The golfing industry in Thailand just got itself a bright, young poster boy who’s all about pushing the boundaries. In this candid interview with Parisa Pichitmarn, Saris “Ing” Ratanavadi, shares how his life growing up around the sport of golf has benefitted him in his current role as the Executive Director of Stonehill, which is well on its way to becoming a world-class sporting and tourism landmark.
In the future, when up-and-coming business heir Saris “Ing” Ratanavadi becomes a head honcho, it’s likely that he’ll be the type of CEO that has gripes with the malfunctioning of his office of his office door, rather than throw a fit if, say, Bloomberg got his exact job title wrong. In fact, as we are discussing the recent grand opening of Stonehill, his family’s glossy new golf club in Pathum Thani, this 26-year old Executive Director admits he’s not at all fixated about his position.
“Am I the Project Lead for construction? But it says I’m the Executive Director in the legal docs? I don’t have an official title, it keeps changing,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t really care about the title. For me, I just want to do the right job and to make it good. I’ll be the dishwasher if need be.”
What it Takes to Achieve World-Class
Having celebrated its opening this past July, Stonehill has firmly planted its flag, marking itself as an international-level sporting and tourism landmark. Sprawled out over an area of 950 rai, there’s more to Stonehill than just a world-class collection of greens and fairways. It’s also got ambitious plans to attract non-golfers, and for this there are the fine dining establishments Ubuntu and Rock Creek, as well as Firefly, a cafe that morphs into a swanky cocktail bar at night.
Also adding to the attractions will be The Pavilion, a large banquet hall surrounded by glorious views of greenery, available to host a variety of celebrations. And once future phases are complete, the property will open its doors to a luxury spa, and villas that golfers and their tagalongs are sure to appreciate. As one of the main men spearheading this expansion project, Ing’s youth, and obvious good looks, seem to bring a new, fresh lustre to an ancient sport that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Also reflecting all things fresh and modern was the choice to hold the first ever LIV Golf Invitational Series in Thailand at Stonehill (a tournament which, by the time you read this, will have just wrapped up – continuing on to Jeddah and Miami). For those unfamiliar with LIV, it’s a new start-up professional golf tour that’s attempting to modernise and supercharge the overall pro golf circuit.
As both Stonehill and LIV were born in the same year – in other words, this year – Ing is excited to showcase how the two brands are closely aligned. “Our goal has always bene to host a tournament of such a global standard, and to bring the best players from around the world to Thailand,” he explains. Golf is known to be an ‘old man’s sport,’ but with LIV, they’re really pushing the boundaries to make it a different format, and put in a team element. It’s a brand-new league that’s making golf more interesting to a younger and newer crowd. For instance, instead of 72 holes, there will be only 54 holes [and LIV is the Roman numeral for 54].”
The way Ing sees it, he’d rather create a golf club that feeds all the five senses than have a perfectly flawless golf course that’s equipped with mediocre coffee. “Tracing back to the true origins of a country club, we always want to maintain the roots of a traditional golf club, but to also push boundaries to make this place interesting to a newer crowd.
“It should be for anyone outside of golf too, so the whole family, not just one individual will enjoy it. I think we’ve built a great product that’s experience-driven, where you’ll also find great views, architecture, aromas, food, coffee, and cocktails.”
When Family Means Business
Stonehill is the main family business taking up most of Ing’s time as of late, and he’s currently busy with setting up the operations. Despite being the eldest son of billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi, CEO of Gulf Energy Development and richest businessperson in the energy industry in Thailand, Ing says he was never groomed with expectations to take on the reins of his father’s energy empire.
“I don’t think ‘grooming’ is the right approach, because I feel like you either have it or you don’t,” he reflects. “I don’t think Tiger Woods’ son could necessarily become Tiger Woods, you know what I mean? My parents and I have a good and healthy relationship, and we all have respect for each other. My dad never talked about me succeeding him, and anyway he’s still quite young and very hands-on. Instead, he gave us the freedom to do what we wanted to do. He always pushes us to do things and to challenge ourselves, but he never forced us into anything.”
Ing also points out that his involvement with Stonehill “kind of just happened.” Even though it started out as his father’s passion project, Ing simply became more involved with its creation, due in no small part to his association with golf course designers and architects in the USA, forged while he was studying Communications at the University of Southern California.
It’s not like it was my project, but I was just there, so I took up that design development phase,” he recalls. Since the design firm Hart Howerton, and Kyle Phillips, the golf course designer, were both based in California too, on weekends Ing would fly out to meet with these renowned talents (when he didn’t have class).
