Thailand’s finance minister Korn faces the ultimate stress test
Finance minister Korn Chatikavanij has steered the Thai economy successfully through huge political and social upheaval. But his long-term aim is to connect with Thailand’s people, and not just its financial and business elite, to bring prosperity to the majority. Eric Ellis shadowed Korn as he travelled beyond Bangkok, examining the extent of the grassroots challenges Korn faces to effect meaningful change in a country ill-served by previous incumbents.
EARLIER THIS YEAR, Thailand’s Korn Chatikavanij faced a dilemma.
Should the ex-JPMorgan heavyweight take up the generous offer of a Washington-based managing directorship at the World Bank, its Asia slot, or should he stay on as the Thai finance minister, a job he’d been in barely a year and one he had coveted since leaving banking?
He decided to stay in Bangkok.
Over nine turbulent weeks between March and May, two things happened that convinced him he had made the right decision: he brought home a stunning 12% expansion of the Thai economy in the first quarter – the fastest growth in 15 years – and the government stared down a violent uprising by so-called red-shirt protesters backed by the exiled former prime minister, telecoms billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, under whose elected though autocratic rule Thailand had enjoyed an earlier economic boom.
"When I look back over the last few years...," the urbane 46-year-old Korn reflects, "...well, talk about stress test!"
Euromoney has tracked Korn’s evolution from investment banker to minister of state over the past three years, first joining him in 2007 when he was in opposition and, perhaps reflecting his UK roots (the son of a senior civil servant, he was born in London and educated at Winchester College and St John’s College, Oxford), attempting to take up, for the first time in Thai democracy, a role akin to Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the UK, shadowing and engaging the then Thaksinista finance minister Surapong Suebwonglee while presenting an alternative blueprint to run the economy.