Pridiyathorn Devakula, the great-grandson of a Thai king, has long been an innovative thinker for the Thai economy, most prominently as the country’s central bank chief in the early 2000s. He rose to that post after serving for two decades as an executive in the country’s private banking system.
Pridiyathorn became the head of theBank of Thailand in 2001 at the height of rampant inflation in Southeast Asia. He believed that the inflation was caused by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s overspending and tried to counteract it by continually raising interest rates until inflation subsided. When a military coup toppled the government of Thailand in 2006, the new rulers of the Asian nation were worried that the change would rile the country’s economy, sending it into a downward swirl. They looked for a figure who would assure the world that one of Asia’s new tigers would continue to roar. Pridiyathorn was tapped to be finance minister and deputy prime minister for economic affairs.
The Straits Times of Singapore called Pridiyathorn “highly respected” and wrote, “His appointment in particular has reassured investors that there will be policy continuity on the economic front.” As finance minister, Pridiyathorn continued his tight controls, restricting foreign investments and putting in policies to curb speculation in the baht, Thailand’s currency. In February 2007 he resigned his posts from the nascent Thai government.
Taking on the honorific title of Mom Ratchawong, reserved for royal descendants, Pridiyathorn commands respect as well for his forthright handling of economic policy and corruption in government. He has removed executives from banks whom he believed were engaging in bribery and took on both military and civilian officials when he thought they were pushing policies that were self-serving and not moving the general Thai economy forward. His legacy as an independent figure is unusual in Thailand, which was primarily under either military rule or monarchy through most of the 20th and 21st centuries. Pridiyathorn is a member of Wharton’s Executive Board for Asia.