It just kind of happened for that reason, but I like architecture and design too, so I was very involved. I’m also interested in functionality, so I really care about how the building works and what the flow of things are. It’s in the details, like making sure your restaurant doesn’t have any bad views no matter which part you sit in. I hate going to places, or hotels, where their functions are all over the place.”
After completing his studies and returning to Bangkok, the fresh graduate spent time shadowing his father at Gulf Energy Development, and the many other businesses in their portfolio. As fast-talking as he is, it’s impossible even for him to list them all. However, he mentions a start-up tech company as another one of the many investments he is passionate about.
And while he’s fully committed to Stonehill, he still manages his time in order to oversee these start-ups too — a lesson from his father to always honour one’s commitments. In this side job, as a board member for the aforementioned robotic processing automation software company, Ing says he finds it all immensely interesting, especially for its ability to help businesses in Thailand solve problems, at a lower cost.
“I’m all about optimisation. Being able to see your inventory problems and not have to do repetitive tasks by automating them. Humans have so much more value than to be just copy-and-pasting things. We can instead spend time on bringing more creativity to the job, which adds more impact. While I think most things should be automated, some things still need the human touch.
Meticulous attention to detail, as well as an affinity for golf, has always been a constant in Ing’s life. Growing up, he remembers playing a handful of sports but mainly stuck with golfing because he was good at it. As a child, he had gone to golf camps and his family’s life revolved around golfing. Even though he says that he is starkly different from his younger brother, Stamen, what they do have in common is their love for the links.
“When travelling, some families like to go to beaches. Some families like to go shopping, but our family likes to go golfing together,” he says with a beaming smile. “We travel all around the world to play. My favourite course in the world is St. Andrews in Scotland, which is the oldest golf course in the world. Our family favourite golfing destination is Hawaii though. There are good courses with good views and good hotels. Overall, it’s a great vacation.”
Jokingly, he reveals how being detail-oriented goes into everything he does. “When I was younger, and we visited lots of top golf courses, I would try to sketch designs of how I’d like a certain golf hole to look. And if I did play on certain courses, when I got home I’d be doodling on a notepad about how things could be improved there.”
Taking things Shot by Shot
By the time he was a teenager studying at NIST International School, he had long played competitive golf and was already working as a golf event promoter. After school, he would be helping his father to run and promote the Thailand Golf Championships that were hosted in the past.
So, how can the lessons learned from golf also be applied to various aspects of one’s life? “Take it day by day, shot by shot,” he says. “Have patience and don’t rush. If you have a bad shot, think about how to recover. You make both good and bad decisions in life, as well as in business. But look forwards, don’t look backwards, because there is nothing else you can do backwards.”
Life Beyond the Green
When not working, Ing jokes that he’s “dreaming about work,” and that may actually be true. Outside of business, he enjoys following the strategies of other visionaries — young execs like himself such as Alexandre Arnault, and what he is doing to revitalise Rimowa and Tiffany & Co. And while it might be easy to dismiss Ing’s fashion sense as ‘streetwear,’ he points out that it’s simply because of his inclination towards anything that’s comfortable.
“I also wear vintage shirts, but mostly I buy things because of the idea behind it. I like fashion brands that push themselves to be different, like what Virgil Abloh did with Louis Vuitton was really progressive.”
Closer to home, he enjoys bouncing ideas around and discussing art with the video and multimedia artist Korakrit Arunanondchai. He also strives to take care of himself by going to the gym three times a week, and eating clean food.
Work-life balance is about taking care of both physical and mental health, you don’t want to be stressed to the point that you need therapy,” he says. “I feel like you can manage it, so it doesn’t reach that point.”
Although by all appearances Ing seems to be the talkative extrovert, he says that he actually enjoys time alone by himself. This even goes to the extent of travelling alone and, case in point, he took immense pleasure in a trip he took to Jordan all by himself.
With the dust barely settled yet at Stonehill, Ing is quick to note, rather humbly, that he’s still far from achieving success. “I don’t think I’ve achieved anything yet. All I can say is I’m proud that Stonehill has managed to come this far. I never studied construction management, nor do I have an engineering background, knowing how to run a site or read construction plans. I learned a lot of new skillsets building Stonehill, with the biggest takeaway being problem solving.”
Asked what he foresees himself doing in the future, he quips, “I’ll keep solving problems! On a more serious note, he reasons that problem solving is what business is all about.
“I think it just starts with a problem you have to solve. The first car, or first airplane, came about because someone wanted to drive, or fly. People will always have issues down the road. I keep it day by day, like golf, but I just know you don’t want to fall into a comfort zone. It’s over when you do. You always want to push yourself. I always want to feel that drive. If I see problems along the way, I feel that I want to be able to help find a way through.”
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