When Soren Storm first arrived in Singapore it was on a two year contract as Regional Managing Director for the Danish Martin Group at the height of the Asian economic crisis.
“I had no idea what it would take to kick-start our Singaporean company, which was in rather poor shape at the time. But I liked living in Singapore from day one and I was well received. I also knew I had a lot to learn abut how business is done in Asia.”
His new huge sales area stretched from Pakistan to Japan and from NewZealand to Mongolia. So he started visiting potential customers and possible local sales agents all over the region and soon results started showing.
Martin’s customers are a fascinating mix of TV stations, discotheque owners, conference centers, theaters and concert venues. The Danish company is the worlds leading manufacturer of intelligent lighting equipment for these demanding clients as well as for architectural purposes and the company is further one of the leading producers of smoke and haze machines world wide and certain specialized sound equipment.
“Our clients have all one thing in common: They know their business and understand what our products can do for them,” Soren Storm says. Keeping up the Martin Group’s impressive expansion in this hectic business sector in Asia, Soren Storm draws directly on his past experiences as a champion sportsman in Denmark.
“To keep myself in good physical shape is crucial. This morning, for instance, I came home five o’clock from a night out with a business client. But four hours later I am sitting here in the office. This repeats itself four times per week. I couldn’t keep this up if I didn’t spend at least one hour every day on physical exercise.”
“I cannot say whether I became ambitious through doing sports or if I am simply ambitious by nature. What I do know is that I do business as I do sports. I hate to lose. If occasionally I have to accept a defeat, at least I want to know that I did everything in my power to win.”
When this interview took place, Soren Storm had just returned from a four weeks business trip around the area, meeting sales agents and local clients in each destination. Now, a week at the office was ahead of< him, and the interview, which it had taken 18 month to schedule, couldfinally be arranged.
Soren Storm has in the typically Danish management style gone out himself to get us a glass of water. In the meantime I reflect on how theoffice is the perfect miniature of multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-racial Singapore. By the door the secretary is Muslim, her hair andneck covered with a shawl. At the big desk in the middle another Dane is working and next to him there is a young Chinese man.
When Soren Storm joins me again, I start asking him about his past life back in Denmark. Although he was mostly referred to as being fromAarhus during his years as a top sportsman, it turns out that he actually grew up on Norrebro in Copenhagen. It was not until his late teens that he moved to Aarhus for what should have been a short stay at the sports college there.
His obsession with sailing started when the older brother of one of his friends from his Norrebro years persuaded them to become what isknown in Denmark as “sea boy scouts”. When moving to Aarhus, he joined the very active sailing community there and soon he was an active participant inmost boat races on both a local and national level.
When not sailing, he worked as a bartender in Cassablance, one of Aarhus’ most famous cafes. His studies in Business Administration were put on hold.
A few years went by. Then one day in 1986 Soren Storm by chance met Bo Petersen. He was the former world champion in the Europe class dinghy and soon the two started sailing in 505 dinghy.
“Previously, I had always been sailing keel boats. For me moving into sailing a dinghy was like moving from a tricycle to driving a Honda racing car.”
The two complemented each other well, and after a successful season in national competitions, the couple raced in the World Championship in Australia and within the same season won three top races in Europe.
“The last of these races was the British Championship,” SorenStorm recalls. “The British seldom race outside of the UK so none of them had ever raced against us before. We decided to drop the test race and give them a surprise in the real race. Now, the British are always very generous, so they invited us out for a beer. Bo accepted their invitation and I went to sleep. When I woke up next morning, Bo came back completely wasted from a long night of drinking. I told him to sleep it out in the hull of the dinghy while I rigged the boat and he was still fast asleep as we sailed out to the starting line!”
Still, as the starting shot rang out, he was up and racing and the couple was leading already at the first buoy and later won the race. They also won the next five races in the championship. So when on the last day of the Championship the British teams went out competing for the remaining places in the race, Bo and Soren went golfing!
“We started dreaming big. We would go for the OL in the Flying Dutchman type. Actually, we had also found ourselves a sponsor. Then for the crucial meeting with this sponsor, Bo failed to show up.”
Disappointed at the lack of commitment from his partner, Soren Storm – who had in the meantime also married – decided to drop all sailing plans and focus on completing his education instead.
“After I graduated, my idea was to add a few years of studying in the US, but when I was offered a job in a small company called Hammel Maskinfabrik with the opportunity to travel around the world selling their equipment, I took this opportunity.”
“The factory was 35 kilometers from my home and for me that was a perfect distance for bicycling back and forth to work everyday.”
After five years with Hammel Maskinfabrik, Soren Storm decided to join Martin Gruppen, which had just been introduced on the Stock exchange in Denmark. Martin Gruppen gave him his own division with the responsibility to sell lighting equipment to digital photo studios. Soon, however, it became clear, that either the ambitious sales targets had to be revised or Soren Storm had to be replaced.
“I discussed the situation with our Sales and Marketing director on a plane trip from one American exhibition to another. He asked me, how I liked Miami and I told him, that frankly I didn’t like it anywhere in the US. “So what about Singapore?” he asked, and I suddenly realized we were talking about moving me to another destination.
“Much better,” Soren Storm replied, and before the plane landed one hour later, a basic contract had been drawn up. In his private life, his marriage had just ended in a divorce and fifteen years after having arrived in Aarhus for what should have been eight month, Soren Storm was more ready to move on in his life than he had been for years.
“We decided that I should report for work in Singapore next Thursday. That left me five days to rent out my apartment in Aarhus, pack my bags and throw a bash of a Farewell party. No problem!”
As his initial two year contract expired, a new open-ended contract was drawn up and Soren Storm bought himself an apartment. Singapore was going to be his new permanent home. Related stories: Martin Singapore acquires new products