Georg Jensen presents a surprisingly big profit, increases its production and expands its factory in Northern Thailand. On top of that, the company tries to assist villages – and keep its staff!
Text and photo: Lasse Nørgaard
What has solar power in a school in a hillside village in Thailand got to do with fancy Danish designed flower-jewellery?
Quite a lot, in fact.
Each year the Georg Jensen factory in Chiang Mai chooses one village to support with solar power, TV and DVD for the school, and games, toys, sweets – and toothbrushes – for the kids. The management and some of the staff bring the goods to the village accompanied by a few technicians who will install the solar power.
The day ends with the inauguration of the new power system – a day of great fun – and of long-lasting environmentally friendly energy-source.
”Each village is selected by our Staff Committee, and the only requirement is, that it has to be a village where one of our staff originates from,” explains the managing director Lars Rench Nielsen.
”It is a highlight to go there, not only for the village and the staff but also for the Danes working here, who would otherwise perhaps not get the same experience.”
With more than 500 staff, there are enough villages to choose from and to support.
Expanding – again
Since its establishment in 1999, the Georg Jensen factory in Chiang Mai has grown continuously both in terms of staff and production. The company moved to a new factory in 2003, but now Georg Jensen is ready to expand again. This time with a distribution-centre for the Asia-Pacific region, meaning that the production can go directly from here to shops in the region.
The picture has been less rosy for the company globally, but perhaps it looks brighter now. The year 2007 was a good year for Georg Jensen, presenting a surprisingly big profit of more than DKK 45 mill., compared to a deficit of DKK 40 mill. the year before.
”It is due to a combination of factors, including new management, a restructuring of the company, a new spirit, and a new marketing strategy. At the same time, some jewellery experienced a renaissance in 2007”, says Lars Rench Nielsen.
Among them was the famous Daisy-broche, a classic among the grandmother-generation. Like many other fashion items, it seems like the Daisy skipped a generation and suddenly became extremely popular again. Last year buyers in Denmark and Scandinavia had to wait more than six month to get a piece.
”In 2006 we produced approximately a few thousands of them, last year we increased considerably and had to do more dayshifts and night shifts to meet demands. This year we plan to increase even more,” tells the manager.
Low staff turnover
Having for years had a philosophy of ”those who live hidden live well”, the factory has not been very visible or promoted themselves in the local community, apart from the yearly ”Childrens Day”, which normally takes place far from Chiang Mai anyhow.
Not selling in Thailand, and trying to protect its unique design, the company has not had a great deal of interest in or benefit from making themselves known.
But Georg Jensen has nothing to hide. Six year in a row, they have been awarded the ”To be Number One” certificate for their drug-policy, which is being studied and copied by other companies in the region. At the same time, the factory is trying to protect and maintain its staff, offering a family insurance, which also covers spouses and kids during illnesses.
Basic salary is above the minimum salary in Thailand, and staff can obtain a bonus of thousands of baht, if production and quality is top of the scale.
During breaks staff can play soccer, petanque, table tennis or frequent the library. Smoking is not allowed, but the beautiful smoking-sala with nice benches in green surroundings could persuade even non-smokers to actually start smoking.
”All this means that we have a very low staff turn-over. We basically only loose those we have to sack,” says Lars Rench Nielsen.
Metal detectors and body search testify that not all staff are pure angels, and that some can be ”extremely creative” as the manager expresses it, without elaborating. But if you behave, meet on time every day and do not fall ill for a year, you will be awarded ”outstanding employee” and receive an extra bonus – a gold ring worth bath 2500.
Last year there were no less than 167 outstanding employees. The ring, however, is not from Georg Jensen but from a local dealer, and most staff will go there and change it for cash.
Perhaps, when you work and look and carnival, cascades, magic and daisies all day, you fell more like cool cash than wearing a gold ring.