Take Me to The River


An interview with structural design and ME&P partners, Meinhardt (Thailand) on the ground breaking Chao Phraya Estate project.


The success story of Meinhardt (Thailand), the civil and structural design and ME&P partners on the ground breaking Chao Phraya Estate project, is testament to a people-focused philosophy which has developed a new generation of expert engineers in Thailand to match any around the world, reports David Johnson.

For a man who has achieved so much, Meinhardt (Thailand) Managing Director and Regional CEO, South Asia, John Pollard is quite disarming. No assumed airs or graces have affected his demeanour as he greets me with a broad smile.

“Good to see you David. We’ve met before.” And indeed we had. We had spoken briefly at two real estate functions in Bangkok some years ago.

A combination of informality and person-ability, perhaps born of his New Zealand upbringing, belies a sharp intelligence, eye for opportunity and a deep people-focused philosophy that has been the driving force on Meinhardt’s growth in Thailand.

It has been an impressive growth trajectory too, as Meinhardt counts Thailand’s most prestigious real estate projects in its portfolio with its work on the Chao Phraya Estate again poised to set a new benchmark for luxurious living on the famed Bangkok waterway.

In some ways there is a sense of things coming full circle. “We started on the river with the Peninsula Bangkok,” said Mr. Pollard. “It was a very prominent project and came to us through our work with the Peninsula Group in Hong Kong,” he explains.

This was back in 1990 when Mr. Pollard set up Meinhardt (Thailand), a company that has since expanded to employ 370 staff and commands a roll call of residential, hospitality, industrial and retail projects that have shaped the skyline of Bangkok and helped the commerce of the country.

The Sukhothai Residences, 185 Rajadamri and The River, all were category leaders, each time offering a new level of sophistication borne out of the company’s insistence in raising the bar through innovation and quality.

“Each time these were the best residences in Bangkok. Now we have Four Seasons Private Residences. So we know what is expected by the market, by buyers at this level and by the developers. Attention to detail and the quality of finish is very important,” said Mr. Pollard. “Quiet air-con, hot water that is hot straight away. There are many things that make a difference.”

It all sounds so simple. But behind the scenes there are complex mechanical and electrical engineering designs to ensure cooling, ventilation, air flow, humidity levels, energy efficiency and above all, comfort are all executed through innovation and leading technology.

It’s a far cry from the hospital project in Khon Kaen that brought Mr. Pollard to Thailand, before working in the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Hong Kong with Meinhardt then moving to Bangkok.

“I like Hong Kong, but I much prefer Thailand. Back when I arrived foreigners were very much on the fringe of business, but now it is different. Foreigners are mainstream. This has been a big benefit all round - for foreigners looking to expand here and get experience - and for Thais looking to improve and spread their wings outside of Thailand.”

Asia is the heart of Meinhardt’s business worldwide. Its global head office sits in Singapore with a team of 450 people; there are 1,200 staff in Hong Kong/China, and a host of offices around the world in the UK, Middle East - as well as field offices in developing markets such as Cambodia and Myanmar. Of course, Australia is where Bill Meinhardt founded the company in 1955.

“We are international but Asia-focused if you like, with the main power of the group focused on this part of the world. We are very entrepreneurial and we tend to win projects through our network,” adds Mr. Pollard.

“Our core business is civil and structural engineering plus M&E (mechanical and electrical) engineering. Over the years we have expanded into project and construction management building facades, specialist lighting and traffic engineering, right down to the finished product. So we provide a much wider range of services than typical engineering firms.” Meinhardt’s ability to compete with home grown and international brands has proved to be a compelling proposition in Thailand and has provided the firm with a business position that is not only multifaceted but adapts with the needs and demands of the market.

While residential and hospitality have been the most high-profile projects, retail and industrial developments have been healthy drivers of revenue and the group has worked extensively with global brands Carrefour and Tesco, as well as with local conglomerate the Central Group, in Thailand and overseas.

Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard has seen Meinhardt work on over 100 factories for companies such as Caterpillar, Nestle and Titleist where the challenge at the latter was to create exactly the same climate as the north east of the United States, so they’d be sure the golf ball production process would work Mr. Pollard chuckles. It was, of course, achieved.

The sense of quiet achievement is very much akin to many of Thailand’s cultural characteristics and sensibilities and it runs deeply through Meinhardt (Thailand)’s corporate culture. A focus on collaboration, understatement and happiness in the workplace combine with a strong determination to be the best – and are qualities found in the company’s founder himself.

“I would say we have grown together. Most of our customers are now Thai companies and we are growing with them as they grow outside of Thailand. Nearly all our staff are Thai. So we are a Thai company and we have great people. It is not so much that we have employed people who have gained their skills from overseas either. Home grown talent is very good here and they come to our company and get exposure

to wonderful projects and to other people who have worked overseas. Engineering is a highly rated profession in Thailand, so some of the best graduates go into engineering. Some of our people are as good as anybody in the world. The quality is very high and we are therefore able to successfully export Thai design services internationally,” he said.

“We even find that our engineers have a lot more experience than overseas engineers, such as those from the U.S. They have been in a depressed market for the last 20 years but our guys have designed a dozen high rises each in that time. The guys from the States are lucky to have worked on one or two as they can take 8-10 years to build. In Asia it is about three and a half years. So there is an interesting comparison. We not only have high quality engineers but ones who are highly experienced and efficient.”

The brightest and the best are clearly working on Thailand’s leading luxury residential and hospitality development as part of the re-birth of the Chao Phraya River. Meinhardt’s role will play no small part in making that happen over a quarter of a century since the company first worked on the waterfront.

Meinhardt has returned to the River of Kings to make another bold statement, and to help create a leading landmark on the famous waterway for generations to come.