MBA Opens a World of Possibilities for Alumnus

Posted: August 1, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: July 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm

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By Nicole Hitpas

Sanut Chongthanavanit helped design backdrops for the "Man of Steel" film premiere in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Sanut Chongthanavanit

Sanut Chongthanavanit’s company built a custom backdrop for the “Man of Steel” film marketing in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Sanut Chongthanavanit

When your family owns its own custom furniture company, it is natural to go to design school to pursue the family business. That’s what Sanut Chongthanavanit did.

The Chongthanavanits are a family of antiquarians, which spurred Sanut’s father to start Art and Antique Gallery in 1972 in Thailand. When genuine works of art became more difficult to find over the years, the elder Chongthanavanit decided to design and produce products in the same style. The family-owned AGAL Décor Inc. was born in 2000 and focused on producing teak furniture and artwork with the same quality and craftsmanship as the Asian antiques that were once so common.

Sanut Chongthanavanit completed his interior design program and began working for the family business. Although he was a talented designer, he realized there was a better way he could help the company.

“I worked for my family business for two years,” he says. “I noticed that if we wanted to grow the company larger, it is not only the design skill that we need; we needed better management skills.”

Metal art. Image courtesy of Sanut Chongthanavanit

Image courtesy of Sanut Chongthanavanit

And so Chongthanavanit found himself nearly 9,000 miles away from his native Thailand at George Mason University pursuing an MBA. After completing his degree in 2012, he returned to Bangkok with a newfound sense of confidence and entrepreneurialism. Combining his design skills, his new business management skills and his family history in furniture manufacturing, he co-founded Fine26, a custom metal furniture and décor company.

“My parent’s company is a teak wood furniture factory,” says Chongthanavanit. “Fine26 is a metal furniture factory. Some knowledge can be transferred across, but my organization behavior, leadership and human resources classes helped me foresee and avoid many organization problems.”

In less than a year, Chongthanavanit has expanded Fine26 from three to 15 employees. He has launched a line of metal products and secured partnerships to innovate new production processes and add new product lines. Chongthanavanit’s goal is to keep his workforce small by hiring only skilled laborers such as engineers and technicians and focusing on partnerships and machine technology.

“We co-design with an airplane stain coating company for a new stain-resistance process,” says Chongthanavanit. “We co-design with many award-winning designers. Right now, we have new projects for a spa product line and a new leather bag product line.

“For the spa products, we are co-designing with an aroma/ceramic factory. We are working with an award-winning leather bag company in Thailand to launch a new product line named Meteleather. The possibilities are endless.”

While Chongthanavanit has focused on the consumer market, he connected with IMAX representatives during Fine26′s launch exhibition in Bangkok and was commissioned to build a custom backdrop and other promotional pieces for the “Man of Steel” film marketing campaign in Thailand.

Chongthanavanit credits the MBA program for opening his mind to a world of possibilities when it comes to building a company.

“Before [my MBA], my family business was very conservative,” he says. “My parents had a quote, ‘We do only what we can within our reach.’ We never had any debt. My accounting and financial classes help me manage my finances effectively. Right now, we are comfortable to have debt in some degree. This helps my company move forward faster.”

And Fine26 is moving fast. In addition to the new product lines and its successful foray into commercial projects, the company has been selected to be part of an intensive development project for small and medium-sized enterprises that is funded by Thailand’s Department of Industry Development.

Currently, Chongthanavanit is focused on establishing a strong foundation in the local Thai marketplace, but his vision is global. When talking of the future, he mentions global retail giant UniQlo, which shares similarities with Fine26 in how the company started.

“My vision is to make Fine26 a megabrand,” he says.

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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