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Pushing New Frontiers – 135 Years On
For 135 years, Berli Jucker Public Co. Ltd (BJC) has been enriching the lives of the Thai people with its stellar business performance and commendable values. Ever since it’s USD6.02 billion acquisition of giant retail brand Big C in 2016, BJC has magnificently evolved from a supply chain and distribution powerhouse to a leading integrated retail platform in the ASEAN region. Top 10 of Asia speaks to Aswin Techajareonvikul, CEO of BJC and President of Big C Supercenter Public Co. Ltd on his aspirations for the company, and why empowering people is key in preserving its legacy.
Everyone falls silent as Aswin Techajareonvikul enters the interview room. His executive entourage stands by him, ever so ready to assist. As a young CEO in his early forties, Aswin may have many things on his plate, yet he exudes a focused and calm demeanour, as most outstanding leaders do.
Having been born into a family of Thai-Chinese entrepreneurs and exposed to the business realm as a child, a heavy emphasis on oriental family values during his developmental years has rubbed off on Aswin. His acquisition of knowledge grew in tandem with the growth of the business and he effortlessly translates values like hard work, perseverance and camaraderie into his organization.
Although Aswin pursued a degree course in industrial engineering from Chulalongkorn University, he rediscovered his passion for business upon undergoing an internship in Thailand’s banking sector.
“I was involved in the organization’s re-engineering team where I started to learn a lot about management. I found myself reading management books instead of engineering books, but I was eager to learn,” he shares.
His experience in the banking sector then led him to pursue an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and a concurrent Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University. His next internship experience – a series of summer associate programmes with Goldman Sachs, adds on to his impressive managerial skills.
“I was based at the headquarters in New York and subsequently moved to Hong Kong and Singapore offices. I was exposed to a lot of different functions of investment banking such as investment management, fixed income, and equity research,” he recalls. Aswin’s career in the investment banking sector expanded from 2004 to 2006 during a brief employment with Morgan Stanley and UBS Investment Bank.
However, his tenure with BJC began in 2007 when he was appointed by the esteemed Chairman of TCC Group, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi to helm the BJC and Big C Supercenter under its Industrial Trading & Consumer Products division. Mandated to “reinvigorate” the business, Aswin was embarking on a journey to ensure the sustainability of the company in the next hundred years.
“I was honoured to be entrusted with responsibility in a reputable company that has gained respect and trust among its business partners,” he states. Although challenging, Aswin has no qualms shouldering new responsibilities and it was no surprise that he looked forward to the experience.
BJC itself already has four other divisions before the Big C acquisition, namely the Packaging Supply Chain, Consumer Supply Chain, Healthcare & Technical Supply Chain as well as Retail & Others, ranging from upstream to downstream businesses.
Big C Supercenter is currently under the fifth division, the Modern Retail Supply Chain, contributing to a staggering 65% of the company’s revenue in the fiscal year 2016 alone. As the 3rd largest grocery retail group in Southeast Asia, the brand represents itself through various retail models from hypermarket to mini convenience stores all over Thailand, Vietnam and Laos as well as via e-commerce (Big C Shopping Online).
A lot of new changes have to be introduced to the organization as it evolves, from the minute details of retailing to managing its unique and diverse human capital. What was once mostly a business-to-business (B2B) nature has now included business-to-customer (B2C), taking on a completely different ball game.
To date, BJC and Big C Supercenter employs almost 50,000 people from many different backgrounds and skills across operating countries. With the company’s people-centric values, Aswin believes it is essential to gear everyone onto the same transformative path.
“BJC is an established company where most things are done in traditional ways. Introducing changes is difficult but not impossible. In the beginning, we did a lot of re-engineering and restructuring, including promoting from within and aligning incentives,” he says.
“This includes introducing the Employee Stock Option programme for executives to benefit from having a shareholding in the company. We instilled confidence internally through small wins, to prove to our people that the changes are leading to fruition,” he adds, sharing that ever since the implementation, there has been a notable expansion of revenues, net profit and market capitalization.
Besides reorganization, Aswin’s team also spends a lot of effort in re-evaluating and forming new values for BJC. “Our people come from different walks of life. We need to identify a culture that is broad enough to encapsulate this diversity, yet specific enough to be set as a core culture of the organization,” he explains, adding that company culture is especially crucial for a diverse organization such as BJC.
“The real challenge lies in engaging people and aligning them towards the same direction. Communication is essential and never enough, given the complexity of the organization, but we strive to keep them on point,” Aswin adds. Embracing the old and new generations of employees alike, Aswin believes that the key to managing a diverse human capital is acknowledging and leveraging on their capabilities.
He attributes BJC’s strength to its strong values and its invaluable pool of professional experts. “Our professional capabilities enable our business to grow, but at the same time we are driven by family-oriented values such as entrepreneurship, unity and taking care of each other,” he elaborates.
BJC has now expanded well beyond Thailand. Today, it has made its presence in Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, mainly in the agricultural, manufacturing, packaging and consumer products sectors. “Our philosophy is that in order for us to prosper, we have to contribute and give benefit to the community,” Aswin explains.
BJC’s various CSR programmes include those in its motherland Thailand, where the company currently supports the Royal Thai Government in various programmes involving public and private sectors, such as re-building remote schools, developing teachers, supporting the abused and human-trafficked women as well as the handicapped. BJC also works closely with the Vietnamese government to promote food safety in their country.
“We often employ local people and most importantly we encourage them to grow professionally,” Aswin shares. He is now in his tenth year helming BJC, but there is much more to do in moving the company further ahead. His aspirations for BJC is to see it grow into a learning organization, thus attracting the best people to contribute, learn and grow.
“We believe in people, especially the dedicated and passionate ones. It takes a strong heart to persevere and move forward. This would also be the core DNA for the generations of BJC to come, a legacy that I would like to leave behind,” says Aswin.
Looking into Asia, Aswin hopes that in the near future, the nations will come together and leverage on each other’s strength to create something meaningful for the Asian business community. “The more united we are the greater the opportunity for us to succeed on the global front,” says Aswin with an unmistakable expression of conviction on his face.