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Turnaround queen with Midas touch helps transform ailing Thai drinks company

Energy-drink maker Osotspa will be the nation's largest corporate listing of 2018 under her watch


KANNIKAR Chalitaporn has a unique claim to fame: she's helped transform not one but two century-old Thai firms. The latest, energy-drink maker Osotspa Pcl, is set for the nation's largest corporate listing of 2018.

The 127-year-old company and current shareholders raised about 15.1 billion baht (S$635 million) in an initial public offering, the top end of the pricing range, Osotspa said in a statement. The deal values the stakes of chief executive officer Petch Osathanugrah and his family at about US$1.5 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

"Osotspa already has very established brands and products," Ms Kannikar, Osotspa's vice-chairman, said in an interview. "What I've done is implement a broad transformation strategy to ensure future growth in a fast-changing environment." Osotspa's M-150 beverage is Thailand's most popular energy drink, with a 46 per cent market share, according to researcher Euromonitor International. Ms Kannikar, 70, said she counselled the company to focus on its strengths, such as the beverage and personal-care products businesses, to help ensure a successful listing. As part of that process, Osotspa sold or closed less profitable divisions, including advertising and distribution operations.

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"Bringing in some key professional talent also helped enhance the organisation," she said.

The energy-drink industry was arguably founded in Thailand, where blue-collar workers are often seen downing multiple bottles of M-150 against the South-east Asian nation's sweltering daytime heat.

Thai drink makers are now looking beyond their more mature home market, where growth opportunities are limited, to tap into demand elsewhere in the region. Osotspa intends to use the proceeds from the listing to fund domestic and overseas expansion, including construction of a factory in Myanmar.

"The main growth potential is in neighbouring countries, where youthful consumers and climbing incomes are spurring demand," said Chakrit Puechpan, Bangkok-based fund manager at MFC Asset Management Co, which oversees about US$14 billion of assets.

While Osotspa's domestic market share has been declining, it's still some way ahead of second-place Carabao Group Pcl's 29 per cent, Euromonitor data show. TC Pharmaceutical Industries Co's version of Red Bull is third with 13 per cent.

Ms Kannikar joined Osotspa in 2016 after an eight-year stint as president of Thailand's century-old Siam Commercial Bank Pcl. The bank's net income quadrupled and total assets almost tripled under her watch as the lender became a major player in mutual funds, credit cards and investment banking.

Mr Petch and his family, including his cousin Niti Osathanugrah, had at least two billion shares in Osotspa, according to the IPO filing. Osotspa and some existing backers sold 603.75 million shares at 25 baht apiece.

The company was established in 1891 as a small pharmacy store in downtown Bangkok. Its first product was a traditional Chinese medicine for stomach pain. Today, energy and sport drinks contribute about 72 per cent of the firm's revenue.

Net income in the first half of 2018 dropped 18 per cent from a year earlier to 1.47 billion baht, a regulatory filing shows. Total revenue slipped 5 per cent to 12.5 billion baht.

Restructuring ahead of Osotspa's listing has led to a short-term drop in revenue and earnings, but the tighter focus on core businesses will produce results in the long term, company president Wannipa Bhakdibutr said last week. BLOOMBERG