Bali Teak Baron

Danish businessman Carl Friis is fast becoming a Danish “Teak Baron” on the Indonesian island of Bali. So far, some 20 Danish investors have joined his initiative to plant teak plantations on the island, which still struggles to overcome the negative effects of the terror bombs in October 2002.
     “I can now promise investors their money back in five years, with a 400-percent return on investment,” Carl Friis explains about his new growing business venture.
     “Besides that, it includes a free one-week stay every year, as long as the agreement runs,” he adds.
     Other Danish victims of the setback to the Bali tourism industry were the first to join Carl Friis in making the most of the new line of big business on Bali.According to Carl Friis, The government had shown the way with huge public tracts being converted into teak plantations and heavy foreign investors had started follow suit.
     “I had the land for the plantations already, the seeds of golden teak species could be found in Bangkok, and so we started preparing the soil and planting the first trees,” Friis recalls.
     Rising from the ashes of the bombed-out tourist industry that was Bali’s biggest business for generations, Carl Friis can look back on a life very much out of the ordinary. Based on a deep rooted entrepreneurial spirit, he first had established a factory in Harlev in Denmark, then later established a business in the busy shopping streets of Flensburg, until finally, at the age of 55, he decided to move to Bali to live there for the rest of his life.
     “I have a wonderful life here,” Friis, now in his 60’s, says.
     “I live in total harmony with my new family, and for me it’s going to be Bali for life!”
     Carl Friis had visited Bali three times before deciding for the big jump back in the mid 90’s. He was completely mesmerized by Bali’s incredibly fertile climate, beautiful mountains and volcanoes, not to mention the constant smiles and hospitality of the Balinese people.
     Once there, with a bank account to be fairly independent, he began setting up his new life. Friis, a divorcee, met his new love, Theresia, a divorced catholic and mother of four. At the time, she owned several houses and ran a laundry business. When Carl and Theresia got married, the couple rented a house in touristy Sanur, where they opened a small restaurant together and enjoyed themselves cooking for the tourists and locals passing by.
     But even ‘Paradise Island’ was not immune to the waves of bad luck sweeping over South East Asia. The Asian crisis which first started in Thailand in 1997 hit much harder in South Korea and Indonesia.
     “I had converted all my money into the local currency, and it was a disaster. The Indonesian Rupiah, and my modest funds with it, lost 85 percent of its worth in a few weeks,” Friis remarks.
     But Carl Friis has always been a man of action. While most prices just kept increasing, very few people wanted to invest in property or building materials. Not for Carl Friis. He bought two of the most expensive building sites on the island, on the waterfront of Bali’s North coast, as well as a plot down on the South coast where 98 percent of the tourists would stay. In addition, he bought a lot of building materials. With this, he built a small exclusive hotel, which was later called ‘Keyani Bungalows’, as well as a guesthouse in Sanur which is now Friis’ private home and main office but is opened to visitors, who wish to enjoy cozy, family-style lodging.
     Then, in October 2002, disaster struck again when a few fanatical Muslims from Java came to Bali.
     “I was in Lovina when the bombs went off, and did not hear about it until one of our employees in Sanur called the next morning and told me what had happened and that scores of people had been killed. It was very hard to grasp back then,” Carl Friis explains.
     The disbelief, however, did not keep him from acting swiftly.
     At the time, Carl Friis was the contact person for the Danish embassy in Jakarta, as well as for a well-known travel agency in Århus, an insurance company and many others. The day after the explosions in Kuta, there was another ‘bomb’, this time from the Danish Foreign Ministry.
     “The foreign minister said on TV that all Danes should leave Bali immediately. The message was plain and simple – all of the travel agency’s guests that could be found, were to be out of Bali within 36 hours,” Friis remembers.
     He was directly affected by the consequences of the minister’s statements as he saw his guests and thereby the return on his investment vanished into the nearest airplane and into thin air. However, Friis did what he was supposed to do and for his help in getting the Danish tourists out of Bali, Friis received a reward from a Danish travel insurance company.
     “My wife and I used that money to start ‘www.help-bali.com’, a project that finds sponsors to secure schooling for the most affected Balinese children,” explains Friis.
     He says that when he learned that the local government and heavy private investors were planting teak in large tracts of land, he became curious. Puttering around with nothing ‘serious’ to do has never been Carl Friis’ style anyway.

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