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Thai corporates: A daily grind for the restructuring mill

At worst, running a restructuring operation in Thailand can be a life-threatening métier, but its practitioners face a host of other obstacles, not least getting paid. Paradoxically, Thais are also seen as being too gentle and non-confrontational to buckle down seriously to the business of extracting debt from each other. On the buying side of the business, major players such as Lehman Brothers claim to be making a fair return on the distressed debt they have acquired.

From satellite communication companies to pineapple canners, across the board Thailand's crisis-hit companies are slowly being put through the restructuring mill. The Asian meltdown seeped into every corner of Thai business, and just as the variety of casualties is wide, so too are the approaches to rescuing them or giving them a decent burial. The term restructuring has come to cover everything from a cursory one-year debt moratorium for mom-and-pop businesses to the full-scale refinancing and reorganization of the country's largest conglomerates. There are nevertheless common themes that stretch across the whole process.

In 20 years in the restructuring business, Tony Norman, managing director of restructuring specialist Ferrier Hodgson in Thailand, has yet to meet a debtor who believes his problems are self-inflicted. "It's either the fault of the government, the tax man, the banks or God," he quips.

Norman, who is shadowed all the time by two Australia SAS-trained elite Thai police bodyguards, is in the thick of the country's restructuring, also overseeing Ferrier Hodgson vehicle Effective Planner, set up to rehabilitate Thailand's largest defaulting debtor, Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI).

Thailand's problems since the 1997 baht devaluation have attracted a swarm of planners and restructuring agents, led by the top-five accounting firms but the promises of rich pickings in fees are not without their downside.

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