bill heinecke

Interview with William E. Heinecke On His New Book - The Entrepreneur, 25 Golden Rules For The Global Business Manager


Business-in-Asia:   Your revised edition on your new book The Entrepreneur : 25 Golden Rules For the Global Business Manager includes much new material.  I had read the original version but it seems to me that the new version is so much stronger and has so much more material and examples for anyone who is involved or interested in business.  What led you to write the book, did you find putting it together to be difficult and how ever did you find the time given your busy schedule?

Mr. Heinecke: The main impetus was my desire to share my experiences with today’s generation of young entrepreneurs. Although times and market forces change, I think there are some fundamental principles of being an entrepreneur that remain basic tenets.

Yes, finding time to put the book together was difficult but I think that part of being a successful entrepreneur is one’s ability to find time to make things happen.

Business-in-Asia:  Your first rule in your new book is “find a vacuum and fill it” and your second one is on the importance of “doing your homework”.  It seems these two are linked in that how can you know if there is a vacuum unless you have really researched things and truly understand what you are facing.  How does a prospective entrepreneur know that he or she really have “completed their homework” and how much of business failures can be tied to poor or incomplete research, planning and intelligence?

Mr. Heinecke:  The key is confidence. If you do your homework correctly, you’ll feel confident and that’s the green light to go ahead. When you’re investing your own time and hard-earned money, your research tends to be much more thorough. I know I’m ready to proceed with a project when I get a feeling of confidence from the facts and figures I’ve gathered.

I would say that 50% of business failures are down to incomplete homework. In business, preparation is an area in which you cannot skimp.

Business-in-Asia:  On page 58, you state “If I was starting out in Bangkok today, I don’t know if I could make it by myself.”  Can you explain this observation and can you explain how open or closed you see Thailand and S.E. Asia being today as potential sites for someone from outside the area wanting to start a business like your early ventures?”

Mr. Heinecke:  The Thai economy is so advanced today that it would be much more difficult to start out with the limited amount of capital with which I began. There are still certain countries where I think a young entrepreneur could make the sort of start I did - Vietnam, parts of China and maybe Indonesia which is going through something of a rebirth. Times have changed and Asia’s markets are much more developed today than when I started out in the late 1960’s.

Business-in-Asia:  Rule 6 emphasizes the importance of goals, discusses the concept of vision and later in the book you discuss the importance of benchmarking.  How do these differ and relate and how much of your own success do you attribute to your life long habit of setting written daily goals and monitoring of their completion?

Mr. Heinecke:  In both benchmarking and goal-setting, the idea is measurability. How can you know how well you are doing if you’re not measuring your progress or success?

Benchmarking means finding something to measure yourself against. In the case of the Pizza Company we had a known competitor, Pizza Hut, to benchmark ourselves against.

Goal-setting is critical to any entrepreneur as it allows you personally to measure your progress - whether that be on daily, weekly or annual basis. Being structured about my day, setting clear and realistic goals has definitely helped me to manage and develop the Minor Group from a small advertising agency and office cleaning company, to a public corporation that employs over 12,000 people.

Business-in-Asia:  In Rule 9 you give your views about the importance of learning to sell.  You note this is crucial for the entrepreneur.  In business selling seems one of the things many people in the company would prefer to avoid and also seems to be an area that many if not most are best to avoid because they lack the enthusiasm, persistence, determination and other related skills.  Is the “art of selling” really critical to the future entrepreneur and what is the best way to learn and perfect your ability to sell?

Mr. Heinecke:  If you can’t sell, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. I’ve often heard people say they can’t sell, but if you get a person talking about something they are passionate about, suddenly they can sell as well as the best salesman. There is a misconception that to be good at sales, you have to be an expert at the hard-sell. That’s not true. You just have to be enthusiastic about and believe in what you are selling. The number one quality I look for in all our staff is passion.

Business-in-Asia:  On page 67 you write “The key is to look at things in the context of a very small idea.  If it works, it is very easy to expand and grow.”  Would you counsel the budding entrepreneur to follow this observation and has it been one that you continue to follow?

Mr. Heinecke:  Absolutely. Whether you’re starting a restaurant, an office-cleaning company or a hotel, the key is to start small. Set small, measurable, achievable goals and when you’ve achieved those, go to the next step.

I think once again, measurability is the key here. You need to have identified what your measure of success will be. Once this has been achieved, you can move on and expand or grow.

Business-in-Asia:  You note several times in your book that you consider Thailand to be one of the best places in the world to invest and do business.  You also write at many points about your respect for the Thai people both working with you and as a whole.  I note also that you have become a Thai citizen which further demonstrates your commitment to Thailand.  Can you explain why you see Thailand as such a good place to invest, do business, live and work?

Mr. Heinecke:  Thailand has many strengths but I think His Majesty The King, the world’s longest reigning monarch, has brought tremendous stability to Thailand and made it a truly great country both in which to live and to work. His Majesty is a great example and inspiration to all Thai citizens and he is someone for whom I have enormous respect. I am very proud to be a Thai citizen.

Business-in-Asia:  In your book you mention the relatively slow growth of your company’s investment in a hotel in Haiphong and your loss of hotel opportunities in Rangoon and Pagan which ultimately you came to believe was fortunate.  Is there anywhere in SE Asia today outside of Thailand where you particularly see investment opportunities and if so in what country and why?

