MEET THE MAN BEHIND ONE OF MALAYSIA’S MOST WELLKNOWN BRANDS. THE EXPAT TALKS WITH CARLSBERG MALAYSIA’S MANAGING DIRECTOR, SOREN RAVN, ABOUT BEER, WORKING IN MALAYSIA, AND WHY NOBODY OUTSIDE DENMARK CAN PRONOUNCE HIS NAME.
“Sorry, can you say it again?” I asked the affable managing director of Carlsberg Malaysia. He had introduced himself to me, and I couldn’t quite understand his surname. “Rrroun,” he said with (naturally) a perfect Danish accent. I couldn’t even come close to replicating it. “It was even worse when I worked in China,” he assured me. “No one could manage it, so outside Denmark, my name seems to be ‘Raven’.” That’s certainly easier to say, and as Soren Ravn handed me his business card, I indeed saw his name in Chinese characters. I tried a couple of more attempts at getting his name right, and finally, he offered, “It’s a bit like ‘brown’ without the ‘b.’”
Mr. Ravn, along with his wife and two kids, has been in Kuala Lumpur now for almost three years, after leaving his native Denmark to live and work in China, Hong Kong, and now here in Malaysia. A 14-year veteran with the iconic Danish beer company, he began in sales, then worked his way into logistics, and went from there to strategy planning and development, and finally to management. Today, he is the managing director for Carlsberg, overseeing not only Malaysia, but Singapore as well.
With such a background, I figure he’s seen it all in this industry, so I asked Mr. Ravn what changes he’s been a part of during his tenure in Malaysia. “There have actually been some fairly notable changes,” he explained. “We’ve moved from a primarily volume-based approach – where it’s all about units sold and little else – to a more profit-based mentality. To give you an example, we’ve broadened our brands portfolio considerably. Now, when you visit a Carlsberg outlet, it’s not just two or three beers that you’ll have as choices. Having this sort of variety in the portfolio strengthens the company and gives us an edge in marketing and establishing outlets.”
And with that, Mr. Ravn started naming names – three different varieties of Carlsberg, two varieties of Kronenbourg 1664, SKOL, Asahi Super Dry, Corona, Royal Stout, Hoegaarden, Somersby Apple Cider, Stella Artois, Erdinger, Grimbergen, and Budweiser, all falling under the auspices of Carlsberg Malaysia. Eight varieties of five labels are brewed onsite at the company’s Shah Alam headquarters, and about as you’d expect at a place that brews beer, though it’s all business, a casual attitude prevails throughout. I figure this is a pretty enviable job to have, and ask Mr. Ravn whether or not he drinks his company’s famous green-label product.
“Oh sure, and it’s a good beer, too. Just the right balance of smoothness and bite.” He laughs, “But I have to be careful… I’m often going to so many functions and events, and of course I’ll always have a Carlsberg product in my hand. I have to limit myself to just a couple of beers at each one.” Mr. Ravn doesn’t just stick to the Carlsberg flagship brew, though. “We’re really expanding with Kronenbourg 1664, which is a super-premium French brand we brew here, and we expect you’ll see it more and more throughout KL.”
Mr. Ravn has had to become an expert in the intricacies of Malaysian law with regard to alcohol, and I asked him if this posed any unique challenges. “Honestly, it’s not a problem at all,” he said. “Every country has specific rules not just about the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages, but marketing as well. We have a great deal of respect for Malaysian law and the many cultures here, and we simply recognize that there’s about 60, 65% of the market that’s effectively off-limits to us. And we respect that. So from that perspective, it’s not much different from other countries. You want to do business in a certain market, you play by their rules. Once you’re comfortable with that, and learn to operate within those boundaries, then it’s just a point of engaging the business plan as usual.”
It must be mentioned that Mr. Ravn is considerably taller than the average Malaysian, and at well over six feet tall, he’s sure not going to blend in with much ease. I asked what he thought of living in Malaysia, particularly as such an obvious foreigner.
“Malaysia is fantastic. It’s truly the best foreign country I’ve lived in. There’s a great attitude here, a good balance between work and life. I enjoy the warm climate, the food is fantastic, and there are great international schools for my kids.” He paused a bit. “I think a big part of it is how welcoming Malaysians seem to be towards foreigners. They’re interested in us, they’re curious. It’s not common that you’ll find people who are not only open and willing to share their culture with you, but are also curious to learn about your country and your culture, as well.”
Source: The Expat December 2012
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