The Idea Guy: “Starch King” Chuang Chien-mo


2012 / 12月

Lin Hsin-ching /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

In August of 2012, the Bangkok Starch Industrial Company—a venerable firm founded with Taiwanese capital—won the highest honor available for export-oriented industries in Thailand: the Prime Minister’s Export Award. The reason is that the company exports 83% of its total production, while its raw materials are 100% “made in Thailand.” Company revenues are about 150 million Thai baht per month (about NT$142 million), and the firm is said to be one of the country’s most valued in terms of foreign exchange earnings and job creation.

The man who leads this company, its very heart and soul, who has created unprecedented new business opportunities in an economic sector that is far from sexy, is Taiwanese businessman Chuang Chien-mo—aptly nicknamed “the Starch King.”

Is it really so easy to make money selling starch? “Our company produces hundreds of tons of ‘white powder’ each day, so from my point of view it’s hard to imagine anyone not making money by selling ‘white powder’!” puns Chuang Chien-mo, now 82, the president of the Bangkok Starch Industrial Company and the creator of Thai Flower brand starch, with a mischievous smile on his face.

In fact, countless processed food products and chemical-industrial products are made with starch. The list includes aquaculture feed, rice crackers, sticky rice pastries (known in Japanese as mochi), instant noodles, yogurt, ice cream, cosmetics, and liquid starch for clothing. This “white powder” is an indispensable ingredient in modern daily life.


Chuang Chien-mo was born in 1931, the son of a tenant farmer in Yilan County, Taiwan. As the eldest of nine brothers and sisters, he had to go out and start working in his early teens to help supplement the family income. Hardworking and responsible, step by step he made his way up from an ordinary employee to senior management, eventually holding important posts in several state and private organizations including Taiwan Machinery Manufacturing Corporation, the China Productivity Center, and Coca-Cola Taiwan.

Back in 1970, on a business trip to Thailand, ­Chuang Chien-mo met the person who would change his life—Zheng Ming­sheng, an Overseas-Chinese Thai. Even at their first meeting they felt like old friends. ­Chuang encouraged Zheng, who was then fretting over what to do about Chinese-language education for his children, to send his sons and daughters to Taiwan to study, and ­Chuang also volunteered to take care of them while they were in Taiwan. ­Zheng, searching for a way to repay his benefactor, invited ­Chuang to become a fellow investor in a new company founded in 1972: the Thai Preserved Food Factory Company Limited.

The company’s main product, Wai-Wai brand instant noodles, did not sell very well at first, and by the second year Thai Preserved Food was facing bankruptcy and closure. So Zheng Ming­sheng sought out the quick-thinking Chuang to ask his advice. Chuang drew on his previous experience at Coca-Cola: Coke was originally marketed in Taiwan in 270-milliliter bottles, but the large containers did not appeal much to consumers, who were not very rich in those days and not yet in the habit of drinking carbonated beverages. So they switched to 220-ml bottles that sold for a somewhat cheaper price, and sales took off.

Innovations as foundations

Chuang therefore suggested that Wai-Wai switch from their original 75–80-gram servings to 55-gram packages. He also created “the world’s first aromatic-oil and flavorings packet” using the basic seasoning of Taiwanese-style plain noodles (the main ingredients being vegetable oil and fragrant crispy fried shallots) and then adding a small packet of hot-pepper powder with the spicy flavor that Thais love. Consumers flipped over the new combination, which not only appealed to Thai tastes, but also proved to be popular in nearby Vietnam.

Today Wai-Wai is the second largest instant noodle brand in Thailand, thanks in no small part to ­Chuang Chien-mo. This was his first breakthrough idea in what would prove to be a personal “journey to the south” in pursuit of commercial opportunities.

In 1978, at 47 years old and with his children grown, Chuang found himself free of responsibilities, and he decided to pick up and move to Thailand. With his unique vision, he quickly set his sights on the large amounts of rice and cassava produced in Thailand, and decided to get into starch manufacturing. “It wasn’t a very popular sector, but there weren’t many competitors and the supply of raw materials was stable, so there was correspondingly less risk,” explains Chuang. (By the way, Chuang also picked up a new name! Like most Chinese living in Thailand, he adopted a Thai name, Ka­mon Chuang­cha­ro­en­dee.)

But business wasn’t all smooth sailing. In its second year the Bangkok Starch Industrial Company was hit by the first oil crisis. If the factory were unable to secure fuel for its operations, it would be forced to close. Unwilling to accept this fate without a fight, ­Chuang drew on another of his previous business experiences: When he was with Taiwan Machinery, because of budgetary limitations, they used sawdust to replace diesel fuel to fire their boilers.

Chuang went to a furniture factory and collected sawdust, which was considered waste, and then set up a reverberatory furnace, capable of reaching temperatures of 700ºC, in front of their existing boilers, making it possible to transfer the heat energy from the furnace directly into the boilers. It turned out that the sawdust was not only in no way inferior to diesel at producing energy, it even lowered fuel costs by US$150 per ton of product, and in this way the company easily made it through the oil crisis.

Breaking into Japan

Another of ­Chuang’s innovations was to find a way to break into the Japanese market, which foreigners have often found to be impenetrable.

