She made headlines for being a prominent and flamboyant figure in the Asian nightlife scene. In the past year, however, Naphaporn Bodiratnangkura, more commonly known as Lek, has turned in her party stilettos for corporate heels instead. The Managing Director of Nai Lert Group and CEO of Nai Lert Park Development is the fourth-generation scion of the family business. She chats with The Peak about her evolution from party animal to corporate honcho, the upcoming Aman Nai Lert Bangkok hotel, the impact of Covid-19 and her legacy.
Your grandmother gave you this advice: “To be somebody is more difficult than to be a nobody.” How did you apply this in your life and why did it make you hang up your party shoes?
When my grandmother gave me this advice, I understood that there are expectations that come with having a certain name. With privilege also comes responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly. I want to be able to not only honour our family’s legacy, but to also build upon it and take it to greater heights. I carry that responsibility with me and my decisions are always made knowing that they will affect not only those who work with us at Nai Lert Group, but the communities we are in. To be able to make an impact on such a large number of people is a great privilege.
How did the partnership between Nai Lert and Aman start?
My great-grandfather acquired this land, now called Nai Lert Park, over 100 years ago. At the time, it was a pristine landscape. Over the years, he, and his children after him, looked after this land and developed the park into what it is today. This location was a central business district in Bangkok back then, but it is now one of, if not the most prime and coveted locations in the city.
A few years ago, we decided we wanted to build a hotel and residence in this unique setting. We had discussions with a few possible partners. However, only Aman’s vision, which was to embrace our legacy and create an urban oasis in a luxurious yet discrete location, resonated with us.
We invited Aman Chairman and CEO, Vladislav Doronin, to visit Nai Lert Park, and we immediately felt that our visions aligned. Once we established that, things progressed quickly. We launched sales for our 42 residential units in September, and all is on track for us to welcome our residents and first guests in 2023.
How did Covid-19 impact the progress of Aman Nai Lert Bangkok and your company as a whole?
For Aman Nai Lert Bangkok, the delays took place in the beginning, prior to launching sales as we wanted to be prudent when it came to physical interactions such as visits to the showroom. But Aman is such a coveted brand and has a very robust following from all over the world – the ‘Amanjunkies’. So, the response was extremely encouraging.
The pandemic has been one of the most challenging upsets we’ve experienced in over 135 years for our company, which has a substantial hospitality and F&B portfolio. We’ve been able to preserve all 250 jobs in our F&B and catering arms, with some salary cuts. Given these unprecedented times, we choose to focus on our future beyond the pandemic. We are moving forward with all of our projects.
What is your leadership mantra?
I’ve observed family members before me in leadership positions, such as my grandmother. It’s important to know one thing: it’s not just about you. Everything we do creates an impact from the top down and it will reflect on the hospitality our employees show to our guests. I try to maintain presence at all our properties, speak to our people and our customers, and get their insights on our businesses.
I appreciate people who are team players and understand the value in collaboration. Following the pandemic, we are constantly in touch with our employees, whether they’re on the corporate backend or in our front of house, as maintaining morale in the workplace – particularly in these challenging times – makes a very big difference.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I’d like to leave behind a positive, lasting impact on the hospitality industry and Thailand’s culture and tourism. I’m a genuine and straightforward person and I try not to think too much about what other people say about me, but I want to become an inspiration for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
More importantly, I want to provide opportunities across different communities, especially in our business divisions in real estate development, hospitality, culture and education. At the end of the day, it’s about the legacy we’re leaving behind. My hope is that we are helping to make lives better.
This story first appeared in The Peak Singapore