There’s something about the way Tanos “Palm” Hongsananda holds himself — a dapper charisma and confidently commanding gaze — that makes him almost comes across as arrogant upon first impression. “That’s the thing,” he explains as he takes a sip of his coffee, “even before they get to know me, people assume I am arrogant.” He continues the train of thought, “I think people think I am difficult to get along with, but once they get to know me, they are surprised to see that I am a very easy-going person… easy to converse with. I can go from street food in shorts and flip flops to a dinner jacket at a fine dining establishment.”
It’s true — the moment he pulls out that warm smile and amicable mannerisms, we’re completely bowled over. Gone is the seemingly aloof persona, replaced by Mr. Charm and Congeniality, dressed down in trousers and a cotton tee. Yet despite his down-to-earth and good-natured disposition, this is no doubt a man who was born with the proverbial silver spoon. The oldest of Sakchai Leesavan and Visaka Hongsananda’s two sons, Palm is the heir — along with his brother Varit “Pao” Hongsananda — to his family’s automobile business, FAW Thailand. In an exclusive interview, he opens up to Prestige about his passions and pursuits in life. Here are a few of them that managed to surprise us.
He loves sports — to the point where he almost made them his career.
Having been sent off to Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire with his brother at nine, Palm spent most of his life away from home. He looks back at the childhood he and his brother shared with a chuckle, “We were very active in sports, especially football. When we were in Bangkok, we didn’t like to study — every afternoon we’d play football.” There’s a hint of pride as he describes how his approach to his interests changed once he entered full-time boarding. “The system [at Cheltenham] requires you to be an all-rounder. And that pushed me to do my best. In my last year of college, I was chosen to be the deputy head of the nine boarding houses there and also captain of the sports team, so that was a really good opportunity for me because not many Asian kids got to be that.”
An avid sportsman during his adolescence years, his love for sports was so strong it even factored in his initial life goals — his first career choice was to become a sports psychologist. “When I discussed this with my parents, they suggested that I reconsider my choice, because sports psychology wasn’t a lucrative career choice in Thailand at that time.”
When sports didn’t work out, he took to design, following his mother’s footsteps.
While he was cautioned from pursuing a rash young dream, he managed — with a little nudge from his mother — to find another path for his passions, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Interior and Spatial Design instead. “My mother is really into interior design and architecture,” he explains, “so I chatted with her, and she encouraged me to study interior design, since I was also interested in arts.” According to Palm, his father actually didn’t mind what he his educational choices were, so long as they led to the same result. “My dad is easy-going, so he allowed me to study whatever discipline I wanted to, but still in view of me joining the family business. That was always the end goal.”
He speaks Chinese, and moved to China without his dad’s consent to pursue it.
A scroll through his Instagram feed (@tanospalm) and you’ll see captions littered with Chinese catchphrases and hashtags. His interest in the language actually stemmed from his return to Thailand. After his time at Cheltenham, Palm followed through with his father’s wishes, and joined the family business — at what turned out to be a crucial time, when the company was transitioning from a Japanese car dealer to distributors of FAW trucks and auto parts, one of China’s biggest truck, automobile and spare parts manufacturing companies. It was during this switch that Palm was inspired to study Chinese, as a way to better understand the company’s new direction.
He initially spent two years studying the language in Bangkok, when he began to feel that he would do better if he studied in China. “I wanted to excel,” he says simply, though his parents had differing views on the matter. “I spoke to my father about it, but he refused,” Palm recalls, “he wanted me to be here focusing on the business. I consulted with my mother, and she encouraged me to do what I wanted.”
His solution to the problem? Just go for it. “I went about the application on the sly without telling my father,” Palm tells us, and it’s this anecdote that reveals the hidden streak of rebellious determination he has. “I even had my assistant make the payment in full for the admission and for the apartment I was going to stay at. He didn’t notice at all, until I told him two weeks before I was scheduled to leave. He was obviously shocked, but he couldn’t say anything at that point, because it was all paid for and non-refundable.” Not only did he manage to land a spot at Fudan University in Shanghai, he even found a job right after, at CP’s research and development department. “I wanted to stay for another six months, but my father insisted and was adamant I come back — he left me no choice.” Despite all the ups and downs, the decision turned out to be worth it, and Palm continues to use his Chinese prowess to add value to the company. “I am the communication link between China and Thailand. I try to help my employees work with the people there and vice versa. The language and cultural barrier can be a bit problematic, so I try to be the middleman to ease communication. I am the manager of the sales department in Thailand, so I am helping the department to become more profitable.”
He loves extreme sports — especially diving.
Palm might be somewhat rebellious and always down for adventure, but he also has a disciplined work ethic instilled by his family — he works six days a week, and only ever has Sundays to himself. If he isn’t with his huskies and labrador, those Sundays are mostly spent hitting the gym, enjoying a meal with his mother, or going to the movies with friends. On the rare occasion when he has more free time, he divulges an interest in extreme sports such as snowboarding and diving — the latter of which he takes rather seriously. “I have the advanced diving certification, but I now want to get certified in rescue diving because I think that’s really exciting.” He brings up a memory of his most recent dive in Tubbataha in the Philippines, where he saw a mammoth whale shark up close — he gets so excited by the story he even shows us a video he filmed of it on his phone. “It was massive — the size of two buses. I was a little nervous, but it was so cool to see it.”
He’s a globe-trotter through and through.
