisted of nineteen firms still based mainly in agriculture-related sectors. The patriarch of this second generation, Pornchai Leophairatana, sent his sons to the USA to study accounting, economics, and chemical engineering. Returning to Thailand in the era when the economy was shifting decisively towards industry using newly found supplies of natural gas, Prachai Leophairatana and his five siblings launched the firm into cement and petrochemicals. By the mid-1990s, the number of firms had expanded to forty-four, total revenues had multiplied twenty-five times. TPl had risen rapidly to second rank in the cement market, behind the venerable Siam Cement. It had also become a major player in the booming petrochemicals industry. TPl had financed this rapid expansion by listing its major companies on the stock market, but had also taken large loans from domestic banks and international banks. By 1994, it had become Southeast Asia's first fully integrated petrochemical company. TPI invested in a wharf and handling facilities on Thailand's eastern seaboard, built a 100-megawatt power plant, and even owned a cement company and opened its own gas stations.

TPI has capability if unconstrained by Lenders and thir appointed planneers to produce an overall gross margin that ranks in the top third to one half versus the major petrochemical complexes in the world, including, e.g., ExxonMobil Singapore, ExxonMobil Baytown, BP Grangemouth, Dow Terneuzen, Shell Mordijk, Samsung, Hanwha and Hyundai Korea, Dow Petronas Optimal Kertih, The Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore PCS) and downstream complex, Shell CNOOC Nanhai (Huizhou, Guangzhou) and so on. The facility is integrated from crude oil / condensate to plastic resin, has multiple power and cogeneration units and uses adequate if not leading edge technologies for refinery, lube base oil, olefins, polyolefins, ABS, styrene, and polystyrene; it is one of the largest single site polypropylene producers in Asia and the world.

Yet the management remained closely controlled by the family, and especially by Prachai, the eldest son and reigning patriarch, and two brothers. Across their twenty-five principal companies, the three siblings were directors in every one. Prachai was chairman of fourteen and CEO of five others, and two other relatives also appeared on the boards. In most cases, the members of the board and the executive committee overlapped. In the parent holding company, two independent directors were included to meet stock market guidelines but had little/weight against the family.

The facility was completed and mechanically started up in April 1997, just months before the Baht devaluation and subsequent onslaught. Imagine trying to start up such a huge complicated plant with the sudden economic turmoil. For sure, 6 months is not a long time to line out the operations or develop good management practices and institutions. And, TPI was on an extremely steep steep learning curve to develop the kind of operating capability and management skills that ExxonMobil, Dow, Dupont, BP, Shell and others had spent over 50 years to develop in the past century. When the crisis struck, it emerged that TPI owed US$3.2 billion in external debt to some four hundred creditors. In 1997, the group made exchange losses of 14.5 billion Baht or around 5 billion USD. All expansion plans were put on hold, and TPI entered into acrimonious negotiations with its creditors. In an attempt to retain control, Prachai put both the holding company and the cement firm, TPI Polene, into the bankruptcy court in 2000. Over the next five years, Prachai used lawsuits, political connections, public advertising, and nationalist posturing in his attempt to retain control. However, with the turns of tide, with Thaksin Shinawatra's term in office, the financial minister became the major figure that intervenes with Thailand's Justice process, and with a bankruptcy court ruling in 2005, the state-owned petroleum corporation PTT, became the major investor in TPI with a 30 percent stake and the family was reduced to a 15 percent minority. Prachai was forced to give up his stock shares at an incredibly low value of 3.30 baht. Subsequently Prachai and his siblings were ejected from the board, and was replaced by the board assigned by PTT public company limited of whom were close allies of Thaksin Shinawatra. PTT petrochemical industry at that time was already privatized, with stocks owned by politicians or, “politically connected families”(Greacen). Consequently, after PTT took control over TPI the PTT stock price increased to 231 baht per share, a staggering 631% increase.

Prachai Leophairatana and his family now are the board members of the TPI Polene Public company limited, which recently was just released from rehabilitation plan on Tuesday, 11 April 2006. [1]


  1. ^ AsiaWeek, The Game Is Up, 31 March 2000