So far, it has been eleven good years. That is how Erik Lund describes his time in Malaysia. He lives on the island of Penang, close to the Thai-Malaysian border, together with his Danish wife and one of their three kids. On the mainland, in the city of Butterworth, he is General Manager of Barkath Co-Ro, the company that produces the well-known fruit drink Sunquick.
“In the beginning Sunquick was seen as a typical Ramadan product, a product that celebrates the end of the fast,” Erik explains about the immediate success that Sunquick had when it was introduced in Malaysia 40 years ago.
The company had to crack the nut and make Sunquick an everyday product.
“We started up some extremely intense campaigns where we for instance gave away free stuff – like drinking bottles. This paid off, and now we are an all-year product.”
“Sunquick is known as a high quality product, and that has a lot to do with it as well,” Erik explains.
Long CO-RO history
Barkath Co-Ro is a joint venture of equal shareholding established in 1992 between the Malaysian company Kumpulan Barkath Sdn. Bhd. and the Danish Co-Ro Food A/S.
Apart from Malaysia, Sunquick is manufactured in 17 countries and sold in 105 countries.
“One of the reasons for the success is the diversity of Sunquick. It is used not only for drinking. It is also used in cooking food, the lemon flavour is for instance popularly used in the ‘lemon chicken’ dish, and it is also used for ice cream and cakes,” Erik explains.
Barkath Co-Ro has also achieved some big awards for its presence and work in Malaysia. The one, Erik Lund is most proud of, is the 2003 National Productivity Award. But Barkath Co-Ro has also entered the ‘Enterprise 50’ as the 27th best company in Malaysia and the Best Joint Venture Award, which was handed over by Malaysia’s Prime Minister.
The management of the company has also received prizes for among others its team building efforts at the Malaysian based factory.
“Our factory is running on team spirit, and we have done a lot to gather groups here. This has made it easier to deploy different optimization initiatives,” Erik says.
For instance, everyone in the production facility have been given Truck Certificates. This has made each employee less dependent on specific staff.
The staff in the warehouse and maintenance has also been instructed to run the machines. This means that they can succeed during breaks and when there is a shortage of staff.
“This optimizes our process much more. We reach some goals we never would have been able to, if we didn’t optimize,” says Erik.
Annual team building
Once every year, Erik brings his team on a team building course. This has had a clear effect on the staff. According to him, one of the best trips were when they climbed Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia.
“People trained for eight months in advance, and we had a training session on each Saturday. Except for two persons, everyone participated. It led to courage and a better team spirit,” Erik says.
At another point, Erik wanted them to learn snorkeling. Something that tourists always do, but at the same time a thing, no member of the staff had ever tried. Once again, it happened over a period of time, starting with basic training in a swimming pool and ending up with a regular team building course on the east coast.
“It’s all about getting them to break some boundaries,” says Erik.
“They are absolutely terrified at the beginning, but still it creates a great feeling of unity, and it creates a feeling of achieving something. This, I believe, has really affected the entire factory.”
Keeping costs low
“We have a tight organisation in the factory, we are only 43 people here in Butterworth,” says Erik.
“Because we can run with such a narrow organisation, we can also keep our prices low. Our fixed costs are at a relatively low level. This is important – for us as well as our customers,” he says.
“We were not hit by the global economic crisis. Sunquick is a product many people switch to when money is low. Instead of buying ready-to-drinks like Coca-Cola, it is cheaper with Sunquick.”
“Actually, we often see prosperity when crisis hits,” he states.
From good to great
The 57-year-old Erik Lund started his career with Ro-Ro in 1982 as a Chief Engineer at the company’s factory in Saudi Arabia. After four years there, Erik came to the Danish headquarters, where he among other things worked as head of productions, head of packaging and ended up as Project Manager abroad, which fitted in perfectly with the possibilities of getting the job in Malaysia.
It might seem as quite a big jump to move from Denmark to Malaysia. But for Erik Lund it was not that big a problem.
“I think that when you already have been posted far away once, you and your family have already reflected upon many of the things that need to be considered,” says Eric.
“Of course, your family has to be willing to make that offer and move with you, but my wife and I agreed that it would be exciting to try. Besides, two of our children were of an age where they would be moving away from home,” he says about his now 32-year-old daughter and 30-year-old son.
Their youngest son was only three years old when the family left Denmark in 1999. He has been brought up in Malaysia, but will move to Denmark next summer to be part of a football camp and live at a boarding school.
And although it is now 11 years since Erik left Denmark, he is not acting completely as a native Malaysian.
“In the beginning I learned quite a lot Bahasa Malay, but I must – with shame – say that I can’t speak it. I never use it, because at the factory everyone speaks English, and between friends it’s always Danish or English. So I have quietly forgotten it,” he says.
Whatever the future brings
Erik Lund is currently living a good life, but at the age of 57 he knows that job wise it might very soon be his last chance to try something new. He has no plans of changing the current situation though.
“Actually, we have no plans of going back to Denmark again. I’m enjoying my life fully at the time, we are enjoying the diversity and possibilities here, but of course you always develop new interests,” he says.
“For now I have chosen to engage myself in the board duties of the Chamber of Commerce down here. You get very useful information and excellent opportunities for networking there.”
Read also Charlotte Donvang’s article from 2004: Teamwork behind Barkath Coro’s productivity in Malaysia