In person with “Sirivat”: The sandwhich man who survives Tom Yum Kung crisis

Many wealthy businessmen went broke during the 1997 Tom Yum Kung financial crisis and Mr Sirivat Voravetvuthikun who was better known as Sirivat Sandwich was one among them.

Unlike many of his unfortunate peers who simply faded away from public limelight and didn't want to be identified or a few others who took their lives to escape the shame of bankruptcy, Mr Sirivat stood out among a handful of those who refused to give up, but fought on with pride and dignity not just to maintain his sanity, but also the survival of his family plus some of his former staff.

Coming from a wealthy family and a comfortable life, it was indeed a very harsh life for Mr Sirivat to suddenly found himself burdened with over one billion baht in debt after the bubble economy crashed in 1997 followed by a bankruptcy verdict.

The huge debt came from the cheap loan his real estate acquired to invest in a luxury condominium project in Khao Yai. When the baht was devalued against the US dollar, his debt from the dollar loan plus the interest thereon simply shot up to the point that he was unable to pay back.

In a recent interview with the Thai PBS, Mr Sirivat admitted it was the most painful lesson of his life � for being greedy and not knowing the meaning of sufficiency. I was very confident of myself then and I thought everything I did would be successful and did not have a reserve plan, he reflected his past experience.

Despite the bankruptcy verdict, Mr Sirivat maintained his sanity and his strong will. He said he vowed not to run away from the debt problem or to kill himself because he had his wife and three children who were young then.

Not just for his family that he had to feed, but also 20 other of his former staff who became jobless, the former real estate developer started anew by selling sandwich on Silom sidewalks. The image of a 48-year old man with a yellow box containing sandwich hung on his chest hawking sandwich in Silom area dominated the headlines of many newspapers then � a human testimony of a victim of the financial crisis who did not give up despite the odds against him.

At that time, our sandwich sold like hot cake � about 1,000 pieces were sold each day by our team of about 40. We thought then what should we do to keep the customers coming back to buy from us because we thought they bought from us because they had sympathy for us. So we made sure our sandwich were fresh every day and that we should not take advantage on our customers, he recalled.

But selling sandwich on street pavements was not as easy as they thought. Sirivat said he was twice arrested by city police for selling on pavements and got cheated by some staff.

Seven years ago, Sirivat turned to selling health drinks and crisp biscuits at shopping malls, but the result was not good and he went into debt again, although the amount was not substantial. His staff was reduced from about 40 to just five and the sale had dropped substantially.

About two months ago, he said he decided to downsize his business by cutting costs. He moved to a new office which is smaller and reduced staff, hoping that he would not fail if he continues to adhere to his principles of honesty, diligence, patience and self-dependence.

Today, I am very economical on everything. We will move to a new office which is smaller by the year end because the rent is too high. I have to downsize our business and to reduce the salaries of my staff. We will not do any business which makes some profits, said Mr Sirivat.

20 years after the financial crisis, Mr Sirivat, now 68, is still struggling and fights on. And he can be counted on as an example of someone who never gives up despite the odds

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)