his advertising agency. He had newspaper experience,
and now he turned to radio. He bought radio time and became the pioneer
of radio advertising in Thailand. Then came a chain of art galleries which
sold original paintings by Thai artists. Help came from his high-school
sweetheart, an American named Kathy. He began investing in restaurants,
and food outlets. By the time he was 21, when his classmates were
graduating from college, Bill Heinecke had 400 people working for him.
He was grossing US$2.5 million a year, and made the pages of Life. The
mere high school graduate with a slick, duck-tail haircut and a beard to
make himself look older was rolling in money.
was in his blood and he couldn't quit. After setting the Singapore-Bangkok
record, his next race was from Vientiane in Laos to Bangkok. He drove a
Honda S600 and made it to Bangkok in six hours. The next race, the "First
Asian Highway Rally," was from Laos all the way to Singapore. North of
Singapore, his Thai co-driver hit a bad second doing 150 kph, skidded,
hit a stone kilometer marker and we went rolling over the side of the steep
hill. He barely escaped with his life. Badly bruised, his jumpsuit torn,
he walked into the Goodwood Park Hotel in Singapore where the other drivers
were gathered. They all thought he had been killed. "It was like attending
my own funeral," he said.
A year after
graduating from high school, Bill and Kathy married. On their honeymoon
in Hong Kong, Bill bought Kathy a gold watch and pearl earrings, and for
a present for himself, an E-typed Jaguar, a racing machine. He had graduated
to the big time. He shipped the car to Macau and qualified for the Macau
Grand Prix. His was the first non-formula car to finish. Soon after came
the Malaysian Grand Prix. On a hairpin turn the breaks went out. "I
went through the gears from fourth, to third, to second and finally to
first, and somehow I got around that corner," he said.
did not stop Bill from racing. He sold his Jag and bought a BMW Elva. "A
great racing machine," he said. "Faster than my Jag, and I could compete
in all the Grand Prix races now." His worst experience was yet to come.
in Macau," he said. "The Elva had two big gas tanks, one on each side.
I had new safety belts fitted and I snapped myself in. I did a couple laps,
was picking up speed, going around a turn when the steering rod broke,
just as I reached the corner. I went into the wall." He was knocked
out and when he came to he could hear the fuel pump which hadn't turned
off. He could smell fumes, and he was now covered with high octane fuel.
At any moment he expected he might become a big ball of flames. He grabbed
the side of the car and heaved with all his strength to get out, but couldn't
get free. He had forgotten the new safety belt. Bill smiles when he tells
the story. "I damaged two ribs, which I like to say I did in the accident,
but I didn't."
doing the Far East circuit to this day. "I love it," he said, " but
I also realize my limitations. My abilities were not to be a world-class
racer. I enjoyed it for what it was."
In the meantime,
business for Bill Heinecke was booming. By 1974, his company had become
a major advertising and marketing outfit. Operating not only
in Thailand but in other Southeast Asian cities. Looking for an international
partner, he teamed up with one of the world's largest ad agencies, and
he became managing director of Ogilvy and Mather Thailand Ltd.
in, billing soared but after four years he stepped down as director and
sold out. He started another company, without a boss over his head.
E. Heinecke has more than thirty companies variously tied to his empire
and they gross more than $80 million a year. One would imagine with fame
and fortune, he would have changed his ways and settled for a more sedate
life. On the contrary, he now has more money to pursue the adventure trail.
He does it by mixing business with pleasure. He took up flying.
his flying lessons at the Thai Flying Club at Bang Phra near Bangkok,
and then went to the US and did a crash course in two weeks. He got
his license and returned to Bangkok. Now he needed a plane. He started
off with a two-seater Grumman Lynx, then a Mooney M20, until he got
my present aircraft, a Beech Craft, which he bought in the US and flew
to Bangkok. His story about this experiences is reminiscent of the great
London to Sydney Air races of the 1920s and 1930s. "You might have all
the sophisticated navigation gear money can buy," he said, "but you still
must fly your aircraft by the seat of your pants, over the same terrain
those early aviators had to fly-across Europe and the Middle East to Southeast
His most difficult
sector was flying across the Indian subcontinent. "I had to fly into Dum-Dum
Airport in Calcutta under instruments," he explained. "The weather
was bad and we were surrounded by hills. The sky was alight with continuos
flashes of lightning. We were jilted around so violently we could
hardly read the instruments. I couldn't stop thinking about Charles Kingsford
Smith, and that didn't help matters. It was here somewhere above Calcutta,
after flying the first solo flight from England to Australia that he disappeared."
Bill has flown to every landing strip in Thailand, and he was the first
private pilot to fly into Burma since World War II. "Flying in southeast
Asia has opened up for the first time," he said. "Once a person is licensed
he can file a flight plan and fly abroad to any place he wishes."
For his next plane, Bill is looking forward to a pressurized turbo jet.
love is scuba diving. He makes two adventure dive trips every year,
to places like the Grand Caimans, the Maldives, the Red Sea, Papua New
Guinea, the Solomons, Truck in the American Trust Territories and the Australian
Great Barrier Reef. He charters a private yacht in the Red Sea and dives
in a cage along Australia's Great Barrier Reef looking for the great white
shark. He dove on World War II wrecks at Truk and located Japanese zeros
in the shallow waters around Rabaul in Papau New Guinea.
acknowledge he enjoys his life. He is making money from his many business;
he is happily married with two fine sons; he goes on to diving expeditions
every year; he flies his own plane; he lives in a great Thai house filled
with priceless antiques; and he still races. He mixes business with
pleasure and takes along Kathy (she's out of the art gallery business
now) and his two sons as often as he can. Bearded but still boyish
looking, he pads around in jeans and T-shirt. He has no regrets, not even
having not gone to college.
by Harold Stephens - To learn more about Harold Stephens view an
article about him in this issue -
At Home in Asia : Expatriates in Southeast Asia and Their Stories on
line - Click
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