Tapping draught beer world wide

“The risk was minimal. If it didn’t work out I could just hop on the plane and go back to Denmark,” says Ole Petersen about his “big step” almost ten years ago.
      He had recently completed his business degree. Now he wanted to change his life drastically. He quit his job at a small furniture factory as well as his part time job as janitor and applied for a job in Thailand, which paid less than the rent he had paid for his apartment back in Aarhus, Denmark.
      Since then, Ole Petersen has held other jobs in Thailand, which paid 35 times his old rent, but today he is running his own company, “Unique Design”, together with his Thai wife, “Mee”, which he met on the first day in his first job in Thailand back in 1994.
      “Already before my graduation back in Denmark, I started sending non-solicited applications to companies both back in Denmark as well as elsewhere in the world. Some went to companies the US, others to companies in Europe. An article in the Danish newspaper Borsen quoted a Danish furniture manufacturer in Bangkok for hoping a Danish business graduate would join him to help him run his company. So he got an application as well,” Ole Petersen recalls.
      Then everything moved fast. The son of the owner asked him for a job interview and suddenly he was told to start in his new job two weeks later in Bangkok. Thailand was at the time bustling with activity. Sky-scrapers where shooting up all over town and moving ten kilometers within the city could easily take two hours – by car.
      “The owner was 71 years old. He took care of me like I was his second son. At the same time he gave me gradually more responsibility and within a few months I was involved in all aspects of running the factory. If I had stayed in Denmark it would have taken me many more years to reach a similar position,” Ole Petersen says.
      Then things started to go wrong.
      “My Danish boss got bitten by his dog and fell seriously ill. At the same time, the earthquake in Kobe happened. We exported a lot to Japan and in the wake of the earthquake we received a lot of cancellations. Then we found out, that our purchase manager had fraudulently stolen millions from the company.”
      Shortly after, the owner disappeared overnight. We were told he had suffered a heart attack, but we couldn’t find out what hospital he had been admitted to. When we were told a name, the hospital had no such patient with that name.
      And things got worse.
      “The total responsibility for running the company was dumped on me, including negotiating with suppliers, customers, staff and what have you,” Ole Petersen recalls, adding that the worst part was, that the owners pressured him to do things which were on the verge of the downright criminal in order to try to siphon as much cash out of the business before it would eventually collaps.
      In his social life he had by that time got some Danish friends in Bangkok who mentioned to him, that EAC might have a job opening. Once again he sent an unsolicited application for a job – and once again he got it.
      With a deep relief he handed over the keys to the furniture company to the owners and left them to their own fate.
      Life shifted gear over the next six years. From a young “MD” on local trainee wages, he now found himself living the Bangkok high-life among other expatriate experts. And the girl he met on his first day at the old furniture factory had by now become his wife.
      The idea to start up his own came gradually to Ole Petersen and Mee during these years. They started looking specifically at dispensers for draft beer – a market which was booming in Thailand. Most of the dispensers were, however, imported.
      “We saw that this equipment could in fact be produced in Thailand and finally we decided to set up “Unique Design” and go for it,” Ole Petersen says.
      In the beginning their main customer was Singha Beer. Later most of the other breweries followed. Today they also manufacture for customers overseas – even in Denmark and Australia one may be served draft beer which is in fact tapped on equipment manufactured by Unique Design.
      A major grief struck the young couple, when Mee got pregnant. Everything went fine up until one week before the expected delivery. Then at the final check, the doctors discovered that their unborn child had tragically been strangled in its own umbilical cord.
      “This is the kind of thing you may have read about in the books but never expect may happen to yourself. It was a tough time for both of us, but there is only one thing to do about it and that’s to go on in life,” says Ole Petersen.
      As things are currently working out for Ole Petersen and Unique Design he expects to stay in Thailand.
      “In the beginning it was very difficult as a small, newly started supplier, to get the acceptance of the big breweries and we experienced a rather slow start,” Ole Petersen says.
      “But over the past two years we have now become recognized as a serious supplier in Thailand as well as among bigger overseas companies like Carlsberg Denmark. Today, only one major brewery in Thailand has not yet become our customer,” he says.
      To offset the seasonal fluctuations of the beer market, Ole Petersen has recently diversified and is now also expanding into trading in computer parts and consumer electronics.
      “A lot of challenges and opportunities lie ahead. Especially in the export markets because of the limited resources available for a small expanding company like ours,” Ole Petersen says.

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