If you ask Supornthip “Tippy” Choungrangsee how somebody from a fairly ordinary background ended up leading such an extraordinary life – she’s on the board of directors of Leicester City Football Club, amongst other impressive achievements – she credits it to one thing only: her decision at a very young age to be different.
“I was the odd child in the family,” Tippy says. “I always enjoyed being by myself, doing my own thing, in my own little world. There are five of us and we’re very close, but I often found myself isolated from everyone else – doodling, painting, daydreaming about travelling the world. Since I was a little girl I wanted to be a world traveller.”
Tippy is very much living her dream now. She spends most of her time jetting from one destination to another, either to satisfy her urge to explore the world more or as part of her duties with Leicester City FC.
“I consider my working life to be very fortunate. I have opportunities to try different things; I learn from these experiences and further enhance myself. And I also get to travel and see the world,” Tippy says, smiling content.
It wasn’t always such a smooth ride in First Class, she admits. In the beginning, when she launched her first venture, 124 Communications, she risked it all and there were many struggles along the way.
At the time she was only 23, and her agency was one of Thailand’s first full-service PR companies and event organisers.
“I was desperate to get out of my family’s business,” Tippy says. “PR was the only thing that didn’t require a lot of capital to get started, so I went for it. I had no money – only a rent-free shop house my father kindly allowed me to use as an office space and an old car.
“It was hard at first, a struggle really. I started from zero and didn’t even have the money to buy newspapers and magazines to do press clippings. But I was lucky that this escape I chose suited my personality, and I enjoyed it very much. Ultimately, if you set your mind on something, don’t give up easily. If you work hard, any business can thrive. The agency did [thrive] and I was very proud.”
It would have been much easier for Tippy to join her family’s construction and logistics business in Chachoengsao. She could have stayed in that comfort zone and still have had a comfortable life. But she chose her own path.
“The turning point in my life came when I was studying Marketing Communications at the University of California, Los Angeles. That exposed me to brand names and high-end fashion products. Rodeo Drive just blew my mind. My goodness, everything was so beautiful!
“I remember buying my first brand-name item – a Chanel jacket – and how shocked my father with the bill. He thought I was out of my mind and couldn’t believe that a piece of clothing could be priced that high. Since then, I have always wanted to surround myself with nice, beautiful things. You can imagine working in construction, sand mining and logistics… that just wouldn’t do it for me.”
What she did take away from her family business are the entrepreneurial skills passed on by her parents, mother Maliwan and late father Vachira Choungrangsee. They also instilled in her a work ethic based on honesty and patience.
“They never told us to be rich or powerful, or give us fancy, unrealistic moral advice,” Tippy recalls.
“They told us to work hard, to be honest and patient – and they set an example for us. My father would take all five of us with him to work and assign small tasks to each of us. We had to count cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses as they passed by to see if he should invest in a gas station on that street. And then I would drive with him in a car until the gas ran out, just so that he could determine the best spot for that gas station.
“I learned a lot from him and still use that knowledge with my own businesses.”
These are lessons she applied with 124 Communications, the earlier event management company that she co-founded, and later on with Branded The Agency, which she started on her own. But then, a little over 10 years ago, at the height of her PR career, Tippy decided to retire.
She passed Branded The Agency to her team to continue on the legacy, while she started a new venture with high-end jewellery brand Tippy Tippy.
“I love jewellery but I never thought that I would one day launch my own brand,” Tippy says.
“Tippy Tippy was established to offset the loss from my own investment failure. I took over a diamond company and it was a terrible mistake that almost destroyed my confidence. The best way to turn this around was to change crisis into opportunity.”
Tippy Tippy made its way to New York, South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia, becoming a huge success with its unique designs and quality precious gemstones. She subsequently launched another jewellery brand, called The Little Pink Rabbit, to attract a younger clientele.
“Both brands are doing okay, given the fact that I don’t have a lot of time to properly manage them or to launch as many new collections as I would like to,” Tippy says.
