Derek Proctor decided when he was 10 that he would never live in Ireland when he had the choice. Educated in 1960s Ireland by the Christian Brothers, his school days were interlaced with regular beatings. So upon graduating from Trinity College with an engineering degree, he immediately went overseas.
“I was interviewed in Copenhagen for my first job. The week after I was signing up in Paris and the following week I was in Kuwait working as a wireline engineer in the oil business,” he recalls.
“Within a year, I decided dirty-handed engineering was not my calling and I joined IBM in the UK. Among other things, I spent a brief six months with IBM at Aer Lingus.”
But this was in pre-Thatcher Britain when a junior engineer was paying more than 60 per cent marginal income tax and social security on a very modest salary. That, plus his general inclination, pushed him to work further afield and he joined a management consulting company in Switzerland from where he worked in the Middle East, the Netherlands and Italy.
“Most of all I liked the chaos of Cairo where I was based for some years,” he says.
Management consulting brought him then to New York where he got married and had his first child. He was based there for 12 years, initially dealing with the eastern half of North America and later handling the international work in various places around the world – mainly in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. But he says he was never comfortable with the life in New York and felt there was little balance between work and personal life.
In 1992, Proctor moved to Bangkok. As he had done in most of the countries where he had worked, he set about learning the language.
"Thailand has a diversity of scenery – from the 'cooler' mountain culture to the north to the chaotic 'anything goes' culture of Bangkok and the 'laid-back' paradise of the beaches and islands of the south. Moreover, Bangkok is a major transit point in Asia, so there is a large transient population."
Good International schools, first-rate medical care facilities, excellent restaurants and the general structure that expats require made it attractive for him to stay.
“We adopted a traumatised one-year-old Thai orphan when the ministry of social security needed an English-speaking family to take care of the child who had been taken back from a family in Singapore.”
Having done an MBA with the University of Victoria in Canada, he decided in 1997 that management consulting had become repetitious, so he abandoned it and began a second life.
“I started to write for a major institutional investment magazine and thought of what I would do next. By sheer coincidence, a person I had known vaguely in Bangkok over the years asked me if I’d like to take over his company which was involved in doing traditional rice barge dinner cruises in Bangkok.”
It represented a radical change and Derek took over the failing company and rebuilt it with enthusiasm. Thailand, like many southeast Asian countries, can be opaque in its business practices and Proctor recognised that the playing field was not necessarily level.
“I had to be nimble enough to adjust and where possible take advantage of it. Most companies dealing with the tourist market were coy with pricing their products and accordingly websites, where they existed, were weak.”
His company, Loy Nava, has received much international publicity and is highly rated on TripAdvisor as a top attraction in Bangkok, offering traditional Thai music and dance while guests eat a selection of quality Thai food and travel through the heart of Bangkok on the River of the Kings.
Guests are collected from their hotels by taxi and delivered back afterwards.
Proctor has been leading his second life in Bangkok now for 19 years and considers himself extremely fortunate.
“My children returned to international school in Bangkok before going on to university in Australia and Holland,” he says. “I combine my work with a healthy mix of travel [and] can spend a few days at a beautiful seaside island beach whenever I get the urge.
“I have achieved a balance in my life. I power walk and jog 15km most days, do yoga, have a personal trainer and carefully control my diet – despite the fact that many of my friends own the top restaurants in Bangkok.”
For those considering retiring or opening a business in Thailand, Proctor has a word of warning.
“It is one of the most difficult countries in the world for maintaining residence status. The process is expensive, the rules are opaque and are subject to the interpretation of individual officials.”
He has seen people lose everything with businesses that look good on paper but have been derailed by the peculiarities of the business environment in Bangkok. But, for him, Bangkok is his home now and he would be loath to move anywhere else. www.loynava.com