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Bangkok Automotive (A)
Edward Rubesch, PhD
Thammasat Business School,
Created Feb 2008 © NEN
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Ruby Edwards paused and sat back in her chair. She had been running a number of scenarios on her spreadsheet as she tried to predict future opportunities for her company in the face of a challenging economic and marketing environment. Every scenario going forward required her ask her shareholders for more money—again. She had already been forced to make a significant strategic change in the direction of the company, which had cost her shareholders dearly with no foreseeable return in sight. She knew she had better have a good argument of why they should invest in another business “opportunity” if she was going to be able to keep her company alive.
An Engineer With Entrepreneurial Leanings
Ruby Edwards grew up with strong math skills and a love of technology. She attended a prestigious US engineering school earning both an undergraduate and Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but soon learned that many technical careers seemed narrow and limiting. As she joked with one of her classmates at the time, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life getting better and better at designing car tail lights.” In seeking more of an adventure, Ruby began studying Chinese during the two years that she was also working on her Master’s. In her words, “I was in an engineering internship program which allowed me to see what it was like working in the real engineering world. Well, if that was what engineering really was, at least I wanted to do it somewhere exciting.”
Despite her foreign language studies and a desire to do something international, Ruby’s first job after graduation was in a small high-tech firm where she learned firsthand the challenges and excitement of working in an entrepreneurial environment, an experience she would recall repeatedly when she had her own company later on: I interviewed for the job at the high-tech start-up on the recommendation of a friend who was working there. He knew I really wanted to work in Asia, and that I was searching for a job at a multinational to further that goal. But my friend told me something which convinced me to join that company—advice which I have since passed on countless times anytime somebody asks me about working for a small company. He said if I went to work for a multinational I would learn a lot, all the systems would be in place, and I would likely have a great career there. On the other hand, my friend said if I came to work in the small company, few procedures were in place, things were often a mess and it could be very frustrating at times. However my friend pointed out, “If you have an idea and you take it to Bill [the founder] he’ll listen. You’ll never have access to one single leader who calls all the shots at a multinational.” That was enough for me, and it was definitely the right decision.
At the company, which made sensors and process control equipment for manufacturing operations, Ruby found herself doing part of everything. “I ‘officially’ ran the production group, where we made the sensors and controllers. That led to a quick understanding of how each product worked. Consequently, I was often called on to go out to customers’ installations and help troubleshoot systems that were not Created Feb 2008 © NEN
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working properly. Naturally, that put me in a position to suggest new applications, and soon I was spending nearly half my time working with customers.” Ruby liked having her fingers in everything that was going on at the company, managing production, working with customer applications, and even going to trade shows to display and market the products.
It was an exciting job, and gave lots of experience for somebody straight out of school. However, I also felt I was...
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