40 Under 40: Natalie Phanphensophon
Third-generation businesswoman Natalie is at the helm of one of Thailand’s largest (and oldest) food industry franchises. Her grandparents started their first simple, family-based hot pot concept 62 years ago, and now COCA restaurants have expanded throughout Asia and into Europe, totaling 17 countries and more than 60 individual restaurants. Natalie’s family is also behind another Thai restaurant franchise in 17 countries, Mango Tree, which first opened 25 years ago. In order to move forward, Natalie has taken a step backwards by going back to the roots of ingredients and working with farmers. She has also implemented a new sustainability concept that focuses on fresh produce and organic ingredients at their branch at CentralWorld. With her degree in nutrition from King’s College, and Master’s Degree in food science from Reading University, the COO is proactively working to ensure food safety, as well as to manage over three generations of both staff and customers.
On dealing with the challenges of working in a family business, she advises, “There will always be a generation gap, so you need to prove yourself. Gain trust by listening to the older generation on how they’ve done it and bring new techniques in gradually. However, you must be very thorough when implementing new things. I am proud that my father trusts me to run everything while going on holiday cruises for months.” Natalie has the ambition to plant a Mango Tree at all the major cities of the world, but to relieve herself from expectations and pressure, she admits that it is still a work in progress. “I just take it step by step. I try to rest more and try not to think about it all the time. I exercise and meet people from other industries, so I get a breather from the food industry.”