Smith Naturals Co., Ltd.
Somkhit Banomyong (in Thai custom, you can refer to him as “Khun Somkhit”) has a long and distinguished career as a successful businessman in Southeast Asia. Before starting his career with several Thai construction and food processing businesses, Somkhit majored in statistics at Thailand’s top university, Chulalongkorn University, where he received his BA Degree with Honors. He then attended Michigan State University in the United States, where he obtained his MBA Degree in International Business.
...........After returning to Thailand, Somkhit founded the Smith Group of Companies as a joint venture with a consortium of American, Asian, and European businesspeople.
...........Khun Somkhit has always had a keen interest in Thai herbs, and for many years has researched two indigenous herbs known for their extraordinary applications: Purearia mirifica and Butea superba. In 1996, he established Smith Naturals Co., Ltd., along with Dr. I. Sandford Schwartz, an American Doctor of Natural Medicine. As chairman, Khun Somkhit plays an active role in the company’s day-to-day business.
...........The Banomyong family, hailing from the historic Thai capital of Ayuthaya, is well known in Thailand. His uncle, Pridi Banomyong, was the regent for King Rama VIII, and in 1932 wrote Thailand’s first constitution, for which he earned the moniker “the father of Thai democracy.” Khun Pridi later founded one of Thailand’s top universities, Thammasat University, also located in Bangkok. Khun Somkhit honors his uncle’s memory by serving as director and financial controller of the Pridi Banomyong Foundation which promotes research in social studies, art, music and culture.
Somkhit Banomyong: An interview
On 16 January 2009, Khun Somkhit was interviewed by American journalist Don Linder. The interview reveals Khun Somkhit’s meticulous dedication to high standards and quality.
What would you most like people to know about Smith Naturals and its products?
That Smith Naturals is a reliable developer of natural products. We are a company that values trust above all else.
What is the tradition among Thais of using Purearia mirifica, Butea superba, and herbal remedies in general?
Pueraria mirifica has been known to Thais for hundreds of years and in the past was used as a “miracle medicine” for the health of both women and men. The “miracle” was that it could positively affect memory, sex life, skin, beauty, etc. It is still used for those purposes, and now the herbal community also uses it in cosmetics.
In Thai, Pueraria mirifica is known as kwao kreu, although various regions of Thailand have local dialect names for it. In Thai there is no distinction among the names, except for the color of the root – white, red, or black (kao, daeng, or dam). In fact, they all have scientifically different botanical properties, and the problem is that only a few people can accurately identify the proper species, and only during the blooming season.
Now, Pueraria mirifica is still used widely among Thais, and there is a lot of local publicity about it. Most stores carry it in capsule form instead of the traditional pepper corn-sized form, but the quality is not standardized.
Where does Smith Naturals get its Pueraria mirifica?
From two sources – the Saraburi and Chiang Mai areas.
If Pueraria mirifica is truly a “miracle drug,” why hasn’t it been more commercially exploited to date?
There has been a lot of misunderstanding and misidentification of the species. In the past, suppliers would mix different species of Purearia together. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the plants weren’t properly harvested – even look-alike herbs were harvested, which sometimes yielded a negative or toxic effect. Smith Naturals places the highest importance and most rigid standards on correct species identification. I sometimes even go into the fields with a toxiconomist from the Department of Forestry to ensure proper identification.
How does a businessman who started out in construction and food processing get involved with natural medicinal and care products?
This is not really my area, and I am relatively new to the field. About 14 years ago, Dr. Sandy came to me and asked for my assistance to start a company to investigate the positive effects of herbs indigenous to Thailand. I was already familiar with the King’s Pharmacopeias of Thai Herbs, written by King Rama V, and supported the idea.
On a more personal level, how did you come to use the name “Smith,” which doesn’t sound very Thai?
It is the name my uncle, Khun Pridi, gave to my son. It is based on the Sanskrit word smitee which means “success.” Also, it is very easy for Westerners to remember.
And, how did you end up in Michigan?
After graduating from Chulalongkorn University with my BA in statistics, I worked for IBM for two years, then decided to continue my graduate study. I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for three months to improve my English, after which I decided to take my MBA. I was accepted at three places, and Michigan State was the closest to where I already was.
These days, so many companies are trying to “go green” or “natural.” What do you think of this trend and the responsibility of companies to be environmentally aware?
Great! Great potential.
For example, Pueraria mirifica as an HRT (hormone replacement therapy) can become a billion dollar industry if done responsibly, while at the same time promoting natural health remedies which are much better for the individual and for the environment. Its use in natural cosmetics can also be very lucrative, as well as much healthier for all.
It may take 5-10 years to replace HRT, but it is what women want. There is a great fear that the estrogenic properties of any therapy will cause cancer, but a study just finished last month proved Pueraria mirifica does not cause cancer and actually may prohibit it. Of course, we need many further studies to endorse this concept.
What is the biggest challenge and main goal of Smith Naturals at this point?
To go international. To increase the validity of the Thai studies, we must go abroad. If we can register the product in, say, the E.U., it will yield tremendous opportunities for Smith Naturals and our partners, and provide tremendous health benefits for people everywhere.