Chuang had in fact long had his eye on the Japanese market. He notes that Japan is a major rice-consuming nation, and not only for table rice but also for rice crackers, mo­chi, and other types of rice-based snacks, with the raw material being sticky-rice flour.

The problem was that in order to protect its farmers the Japanese government had long banned the importation of sticky-rice flour. Chuang, who was educated under Japanese rule in Taiwan and speaks Japanese well, spent two whole years studying Japan’s customs regulations before finally finding a loophole in 1984. He discovered that France had got around restrictions on imports of wheat flour into Japan by calling it “cake mix flour,” so—after adding sugar to his sticky-rice flour—he renamed his product “rice pastry flour.” This end run around the import rules worked, and today Bangkok Starch sells 500 tons of sticky-rice flour to Japan each month.

In 1998, Chuang, already nearly 70 years of age, showed no signs of stopping his string of creative ideas, and he developed a new product that took markets by storm: rice starch.

Chuang points out that starch has traditionally been made using wheat, corn, cassava, and potato, of which cassava starch is the most widely used. However, overconsumption of cassava starch can lead to intestinal gas and digestive problems. After trying for many years, he finally developed a starch whose raw material is 100% rice, which is more easily digested and has fewer calories.

After water is added and the product is gelatinized (i.e. made more viscous), rice starch is soft and glossy to the touch. Its form is similar to that of butter, and it has the mouthfeel of fat, but without the high calories. It is used in many “diet” products such as low-fat ice cream, low-fat yoghurt, and “fat-free” potato chips.

Dynamism and flexibility

The production process for rice starch requires several steps. First comes soaking, grinding into a pulp, and separation in a centrifuge. Then come multiple washing and drying cycles, and thorough removal of the protein from the rice. Only then do you come up with clean, snow-white rice starch.

Because the process is so thorough, ­Chuang was able to make an unusual response to the floods in 2011. He unhesitatingly piled up hundreds of tons of bagged rice to dam floodwaters from penetrating his factory. Those outside the loop thought that he had doomed himself to severe losses, but he knew that rice that had merely been soaked in water could still be reused, if quickly moved to the production line and repeatedly processed.

This quick-thinking response to the flooding kept factory damage to a minimum. It also provided a further insight into ­Chuang’s dynamism, flexibility, and management ability.

After more than four decades in business, Chuang has developed his own operating philosophy. On one hand, he hates clients who come in with big orders and then try to haggle over the price. He might very well tell someone who lays in a huge order for 100 tons that he only can supply 80, so his counterpart will quickly give up ideas of leveraging the larger order for a cheaper price and instead count himself lucky to get anything at all!

But that’s a matter of principle, not avarice. In fact, when the price of raw materials for his products is about to fall, he will take the initiative to notify regular clients to put off their orders in order to save money. “If you want your business to last in the long run, you can’t be greedy. If we reliably provide the best product at a reasonable price, then business will just naturally get better and better,” he says with genuine sincerity.

Afraid to fail

Since the 1970s, Bangkok Starch has grown into one of Thailand’s biggest corporations. Each month it produces over 4000 tons of premium-quality starch, of which over 75% is exported to the US, Europe, and Japan, with the remainder being sold in Taiwan, mainland China, and the Thai domestic market.

Chuang, who never forgets his past, has brought all his brothers to share in his success. At present the family’s business empire—in addition to Bangkok Starch and Thai Preserved Food—has extended into electronics, paper, ceramics, construction, and more, with annual revenues estimated at over 10 billion baht.

Hearty and hale as ever, ­Chuang still arrives at the office each day at 8:00. He has never considered retiring. Asked how he has come so far in life, he draws our attention to a book that was a bestseller in Singapore: Afraid to Fail.

“If you are afraid to fail, then you fight for every advantage, act prudently, and keep moving forward all the time.” ­Chuang feels that the tiny country of Singapore has only been able to impress the entire world with its success because its citizens have been too scared of what would happen to them if they got out-competed. He applies the same logic to doing business.

One of ­Chuang’s most common catchphrases is “What nobody can do, I can.” If you can do what others have not thought to do, or have been unable to do, then you will have carved out a niche, a space, perhaps even an empire, for yourself. ­Chuang’s perseverance in coming up with path-breaking ideas is all the evidence needed to prove that his catchphrase is, for him, more than just a platitude.



繁體中文 日文


文‧林欣靜 圖‧莊坤儒

2012年8月,老字號的台資企業「曼谷澱粉公司」,榮獲泰國出口產業最高榮譽「泰國總理外銷獎」,原因是該公司產品的外銷比例高達83%、原料則為百分百「Made in Thailand」的高級品、每月營收更高達1億5,000萬泰銖(約新台幣1億4,265萬元),堪稱是為泰國賺取巨額外匯與創造就業機會的金雞母。




































「No body can do, I can」,這是莊建模常掛在嘴邊的名言,別人想不到、做不到的事,自己若能辦到,就可闖出一片天。他鍥而不捨、不斷創新而開疆闢土的創業歷程,正好作為這句話最佳註腳。


文・林欣静 写真・荘坤儒




































荘建模は常に「No body can do, I can」と考える。他人にできないことをやれば、そこに広い世界が広がる。その姿勢と実績は、この言葉を体現しているのではないだろうか。

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!