Translated by Nana Christiansen
Kaj Andersen arrived Singapore twelve years ago with a couple of suitcases and a briefcase full of brochures on industrial washing machines. His assignment was to build a regional distribution network for the Danish manufacturer, Ejnar Jensen & Søn, as well as service organization for the region – a similar task to what he had already completed in the Middle East.
Looking back it has at times for sure not been an easy ride. But the “Jensen Group” is here to stay, offering today all types of washing machines from the absolute biggest to smaller machines, Laundromats, motels etc.
A major order obtained recently was a complete laundry line for Singapore’s Shangi prison!
“The prisoners are offered a number of workshops and practical activities as part of the rehabilitate efforts of the prison. One of these activities will be running the big Laundromat that will serve the public hospitals in Singapore,” says Kaj Andersen who is today the manager of the whole “Jensen Asia” with 10 full-time employees and a number of subcontractors.
“The Shangi order is worth approximately 3 million EURO, and 30-40 people is needed during the installation process in Shangi Prison.”
Privately, the bachelor from Jutland has been living in a penthouse on the 22nd floor for many years. The penthouse has a 92 sq.m. roof terrace and is build on the edge of the sea and the rainforest in the northern part of the island.
Kaj Andersen’s roots are in the Danish retail. Originally, he was educated in a Danish supermarket chain called “Løvbjerg”. After his apprenticeship there, he got a job as a sales representative within consumer goods and did five to ten customer visits a day the old fashioned way with an order book in one hand and a brochure in the other.
At a time, when everybody was predicting that the small Danish island of Bornholm – which is the size of Singapore – would certainly go bankrupt, he got a job on this island, which gave him the chance to prove himself as an export sales executive.
“The job was with the island’s industrial pride, the former Ejnar Jensen & Søn in Rønne,” Kaj Andersen recalls.
“I sold my first Jensen washing machines in Oxford and Banbury in England.”
After a year with great success on the European market Kaj Andersen moved on to the Middle East and later on further East to Singapore in the beginning working out of hotel rooms while traveling.
Along the way he learned all the differences of cultural management no text book could have taught him.
“In India for instance you have to fight for your cause. Maybe not put your foot down – but almost. If you do the same in Thailand, a country in which a smile is a natural part of the culture, you would be sure to be rejected for lifetime. This would furthermore damage the company that employed you,” adds Kaj Andersen who slowly worked his way out of the hotel rooms into working first out of his own home and eventually into working out of a regular Jensen office in Singapore.
“I was traveling 200 days a year. It was a fantastic time. The company became the centre of my life and it was difficult to distinguish between business and pleasure. I enjoyed all 24 hours a day,” Kaj Andersen remembers.
Back home in Rønne, the main city on Bornholm, they were pleased, too.
“I could do whatever I wanted. After meetings with the head office, I could basically go back and do what ever I thought would be in the best interest of the company. I could even write out checks on behalf of the company, I always had their full support. And the more support and trust I got, the more I fought for “my” company.”
At the same time the “Jensen” product line developed from simply including washing machines to complete systems for treatment of clothes. The biggest systems process four tons of clothes an hour and the customers are hospitals, big hotels or professional laundries, which serve a large number of people.
In spite of the prosperity which is often taken for granted among many companies operating in Singapore, there have also been tough times, Kaj Andersen recalls. The worst of them was “The Asian Crisis” which started in 1997 in Thailand but within a month had spread to the rest of the Far East.
“It was a very tough period. Almost everything came to a standstill for several years. Many exporters gave up, but we kept on going. Luckily. Our customers saw that also we could get caught in a storm but contrary to our competitors we didn’t have to start all over when the economy was recovering and it became beneficial to make business again.
This spring, a minor crisis was the SARS epidemic, which also had a negative impact on the market for washing machines.
“But today we have a lot more opportunities to cope with adverse market situations than back in 1997,” Kaj Andersen adds.
Through mergers and acquisitions the “Jensen Group” is today offering all types of washing machines from the absolute biggest to smaller machines, Laundromats, motels etc. The SARS epidemic only made the hotel clients hesitate a bit with buying the larger systems, while the hospitals and private companies serving hospitals were still doing well, Kaj Andersen explains.