And not the typical hi-so jetsetters’ kind of travelling either — Palm is especially fond of places that are off-the-beaten-path. On his bucket list are places like Venezuela, Brazil, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tibet and Bhutan. Though he prefers destinations where he can enjoy outdoor activities like going on a hike or backpacking, he also travels for inspiration on developing his family business. “I travel a lot to see what’s new in AI technology and IoT in regard to vehicles and products, to see how we could bring this to Thailand. We are now seeing electric vehicles making its presence in the country; this will increase significantly in the next three to five years and I would love to be a part of that.”
He has a huge sneaker collection.
When it comes to his go-to style, Palm reveals that he doesn’t have a particular fashion sense. “I am easy-going, so I like to wear T-shirts or polo shirts, or smart casual shirts with trousers. Sometimes I wear jeans, but they always have to be D&G. I also like suits from Paul Smith — they have a very nice cut, look very sharp and are also very reasonable.”
There are some pleasures he indulges in though, and among them are sneakers. “My brother and I are both fond of sneakers, especially Nike’s limited-edition off-white ones. In total, I think I have a collection of more than 20 pairs, and I take very good care of them. Sometimes when I go out, I have to think about what shoes to wear, as I don’t want them to get ruined. I wouldn’t wear off-white shoes to an outdoor party, that would be a disaster.”
He likes to keep it simple and real.
Here’s the funny thing about Palm — he speaks with such tenacity about his work and future aspirations, that you would think he has a grandiose life plan all laid out. But when we ask for his personal life plans, he seems completely dumbfounded. After some deliberation, he responds with a frankess that makes us love him even more. “To be honest, I don’t like to think about my life that much. I focus on the present. I am a hyperactive person, so I like to be active as much as I can.”
At a time where we like to overcomplicate things, it’s inspiringly refreshing to see Palm’s straightforward approach to life. Not only does he prefer the simple route to his goals and dreams, but he also enjoys leading a modest life. On a day-to-day basis, he prefers the BTS, MRT or motorbike taxis as his main method of commute, just for the convenience. “I don’t want people to look at me and think I am a hi-so type of person,” he says matter-of-factly, “I am a simple and down-to-earth person.” In fact, when asked what he considers happiness, he responds, “Simplicity. I try to keep everything simple, everything at a steady pace. I don’t want to strive for anything too low or too high and aim to strike a good balance between life and work.
He strives for self-earned recognition, especially from his family.
While we often talk about those who inherit family businesses with a sense of envy, we often forget the difficulties that can com with it. Palm admits honestly that there are days when he feels the stress of the role he was born to fill. “Being the son of the president is really hard, because there’s a lot of pressure. The staff are very kind, but they expect you to know everything. It’s very hard for me to fill that seat. Since I joined, I have been trying to get them to accept me as a team member, as a peer, not a boss. I encourage everyone to work together and collaboratively, minus the hierarchy. This enables me to get to know them better on a personal basis. I want to destroy that barrier between us, and for that communication is key.”
He tells us that the most important thing in life right now for him is to succeed in work. “I want to get recognised by my father, my staff and my family. Tomorrow, if my parents retire, they can rest peacefully knowing that my brother and I can take care of everything. It’s important to just focus on what is in front of you and do the best you can today, because tomorrow is a new day. We should not focus on the future that much because we can’t control it. I constantly strive to be a better role-model for my staff and my friends, and I want to be recognised by people for that.”
Extra Scoop: Palm Hongsananda on the Mercedes Benz S 560 E
What do you admire most about Mercedes-Benz as a brand?
It’s a world-class brand, so you expect nothing but the best from them. The brand to me represents, safety, efficiency, reliability and above all, luxury.
What do you think of the new S 560 e?
Mercedes-Benz is one of the most luxurious automobile brands in the world, and their new S560 e is probably the finest example of how luxury meets environmental awareness. It’s best-in-class, plug-in hybrid vehicle that sees the use of cutting-edge technology,a powerful engine and also comfort. I think the price point on this model is also reasonable.
With this new model, Mercedes-Benz takes plug-in hybrid technology to new heights. What is your opinion on plug-in hybrid cars?
Plug-in hybrid technology in vehicles is the world’s way of going green through less fuel consumption and less emission of CO2 into the environment. I think it’s impressive that the car offers both electric and petrol engine options to drivers. As always, Mercedes- Benz’s R&D team have outdone themselves when developing this very sophisticated vehicle.
Do you have any concerns about the reliability of the model’s plug-in hybrid technology?
Mercedes-Benz automobiles have been around long before I was born. It’s a trusted brand that is well-known for its safety, and there is absolutely no concern for me when it comes to its technology – it is as dependable as it gets. This is especially true when it comes to a German car, as their safety and reliability come from them being perfectionists.
And how do you see this particular model as a complement to your lifestyle?
I travel a lot for work, sometimes two or three hours outside of the city. I think this model can also reenergise me on long trips, because it’s so comfortable in its design and the luxurious interior gives you extra energy in your day-to-day routine. From the exterior, the car is very modern. The design is sleek and sexy. In black or white, I think the car would completely match my high- paced lifestyle.
Photographer: Vatcharasith Wichyanrat
Stylist: Pisit Jirathadaphan
Makeup & Hair: Nattanun Nitareeroj
Editorial Coordinator: Rattanachai Chaipornsantikul
Location: Siri House Bangkok