Mr. Heinecke:  Outside of Thailand I think China, Vietnam and Indonesia present great investment opportunities. China is very much ‘in favour’, Vietnam is growing ‘in favour’ and Indonesia, which, almost because of its ‘out of favour’ status, presents a myriad of opportunities for entrepreneurial investment.

Business-in-Asia:  How have the corporate troubles in the U.S. of companies like Enron, Dynergy and others; the insider trading scandals and apparent overreaching of people like the former head of Tyco had an effect in Asia?  Also, do you see any improvement in corporate transparency and some of the other ills of Asian business that writers like Michael Blackman and others have noted?

Mr. Heinecke:  I think times are changing and for the better. The Minor Group fully endorses corporate transparency. We have outside directors on the boards of all three of our publicly listed companies and we have strong independent audit committees.

Companies seeking stock market investment are going to have to demonstrate good corporate governance and transparency or investors will simply go elsewhere. Looking after shareholders’ interests has to come first and is something we place great importance on at the Minor Group. I think we’re entering an era when we’ll see better corporate governance happening all around the world.

Business-in-Asia:  In the later chapters of the book you discuss the so-called “Pizza Wars” that your company engaged in with the large international franchising company Yum (formerly called Tricon Global Restaurants which controls the Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell franchises).  You also note in the book that you feel a franchise can be the best vehicle for a new entrepreneur to start and build a business.  Further in the book you also write about your own company’s intentions to be a stronger player in franchising your own products, names and concepts.  Isn’t there a contradiction here and wouldn’t your own experiences with Tricon and Pizza Hut be a cautionary tale likely to deter anyone?

Mr. Heinecke:  There is good and bad in all things. I don’t think you can let one bad experience, however bad it may be, to completely color your judgement. I am a firm proponent of franchising as a way for young entrepreneurs to get into business quickly and with limited knowledge and funds. Franchisees gain the support of an established company with existing brand awareness in the market and access to good business experience. It’s a win-win situation.

Despite the situation that we found ourselves in with Pizza Hut, I still believe that franchising is an excellent business model and it certainly wouldn’t deter me from future franchising relationships.

Business-in-Asia:  We first met in the late 1970’s during my first assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.  At this point, you had already been out “doing business” for nearly a decade.  You’ve now had two more decades of additional triumphs and challenges.  One thing I’ve learned in observing you from afar over the years and that is brought out by you in your accounts of your own trials during the Asian Financial Crisis, the so-called Pizza Wars, the affect of 9 -11 on Thai tourism, etc. is never to bet against you.  You are certainly one of the most formidable if not Thee most formidable businessmen in Thailand today.  Of all the challenges you have faced, which was the toughest and can you please explain why it was the biggest challenge you have faced so far and what you learned from it?

Mr. Heinecke:  The collapse of the Asian markets in 1997 was a critical challenge and one from which one third of Thailand public listed companies did not survive. It took a tremendous effort from all our staff and management to pull the company through but we did survive and became stronger as a result.

The battle with Pizza Hut was another challenging period and one that could have turned out far more disastrously than in fact it did. The worst case scenario would have seen us closing stores and making staff redundant. However, again, through the determination and dedication of the staff, we came out of the battle stronger than when we went in and within two years went from 0% market share to an estimated 75%.  Meanwhile Pizza Hut went from 95% market share down to 25%. 

Both crises crisis taught me to always expect the unexpected!

Business-in-Asia:  In your final chapter, you write about the importance of belief in a higher being, the importance of giving back and your own wish for a wider focus to your life in the years ahead.  The Bull stock market run of the 1990’s, the dot com bubble and other parts of the recent past have led some observers to hope that we may be going into a less self-involved period.  Do you see this happening and could you see Bill Heinecke using even greater amounts of his energy, organizational skills and undoubted large skein of relationships less in business and more toward giving back to Thailand in the years ahead?

Mr. Heinecke:  Yes I certainly would like to continue giving back to Thailand. We are heavily involved with scholarship funds, are committed to raising money for the National Elephant Institute through our annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, the conservation of the turtles in the Mai Khao Marine national park through our JW Marriott Phuket property and I envisage us becoming involved with other similar projects.

I think one way that we can continue to benefit Thailand is through the creation of employment opportunities for young people. This year alone will see an additional 2000 jobs created within our group, many of which will go to young people starting out  in their working life. I’d like to see many of those young people stay and grow with the company. As an entrepreneur I think giving young people economic freedom is one of the best gifts we can give.

WILLIAM E. HEINECKE, Chief Executive Officer The Minor Group, Thailand

William E. Heinecke founded Minor Holdings in 1967 - nearly three decades later it has grown into The Minor Group, spanning more than thirty companies.  Bill Heinecke came to the Kingdom of Thailand in
1963 with his parents. He graduated from the International School of Bangkok; married, and formed
his first company, appropriately named "Minor Holdings" in 1967. The Minor Holdings Group has
since made significant investments in the marketing, manufacturing, food and property fields, employing
more than 12,000 people and grown to become more than USS400 million in sales in 2002.
He is also a two-time past president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Thailand; sat on the Prime
Minister's Foreign Investment Advisory Council, and accompanied several official Thailand government
missions to America and Europe. He became a nationalized Thai citizen in 1991.  When he's not overseeing his far-flung marketing, manufacturing, food, property and hotel development activities, he can be found piloting his airplane or indulging in his other passions, scuba diving and racing antique sport cars.


About Interviewer:

Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.

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