Interview: Thirawit Leetavorn – Double A Senior Executive Vice President

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double a executive interview
Thirawit Leetavorn - Double A Senior Executive Vice President. Photo - handout

Double A paper is manufactured by Double A (1991) Public Company Limited, one of the most advanced fully-integrated pulp and paper manufacturers in the world. Double A paper is produced from fast growing farmed trees grown by contract farmers in Thailand, providing local farming families extra income.

Double A launched an extended line of paper brands and stationery range at the Middle East Paper World Expo which was held here in Dubai on 6 March. Arabian Gazette’s chief editor Moign Khawaja and contributor Kenny Gabac spoke to Double A’s Senior Executive Vice-President, Mr. Thirawit Leetavorn, and found out more about one of the world’s most prestigious paper brands.

What was the starting point of your career? Please tell us a bit about your background.

I joined Double A as a Senior Executive Vice President in November 2005. In this role, I was responsible for managing the international marketing, advertising and communication strategies for the company’s flagship brand, Double A paper.

Prior to joining Double A, I was the regional director, enterprise markets for Allied Domecq, an international liquor group with brands such as Stolichnaya Vodka, Malibu, Kahlua and Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky.

I was also the managing director of the Asia Beverage Company, a premium branded marketing and sales company.

Earlier in my career, I worked with leading FMCG multinationals such as Unilever, Hutchison Telecom and Seagram.

My career in marketing and sales management spans 25 years with a focus on developing international business and guiding corporations’ expansion into new territories.

I’m also a long-standing member of Thailand Management Association. I got a Masters of Transport Economics degree from the University of Tasmania and a Bachelor of Economics degree from La Trobe University, Melbourne.

What values do you think helped you prepare for the challenges in corporate world?

Honesty and respect for customers. Trust your employees and give them the opportunity to learn and make mistakes.

What is the vision, goal and objectives of Double A?

Double A’s vision is to deliver:

  • Sustainable premium quality copy and office paper brands to consumers throughout the world.
  • Sustainable source of raw material through Paper from KHAN-NA that generates uniquely high quality fiber, which is planted along the rice paddies.
  • Sustainable energy source through biomass energy, derived from using the waste of the pulping process

How is Double A managing to withstand tough competition on a global scale? What keeps Double A ahead of its competitors?

Competition sharpens your skills; the paper industry has many big producers but few brands. Double A’s unique position is our ability to establish a brand that is preferred by most consumers.

Our brand is unique from its product quality that comes from unique Double A Trees, which produce 30 million fibres per gram, giving Double A good paper formation for better prints and copy contact that prevents paper jam. The trade mark super smooth finish of Double A, gives a nice final tactile feel necessary for high quality presentation. This unique product quality is consistent with only Double A copy paper. We support the trade with promotions to ensure our market coverage is maintained but the key to continued consumer programmes is that we build brand awareness and generate trial.

Workforce training is vital to consolidate company’s long-term interests. What are the programmes Double A is running to secure its human resources?

We believe in on-job training. We provide an atmosphere that encourages our employees to try innovative ideas and programmes. We tolerate mistakes because mistakes allow people to learn. We also encourage continued monitoring and evaluation of performance.

How do you perceive the Gulf market, especially the UAE, in terms of paper usage? How do you see Double A doing in the region in the next 5 to 10 years?

The region has tremendous potential. Consumers in the UAE have given tremendous response to our marketing campaigns, so much that we have achieved 69% top of mind brand awareness with 97% spontaneous awareness and 69% brand loyalty. In 2011, Double A was awarded the Superbrand in Dubai. We aim to achieve that in all the Gulf states and throughout the Middle East and Africa.

With ‘Go Green!’ being the mantra of many companies and individuals, and email footnotes like ‘Consider the environment before printing’ etc, has the (consumer print) paper consumption come down globally? What trends do you see in the Middle East region?

Consumers are more aware of what to print. However, office paper consumption is rising due to increased GDP growth and more industries and services opening up.

What is the volume of paper being imported, exported and re-exported from the UAE?

There are no official statistics or published reports on this. Maybe it can be checked through UAE customs statistics on import of paper into the country. However, I can confidently say we have about over a quarter of the paper industry here.

What is ‘Khan Na’?

The term “KHAN-NA” denotes the Thai word for the unused spaces surrounding Thai farmers’ rice, corn, tapioca and other crops’ field. Normally, “KHAN-NA” serves as a walk path for farmers to get into the both ends of their farms. Aside from this, KHAN-NA has no other use. Double A encourages Thai farmers to utilise these vacant spaces to get additional income of up to 8% per year by growing Double A Paper-Tree on it.

khan na tree
Paper trees grown in vacant spaces that separate rice fields. Photo - Double A

Double A Paper from KHAN-NA is a revolutionary Asian solution to sourcing of fiber for high quality paper production. It is the cultivation of Double A Paper-Tree in straight rows along the unused piece of land between rice paddies.

With the help of over 1.5 million Thai contract farmers, millions of Double A Paper-Tree are planted each year, providing sustainable and secure income to farmers after 3-5 years of cultivation.

Double A Paper from KHAN-NA embodies the three pillars of sustainability namely – environmental, social and economic responsibilities.

Double A’s ‘Khan Na’ approach has been awarded as the best eco-initiative. What other practices are being adopted by Double A to sustain growth and go low on carbon footprint?

We recently completed a Life Cycle Assessment. This study showed our cradle to mill gate carbon footprint to be negative. Each ream of Double A paper absorbs 12.5 kg of carbon dioxide.

Throughout our Paperproduction process we attempt to reduce our carbon footprint. We are producing Double A paper from Khan-na Trees. Even during the production cycle of paper, we are getting a sticky oil as a byproduct. We are using this to generate electricity and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

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