Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (Doctor of Laws)

Oration by Professor Gordon Campbell

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is an entrepreneur and businessman based in Bangkok and Leicester, but with a global reputation in terms both of his business activities and his support for sport, especially English football, but also polo and Thai boxing. He is the Group Chairman of King Power International Group, one of the global leaders in duty free. The company has duty-free stores at Thailand's International Airports, an online shopping facility, and downtown shopping malls in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. Last year tourism slowed in Thailand, but King Power saw revenues grow in excess of $US 2 billion. It is the dominant travel retailer in Thailand. In addition to these core businesses, the group's retail activities have expanded to include a theatre, restaurants, hotels and in-flight duty free; it now employs more than 10,000 people. The most important mark of its standing is that in 2009 His Majesty the King of Thailand conferred the rare honour of a royal warrant on the company. This award honours both loyalty to the King and the company's record of transparency, virtue and trustworthiness -- values that are embodied in Vichai. Those of you who know Bangkok may have glimpsed the commemorative Royal Garuda sculpture on top of the King Power complex on Rangnum Road, close to the luxurious King Power Hotel.

This royal recognition of the company that Vichai founded in 1989 was followed in 2013 by another royal honour, this time directed at his family. For the last 100 years the kings of Thailand have on occasion exercised their royal prerogative by conferring a royal surname on private citizens who have contributed substantially to the well-being and reputation of Thailand. For most of his life Vichai's family name was Raksriaksorn, but in 2013 His Majesty King Bhumibol bestowed the name Srivaddhanaprabha on Vichai and his family, embodying in the name, which means something like 'light of progressive glory',  both the positive values of the family and the prospect of greater prosperity.

The name King Power is familiar to every citizen of Leicester because of our King Power Stadium, the home of Leicester City Football Club. Vichai was initially a shirt sponsor of the club, but in August 2010 he became its owner and chairman.   At the point when Vichai bought the club, Leicester City was languishing, and financial difficulties were impeding its recovery. Vichai did not spend extravagantly -- he is too good a businessman for that -- but he invested wisely, and soon the club's standing began to improve. Leicester City reached the Championship playoffs in 2012-13, and then gained automatic promotion to the Premier League in the following season as outstanding winners of the Football League Championship.  The performance of the Club since its historic defeat of Manchester United in September 2014 has been astonishing, and we have watched its achievements in the current season with delight and indeed awe. The Club's success and growing global recognition are important for the image of this city, as well as for student recruitment into its two universities.  Early in 2014 Vichai made the decision to convert the football club’s debt owed to King Power into equity. This bold decision ensured the club’s financial future, and made Leicester City debt-free, with a £103m debt to equity transfer. It also demonstrated the long term commitment of Vichai and his family to Leicester City.

There is also a prominent charitable dimension to Vichai's work. In 2004 he established the King Power Foundation, which works in two areas. First, it encourages through various projects loyalty to His Majesty the King, who acceded to the throne almost 70 years ago, six years before our Queen. Second, it supports the education and health of children, without racial or religious discrimination, so that these children can become Thailand’s driving force towards greater prosperity. The focus is on disadvantaged children, but the Foundation also supports adults with mental health problems.

This charitable impulse is also apparent in Vichai's activities in Leicester. Within a year of taking over Leicester City, he helped the club to establish the Leicester City Football Club Foxes Foundation, a charity aimed at supporting both local and national causes, and appeals through community fundraising.  The causes that it supports are always thoughtfully chosen: the Foundation has, for example, raised funds to purchase 20 defibrillators to be located in key areas across Leicestershire to increase accessibility and ultimately save the lives of those suffering from heart problems.

Football is central to Leicester's identity, and this University's sociologists have a long and distinguished history of research into football, so it is wholly appropriate that we honour Vichai. In honouring him we recognise Vichai’s leadership, entrepreneurship and business success and his key role in the transformation of Leicester City into a successful Premier League club, with the consequent wider benefits for the whole city and the county beyond sport.  His personal and business commitment to Leicester City is already producing visible economic and business benefits regionally, nationally and internationally.  It is therefore appropriate that offer Vichai a welcome and our congratulations ยินดีด้วย

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and Council, I present Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha that you may confer on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

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