The managing director of Pernod Ricard Malaysia talks conviviality, curiosity and finding calm in greenery during these times of uncertainty.
Options: What has the past year been like for Pernod Ricard Malaysia?
Benny Tsang: The past year has definitely been a tough one. We have been performing within expectations and remain hopeful as stronghold brands like Martell and Royal Salute 21 continue to gain support from loyal consumers, as well as a younger generation who is open-minded and adventurous in welcoming novel brands and categories like Monkey 47 and (aperitif) Lillet respectively.
Additionally, Pernod Ricard Malaysia has been coming up with innovative strategies for brands like Chivas and Jameson, from exploring different ways of enjoying the products to creating extraordinary moments of conviviality.
What were some of the company’s greatest challenges in 2020?
One of our greatest challenges was no doubt the restrictions implemented during the Movement Control Order and the subsequent phases: limited operations at on-trade outlets, emphasis on essential goods at off-trade and retail outlets, severely restricted celebrations, and diminished live entertainment and events. All these heavily impacted alcohol consumption.
Nonetheless, we took quick action to capture the ‘home-tainment’ and home consumption market by offering online sales and developing online platforms like Bar-United, which support our trade partners and engage with customers through deliveries of signature cocktails and food. We also launched tailored Home Packages. Our wines in particular have performed well here, especially during festive seasons. In fact, labels such as Jacob’s Creek, George Wyndham and Campo Viejo recorded high sales via the curated home packages.
How is 2021 looking?
We believe 2021 is the year for everyone to bounce back, and are anticipating a strong return for the whole industry. We are definitely ready for a new beginning and are keen to explore fresh ways to service route-to-market and route-to-consumers, such as offering more personalisation services and tailored events. The key here is to ensure diversification in terms of planning and execution. We see ourselves as both explorers and developers, a mindset that has always been part of our DNA.
What is the best part of your day?
That moment when the team and I find a new solution or idea to achieve our goals — that will always be a highlight. Other than that, I’d say unwinding with a glass of chilled Martell Cordon Bleu or Chivas among friends.
How does your work inspire your life and vice versa?
This is a hard question because I believe the two cannot be separated, especially as my business partners are also my friends, and my friends sometimes become customers — my most loyal ones too! A common philosophy I practise in both life and work is staying curious. I don’t believe curiosity stops after we leave childhood. Everyone should maintain that spirit of curiosity as we go through life; it makes it so much more fun. It’s such a great, big world out there with so many amazing things for us to discover, so why not embrace it and continue to question and learn new things?
Tell us a bit about your living space.
My living space is simple. I treasure nature and the people in it, so I believe in protecting and enjoying both. This is where I do most of my thinking, envision what comes next for work or life, and contemplate how things could be improved or refined.
I really love being surrounded by nature. I’ve always believed that if I were a farmer, I would be very happy! But since I live in the city, I find myself drawn to wooden furniture. I’m not talking about those elaborate ones with lacquered carvings and intricate details — I’m definitely not the guy sleeping on an emperor-style red wooden bed with dragon carvings on the bedposts and headboard. I like natural wooden pieces as they remind me of Mother Nature’s gift to us and their look and feel tend to be more unique. I sometimes wonder how old these pieces are and where they might be from, which I find fascinating. That said, I don’t go for expensive and rare wood-crafted pieces, as most of them tend to be fashioned from protected species. I very much try to be an environmentalist and do my part. Just soaking in natural greenery is enough for me to relax, which happens during my daily jogs and weekend hikes.
How has the pandemic changed the way you live and work?
I lost all my travel mileage points and membership levels! Jokes aside, travel restrictions are one of the bigger impacts on my personal and professional lives. I used to fly every week, and now all meetings are virtual. But in the past year, I’ve discovered that this ‘new normal’ hasn’t separated us from people as much as we thought it would — in fact, I’ve felt like we have somehow been brought closer together.
Whether it’s my customers, partners, friends or family, it feels like we’re connected more deeply than ever. At a time when physical meetings and catch-ups over dinner are a luxury, we have managed to stay connected and feel surrounded by company even when alone. It has also made us treasure our friends, families and the people around us more, reminding us to grab and hold on to precious moments when they happen.
Where do you find motivation or inspiration?
Reading has always been one of the best ways to open my mind. One of the books I’d recommend is definitely The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which has become popular among senior leaders in business management as it is a masterpiece on strategy.
Other than that, surfing the internet for topics I’m interested in and looking at others’ experiences is a great way to find inspiration nowadays. Digital media has opened up so many opportunities to research and explore — it is absolutely amazing.
Any travel destinations you are looking forward to once borders reopen?
Definitely, both for work purposes and leisure with my family. I’m actually hoping for interstate travel to be feasible soon as Malaysia has so many wonderful destinations, from the beaches and forests to the mountains. If I had to choose one place to visit immediately after this, Langkawi comes first to mind — I want to see what changes have taken hold since my maiden visit there 25 years ago.
This article first appeared on Mar 15, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.