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A supper with Sue Ultmann: The women who has taken Baan Rim Pa Group to the top

Susanne Ultmann is the Executive Manager and Marketing Director of one of Phuket’s most famous and successful restaurant companies – the Baan Rim Pa Group. I first met Sue when I arrived on the island to become Editor of Phuket Magazine in 2005.


Columnist: Baz Daniel

Saturday 1 July 2017, 10:00AM


Her reputation as a hard headed marketing/communications expert, who tended to devour members of Phuket’s media scene for breakfast, had proceeded her and so I first met her with some trepidation.

In fact I was immediately drawn to her no-nonsense Aussie charm and wry wit and we subsequently became friends who’ve enjoyed meals together in far fling corners on the Earth, such as Dublin and Sydney, prior to the delightful supper we shared at the recently-opened second Baan Rim Pa restaurant in Kalim.

Sue has lived and worked in Asia for more than 25 years and is a seventh generation Australian who was born in Melbourne.

Her family originated in Northern Ireland, but, much to her disappointment, she can find no convicts skulking up her family tree! Sue lives with the most important companions in her life, her husband of 25 years, Tom, plus their two beloved dogs.

Sue is proud of the fact that she left school at 16 and achieved most of her learning at the “school of hard knocks” which, I think, shows in her direct, down-to-earth, approach to both business and life.

In the rough and tumble milieu of Aussie business of the late 1960s Sue soon determined that she wanted to be in sales, a role for which females were largely dismissed as being unqualified and unsuitable.

Sue, however, fought her way through the prejudice and by sheer willpower and hard work got herself taken seriously and spent 18 years as Associate Publisher of Australia’s leading travel industry publication TravelWeek magazine.

In this role she visited many corners of the globe, promoting, writing and handling the advertising and marketing for the magazine.

In her late 20s she was sent around the South Pacific and Asia to sell advertising in this totally male-dominated business.

In 1992 she and her husband moved to Koh Samui where Sue set up a freelance media marketing company and continued working for many international publications such as Der Speigle, Travel & Leisure magazine, Conde Nast Group, as well as helping launch the well-known Bangkok magazine The Big Chilli.

Sue and Tom decided to retire to Phuket in 1998 and play golf, but they both got bored and Tom took on other hotel contracts and Sue kept freelancing.

In 2001 the late owner of Baan Rim Pa (BRP) Group, Tom McNamara, asked Sue to join his company in a temporary position. She joined, supposedly for just three months to sort out the advertising and marketing for the three restaurants; Baan Rim Pa Patong, Otowa (now Joe’s Downstairs) and Da Maurizio Bar Ristorante.

QSI International School Phuket

There are now four restaurants with the addition in 2015 of Baan Rim Pa Kalim in which we enjoyed a charming Royal Thai cuisine supper together for this article.

Sixteen years on, Sue is still with the group, and in her typically Australian self-deprecating way she jokes, “I must not be very good at my job, as I am still here sorting things out”.

Making BRP Group’s name known worldwide is Sue’s goal, and the restaurants continue to win award after award. As if to prove this point, Baan Rim Pa was recently named the Top Restaurant in Thailand as voted by TAT China – for the second year running.

There is also another side to Sue. She is in great health which she puts down to regular exercise. She trains three times a week with personal trainer Darren Scherbain of Old Dawg Coaching, runs stairs and does hill sprints with a group which are generally a couple of decades younger in age.

She has also competed in the Laguna quarter marathon several times and won her age group in the “2015 Heartbreak Hill” event at Nai Thon Beach.

When asked if she plans to retire, she laughs and says, “What would I do with my time? I’ve always loved working and I have worked hard.

I guess I will keep working at Baan Rim Pa Group while they still need me. Phuket is home and we have no plans to move, so combining work, keeping fit and enjoying life in a place like this, is not too bad”.

So, where does she think Phuket is heading? Sue, is quite sanguine about the many changes that have overtaken both Phuket and the Baan Rim Pa Group during her fascinating tenure.

“There is no doubt that things are very different from when I first took up this job and our clientele has evolved and changed. But I see things as different, rather than specifically better or worse.

“Going with the flow and adapting to the changes which overtake a tourist-driven economy is part of the art of survival and I think we are doing that pretty well at BRP Group.

“Our accolades from the TAT in China is a good example of this ability to evolve that has kept BRP Group at the forefront of Phuket’s fine dining scene,” she adds.

It’s an admirable philosophy for a true survivor, for an outstanding restaurant business and for our fast-changing island itself.

 

 

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