Growing up among diamonds and gems sounds like a metaphor, but it literally describes Suriyon “Nueng” Sriorathaikul’s childhood.
In fact, the managing director of Beauty Gems and second-generation heir to the family business was being groomed for greatness before he could count.
“As a child immersed in the family business, I always had tasks to do,” Neung recalls.
“When we still had our office on Charoenkrung Road, I would hang around while my mother was working in the ‘safe’, which was actually a small room where we kept the diamonds, gems and precious stones that wholesale clients would pick up. I had to gather the gems and diamonds that were accidentally discarded or had fallen on the ground. I got paid by the grade and value of the stones I collected.
“Little by little, I got to know different kinds of precious stones and familiarised myself with the way we ran the business.”
Today, the 44-year-old Nueng watches over Beauty Gems and some of its 48 subsidiaries at the business’ extravagant head office, a striking white building off Silom Road with a brightly lit showroom.
To be certain, this showroom doesn’t even remotely resemble the “safe” he spent so much time inside as a child. The business has evolved, too.
“People often ask me what it’s like to take the baton from my parents. We’re different people and it’s a different time. For my parents, it was all about establishing the business – they had just launched their own venture 53 years ago – and penetrating the markets. It was hard, seemingly non-stop work. I never saw my parents sleep.
“Now, it’s more about sustaining what we’ve established and making it prosper even further.”
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Management from Pepperdine University in California and a string of gemmological certificates from many respected institutions, Nueng joined Beauty Gems 24 years ago.
While he oversees finance, marketing and design, his older brother, Surasit Sriorathaikul, manages the wholesale business and manufacturing. The firm now exports 99 percent of its products and operates as an OEM to 150 brands around the world.
“From the outside, people see the jewellery business as all glitz and glamour, thanks to all the fashion shows and luxurious events, but the mechanism behind it is very difficult. It’s time-consuming and involves an insane amount of details.
“I can assure you that our success did not come easy. In fact, it has never been easy, even now. This is not just us, I’m sure. Other businesses have to earn their success, too.”
With great success comes great responsibility. Nueng might know this better than anyone.
When he came on board at Beauty Gems, his first challenge was overseeing the making of special seasonal attire for the Emerald Buddha, a job that was commissioned by the Royal Family. Nueng says it is both the hardest job he has ever undertaken and the job he recalls most fondly.
“The previous attire was 200 years old. In 1995, we were trusted to handle the honourable task of recreating the attire, thanks to our expertise – Beauty Gems is known for Fabergé and jewelled decorative items.
“Finding the right gemstones for the traditional pattern was a challenge, and we had little time to complete the work, but it was all worth it. Our family is very proud of that.”
For Nueng, his mission as a businessman goes beyond profits and trade alone. He sees his job as a holistic opportunity to improve lives around him and honour his country’s national treasures.
“My job is very rewarding and fulfilling, because I don’t just work with my own family: I work with all my staff’s families, too. Our group has about ten thousand people working with us now, so you can imagine how many lives this business sustains. This also puts a lot of pressure on me to do the right things and make sound decisions, because they will affect a lot of people.
“One thing my parents and I have in common, besides our passion for jewellery and determination to succeed, is honesty. We have always made it a point to take care of our people and treat them as if they were part of our extended family.”
Perhaps the greatest quality Beauty Gems embodies as a business is its commitment to Thai heritage.
“Thailand has long been known for its craftsmanship and quality gemstones. It’s the pride of the country,” he says. “We’ve been pushing hard for jewellery to become Thailand’s number-one tourism product. We have even initiated talks with Ministry of Commerce and the Tourism Authority of Thailand to promote Thailand as a hub for jewellery.
“Gems and jewellery might be seen as luxury products, but the industry is one of the biggest contributors to our country’s GDP. If only half a percent of the tourists that come to Thailand buy one piece of jewellery, Thailand will have at least a billion Baht a year in the pocket.”
Supporting the Thai economy and Beauty Gems’ employees can be viewed on the one hand as an expression of best practices. But Nueng has shown himself to be a philanthropist at heart, as well as the kind of leader a business owner should aspire to be.
Apart from Beauty Gems’ socioeconomic contributions, he founded The Center for the Protection of Children’s Right Foundation. The 13-year-old foundation combats all forms of child abuse: from labour, trafficking, and sexual abuse to the broader commercial sexual exploitation of children.
“Once I had my two sons, the issue became really close to my heart,” says Nueng. “We rally against the ivory trade and animal cruelty, but what about our children?
“We campaigned and campaigned until the government finally passed laws to prosecute those possessing child pornography. Still, it’s not enough. We must campaign relentlessly against child abuse so these issues don’t fade from our collective awareness.”
Nueng’s eldest son Panakorn is a freshman at Boston University, while his youngest Thanakorn is finishing high school at Taft School in Connecticut. His wife, Indonesian-born Mega Sriorathaikul, whom he married 20 years ago, is the brand ambassador and distributor of American luxury bag brand, Judith Leiber.
Though a familiar face in Thai society and often seen gracing glamorous events on her husband’s arm, Mega currently spends more time in the US to be with their sons.
Considering that Nueng seems to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on top of supporting his foundation, it’s surprising that he manages to appear at so many social events – not to mention all the TV shows and magazine features.
He swears, however, that leading a rich and visible social life is his preferred form of relaxation.
“I have been doing TV for almost 15 years. It takes a lot of my energy, but I enjoy it. I have been on almost 80 magazine covers and I love being in a fashion shoot. It’s like I’m someone else, always wearing a different hat. You could say it’s my guilty pleasure.”
Always sporting a simple and elegant style, Nueng admires brands like Givenchy, Dior, Armani, Blackbarrett and Burberry. Jewellery? Not so much.
“I don’t often wear jewellery, because it gets in the way when I have to sign documents – and I sign a lot of documents,” says the energetic executive, laughing.
“For me luxury is not about price. It’s about happiness, and being able to live the way you want, with a lifestyle that fulfils you in every way. If you set a goal and reach it, that’s luxury.”