“I launched Tippy Tippy because I wanted it to be successful, and it has been. My job is done and I’m fulfilled. I can push harder and do many other things to make more profit, but I don’t see the point in that. Achieving my business goals is my pride and joy, and not necessarily only the profits.
“I’m not saying that aiming for profit is a bad thing, but for each of us, happiness comes in different forms. For me, seeing something I created with my own hands grow into its full potential is enough to make me happy. If you have that as a business goal, you’ll likely be successful. But if you are only money-oriented, when will it be enough? Today you’re in First Class, tomorrow you want a private jet. It’s never-ending.
“I’m not a billionaire, but I have enough to live comfortably the way I want. After a while, you have to ask yourself what you want more: money or time. And at this point in my life I choose time.”
Having to spend less time on her businesses, Tippy’s schedule is filled mostly with responsibilities related to her role with Leicester City FC.
“I’ve never been a devoted football fan, but when I was asked to join the team’s board [when Thailand’s duty-free giant King Power famously acquired the team seven years ago], I gave it my all to make it work. My PR and communication background helps, but there were other completely new aspects that I need to learn about.”
Being the first Asian woman ever to take on such a high-ranking position on the UK’s football scene, Tippy quickly became the centre of the UK media’s attention. But, to her, pressure comes from day-to-day work challenges – and not the fact that she’s a female executive in such a male-dominant world. She takes it all in her stride.
“When The Club first acquired the team, it was still in the EFL Championship League. It was a lot of work restructuring the system for the team to generate income and go forward to the highest division, which is the English Premier League. It’s a very challenging and hands-on job.
“I’d rather use my work performance to prove my worth – those interviews and scoops are just the sensational part. I prefer to support the team in the background and stay out of the limelight. In fact, you can throw anything at me and I’ll manage. I’m a survivor.”
She admits that the job comes with some great perks. “I get to hang out with the Leicester City players,” she laughs. “My friends are all very jealous!”
Perfectly content with her life right now, Tippy reveals that she doesn’t have any unfulfilled dreams. “I’m not a dreamer anymore. I’m wide-awake. I can be happy with anything and even nothing at all. I still daydream, but I prefer to live in the reality and make the most out of it that moment. I spent a big part of my life dreaming, but I’m done with that now.”
She says her father once called her a “duck”; someone who can do many things but is a master none – just like a duck that can swim and fly but do neither well. Despite that, her versatility and perseverance have made her an exceptionally talented businesswoman. On top of that, there’s the undeniable fabulousness factor.
“I have a simple fashion style,” Tippy says, adjusting a sizeable diamond earring framing her meticulously made-up face. “I can’t leave home without earrings, though. I’d feel naked.”
At 54, she is still youthful and gorgeous, infecting those in her company with her laughter and positive attitude. “My style icon is Coco Chanel and Chanel is my most favourite brand of all time. But I’m falling in love with Gucci at the moment, too.
“For me, luxury is something simple that lasts forever. It doesn’t have to be expensive at all.
“I think the secret to staying young is not to think that you’re old. Don’t limit yourself to certain styles because [you think] you’re too old for this or that. It’s all in your head. I still wear micro-shorts and I feel good about myself. Well, why not? Anyway, whatever you wear and however you behave, be mindful of the occasion and appropriateness. Nothing is worse than being dressed inappropriately.”
Tippy values the time she has to herself. And whenever possible, she indulges in reading. “I read a lot. I recently finished a book about the Danish hygge movement, which fascinates me,” she says.
“It’s a way to achieve a simple, fulfilled life, very much like the concept of the middle road in Buddhism. I don’t watch TV. It takes up a lot of your time. I prefer to read. I also paint sometimes.”
And then there’s her ever-present wanderlust.
“When I travel I enjoy shopping and nice dinners, but I’m also adventurous and sometimes seek solitude in faraway places. I just got back from Mount Kailash in Tibet where I spent days walking up and down the mountain, contemplating life. I’m thinking about Machu Picchu in Peru for my next vacation. It will be so much fun. I get excited just thinking about it!”