a personal memoir
Beech sales adventures in Thailand
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
This 1958 photo shows C Yonekawa (L) of C Itoh & Co, the Japanese distributor for Beech Aircraft in southeast Asia, with Alex Kvassay on a trip during which they visited Bangkok to sell Twin Bonanzas to the Thai government.
At the time when I was working in the airplane business—the 1950s through the 80s—Thailand was already famous for rampant corruption. Before writing this article, I checked with friends still in the business. They assured me that corruption is doing well and, if anything, has increased.
I was still with Beechcraft when I first visited Bangkok in 1958. The Beech Japanese Distributor, C Itoh & Company, had a permanent office in Bangkok and acted as our temporary representative. Part of my assignment was to look for a Thai company that could be our distributor there.
I was accompanied on this trip by C Yonekawa. In Bangkok, I was approached by a very elegant middle-aged business lady, Kun Suni Telan, who tried to impress me by explaining that she had the best possible connections to the Thai government and would be the best possible Beech distributor. On the one hand, her knowledge of aviation and aircraft was zero—on the other, she did make a big impression.
I checked into her background and found that her claim to high-level connections was probably true. Her fame was based on her having been the mistress of the commanding general of the Japanese occupation forces during WWII.
That did it. All I needed was to choose a Beech distributor who was a famous courtesan and had been on the wrong side during the war—and for Mrs Olive Ann Beech to find out about it—and my aviation career would have come to a sudden end.
At the time, we knew that the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) was looking for some kind of photo mapping aircraft, and we had such a version of the Beechcraft Twin Bonanza. Our competition was the Aero Commander which, being a high-wing aircraft, was obviously more suitable for the purpose. Nevertheless, with my Japanese helper, C Yonekawa, we contacted the air vice marshal in charge of this department in the RTAF.
Let me interject a few words about the condition of the RTAF at that time. It had about 40 aircraft, most of them obsolete—but it also had about 80 air marshals and air vice marshals, all of them commanded by an air chief marshal.
The air vice marshal we contacted listened to our presentation of our aircraft and then invited us to dinner at his home. I thought we were making good progress. Immediately after dinner the air vice marshal excused himself, saying he would be absent for about 20 min on some official business.
At this point the air vice marshal's wife started talking, explaining that in the Royal Thai Air Force her husband had a very high rank together with a very low salary. She mentioned $300 a month as his compensation.
Then she explained that she had a great deal of influence on her husband and that she could ensure that he would select our aircraft—all this for a cash payment of $10,000. We agreed to this but only on the condition that it would be payable after the aircraft was paid for and delivered.
She insisted that her husband knew nothing about this arrangement and would be very upset if he heard about it. We were supposed to believe all this. In the end, nothing came of this arrangement.
Then a very low-class, ill-dressed, suspicious-looking character came to the office of our Japanese representative and claimed that for $10,000 he could get us the order for our Twin Bonanza. This sounded more like something out of a Hollywood movie. It also sounded ridiculous.
On a return trip to Thailand in 2009 with his family, Kvassay gets friendly with one of several resident tigers at a Buddhist monastery.
But, under the circumstances, since we had no better ideas, we asked him just how he could achieve this. Without telling us who exactly he was, he insisted that he could arrange the sale through the queen of Thailand. Now the mystery deepened even more.
This man even knew that there was a high-level diplomatic party scheduled in the near future. He told us to arrange with the Japanese ambassador, who would obviously be invited, to join the conversation when the queen approached the air chief marshal. The queen would be aware that the Japanese ambassador would be listening.
It sounds unbelievable, but the Japanese ambassador cooperated in this plan and reported the next day to our Japanese representative that the queen of Thailand, in his presence, had said to the chief air marshal, "How come you are looking at the inferior Aero Commander? You must buy the much better Beech Twin Bonanza."
I am sure the queen did not know what she was talking about, but she had obviously memorized this sentence well. To make a long story short, the Royal Thai Air Force bought our airplane.
We shall never know who our low-level contact was. Our best guess was that he was at one time a butler or waiter at the royal palace and that maybe he had something on the queen, or had perhaps found her in an embarrassing situation. Anyway, he seemed to be cashing in on his secret.
He duly received the $10,000 from our Japanese representative. (Obviously, I could not be party to any such arrangement.) Soon thereafter he was found dead in a ditch, reeking of alcohol—and minus the $10,000. This is what it took to sell an aircraft in Thailand in those days.
Much more recently, in 2009, I returned to Thailand with all my immediate family (10 of us), and visited a group of very friendly Malayan tigers living in a Buddhist monastery. I was assured by one of the monks that the tigers are not only friendly but incorruptible.
Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 86, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Argentina, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.