James Richard Amatavivadhana is a man who really enjoys what he does for a living, and it’s written all over his face. His smile is as wide as his voice is chipper; he speaks with a laugh always hidden in the corner of his mouth; and in his role as CEO for fashion retailer Minor Lifestyle Group, he seems jovial and devoid of stress. You wouldn’t think while speaking with him that a few short years ago he developed lymphoma and had to undergo 12 months of chemotherapy.  You also wouldn’t think that, a few years before that, he had an operation to remove a brain tumour.

Then it makes sense: if you’ve survived chemo and brain surgery, you don’t waste time sweating the small stuff. “You can probably tell that I don’t take myself too seriously,” says James. “I enjoy my work, I do what I like, and when an obstacle comes along I deal with it. You’re not on this earth for that long, so you have to make the best of it, and it’s important to enjoy what you do. For me, it’s very easy to come to work.” 

James Amatavivadhana leads with optimism – and plays to win

Though in his two years as CEO he has tried not to create any undue stress for himself, this doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to play to win. “It’s a competitive world that we operate in, and we have to deal with many stakeholders and constituents, so you have to go with the flow,” he says. “You just need a strategy to reach your destination, and also be adaptable because nothing ever goes exactly according to plan.”

Launching a new brand is not the definition of success – you have to be happy.

Since he was appointed CEO in April 2015, James’s optimism and competitive spirit have spearheaded much growth within the Group, consolidating the portfolios of its brands, introducing new brands, improving supply chain contacts and operations, and leading the venture into ecommerce. James says he is thrilled to be in a business where he can enact positive company transformation so swiftly, having previously worked with big multinationals like Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola. 

“A company like Minor has far more flexibility; it’s much more entrepreneurial in spirit. If there are opportunities, we can move very quickly. We take risks and experiment; and if things don’t work, we switch gears,” says James. “If my old job was a jumbo jet, Minor would be like a fighter jet. We’re quick and we’re nimble.” 

His optimism also extends into the future, as James feels there is a great deal of potential in the Thai retail sector, with consumer confidence on the rise. He also believes there is scope for creating more sophisticated ecommerce operations, seeking new brands and innovations, and disrupting the status quo. “We want to compete in the biggest segments in the market, and we are now actively engaged in discussions with potential partners to expand and rapidly grow our business,” he says. 

Minor Lifestyle Group provides freedom & flexibility

Despite his enthusiasm, James wasn’t always drawn to the retail and fashion industries. Born in the UK to a Thai father and a British mother, he eventually ended up in the US studying economics, before settling into a financial role in Thailand. However, it wasn’t all he had hoped for.

“Originally, I was interested in going into banking and being an economist, but I found out that the pay really sucks, so I decided to do something else,” laughs James. “I wondered: with the qualifications I have, what can I possibly do that will earn me a decent living? What field can I work in where you don’t need experience, just a lot of common sense? That turned out to be marketing.” 

He soon found a job as a brand assistant with Procter & Gamble in 1987, and the next 20-something years were spent in a variety of roles across Asia, progressing through the ranks in various multinationals, before stopping abruptly when he was diagnosed with cancer of his lymphatic system. The news saw him return to Thailand where, 12 months later, he was back in the game and appointed the new leader of Minor Lifestyle Group – a company where he feels he can make the most of his time. 

“I love the freedom and flexibility. You can shape your own future here, and I think what’s most important in a job is to gauge how you manage your time and your outlook,” says James. “My greatest achievement in life is that I’m still here,” he adds. “At the end of the day, if you look back after you’re done working, nobody’s going to remember what brands you sold or how you improved the bottom line. What’s most important is people will remember what type of a person you were. I value others for who they are, not just what they sell. Launching a new brand is not the definition of success – you have to be happy.”