Among the first movers in this business is Gunkul Engineering, one of the country’s biggest renewable energy producers. The company has earmarked an investment of 2 billion baht for cultivation and production of medical-grade cannabis that can also be used in cosmetics and food products. To kickstart the venture, Gunkul Engineering has teamed up with the Charoen Pokphand Group, owned by the Chearavanont brothers, to develop hemp seeds strains and cannabidiol-infused food and beverage products. These moves have made investors bullish on the company’s prospects.
Its shares rose 8% in the past year, returning its founder and chairman Gunkul Dhumrongpiyawut to the ranks of the country’s 50 richest after a four-year hiatus with a net worth of $765 million. Seated in the 8th floor boardroom of the company’s corporate headquarters at Pearl Bangkok, an office tower that looks very similar to The Gherkin in London, chairman Gunkul calls this new business «the opportunity of the decade.» He’s flanked by his wife Sopacha Dhumrongpiyawut and the company’s CEO, Somboon Aueatchasai, who together run the day-to-day operations. Gunkul built his company from scratch. While his siblings were diligent, Gunkul says he was never much of a student and dropped out of school as a teenager to work at his father’s shop.
It was difficult to find the right people and some employees left to start a rival business. Gunkul’s expansion into renewable energy came about when he secured a contract from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand in 2007 to install a wind turbine. «I realized this could be a good business that could start giving returns quickly,» he explains. The company got into solar followed by wind, securing a raft of corporate customers such as Charoen Pokphand Foods, part of the CP Group.
Almost a decade ago, Gunkul Engineering began to expand overseas with renewable energy projects in Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. The company has since sold two of its four projects in Japan, and Gunkul says for now his primary focus is on the domestic market. Keen to scale up its present capacity of 642 megawatts, Gunkul Engineering in May formed a joint venture with a subsidiary of billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi’s Gulf Energy Development.
Source: NAAZNEEN KARMALI & GLORIA HARAITO | FORBES.COM