Red Bull's Chaleo a business genius

business March 18, 2012 00:00

By The Nation on Sunday

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Country's third richest man passes away at 90; hailed for strong values

Red Bull founder Chaleo Yoovidhya, who grew from humble origins to become one of Thailand’s wealthiest men, passed away from natural causes at a Bangkok hospital yesterday at the age of 90.

Chaleo will be remembered as a business and marketing genius who made the Thai energy drink famous around the world.
His body was taken from Chulalongkorn Hospital to Wat Kruawan Worawihan in Bangkok Yai for his funeral. The abhi dharma chanting ceremony is due to be held daily from today until Saturday. 
Chaleo was chosen among the most acclaimed Thais internationally in The Nation’s State of the Nation II project. 
Others on the top-10 list include former WTO chief and United Nation Conference on Trade and Development head Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi and painter Tawan Dutchanee. 
In a recent interview for The State of the Nation II project, Chaleo’s son Saravudh talked fondly about his father and Red Bull. It is part of a series that will be aired starting next month on Nation Channel and published in The Nation. A video version in Thai can be viewed at An English version will be available later.
Saravudh continues the legendary success of Red Bull, following in his father’s footsteps in his approach to work and international marketing.
“I never heard words like ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible’ from my father. He dedicated his life to his work and never complained that he was tired. He really enjoyed his work and sometimes carried on until 1 or 2am. When he talked about his work, he was always very happy and active,” said Saravudh.
“My father believed that if he wanted to launch a new product, it had to be distinct from the market leader. While the market leader of the energy-drink market mainly targeted the capital, Red Bull pushed into the provincial market first, gaining a foothold by distributing free samples to truck drivers. After its huge success upcountry, Red Bull was later marketed in the capital. He stressed on brand building – a marketing strategy that had not been widely employed up to that time. His strategy has proved to be a key factor in the strength of the Red Bull brand. He was also the first to float the idea of Red Bull going international.”
Saravudh stressed that his father never stopped learning. Though he did not receive high education, he studied by himself, especially English and law as he believed these subjects were essential for doing business. When he first introduced Red Bull into the overseas market, “impossible” never came into his mind, even at a time when Thailand was relatively unknown to many countries.
Chaleo married twice and had 11 children, five from his first wife and six from his second. He was born in a poor Chinese migrant family in Phichit that earned their living raising ducks and selling fruit. His first jobs included being a bus conductor. 
Thanks to his perseverance, Chaleo ended up with wealth estimated by Forbes at US$5 billion (Bt153.6 billion) as of March – the 205th richest person in the world and Thailand’s third richest. His business products are available in more than 70 countries and it owns a winning Formula 1 team.
The Nation, in a special issue released at the end of last year, listed Chaleo as one of 40 Thais eminent internationally.
He was a salesman in 1962 when he started a small pharmaceutical firm, TC Pharmaceutical Industries. First producing antibiotics, it made a fortune for Chaleo when Krating Daeng was introduced in the 1970s – and targeted at truck drivers and blue-collar workers. More success followed when he set up a joint venture in 1984.
His partnership with Austrian-born Dietrich Mateschitz 28 years ago took the world beverage market by storm. Mateschitz visited Thailand in 1982 and discovered that Krating Daeng helped cure his jet-lag very quickly. 
He approached TC Pharmaceu-ticals with a proposal to market Krating Daeng in Europe, starting in his native Austria. His proposal was accepted and led to the successful launch of Red Bull in the West in 1987. It later became a global brand.
The publicity-shy Chaleo, however, always worked alongside grassroots networks in Thailand, where Red Bull’s main market is. 
He never showed off his wealth and his free time was spent running a duck farm. His associates regard him as having business intuition par excellence.
Chaleo lived a simple and low-profile life. He never gave media interviews or made public appearances over the past 30 years. 
Chaleo placed importance on the development of people within his business. He loved to give something back to society through the company’s proactive CSR (corporate social responsibility) campaigns and activities. His philosophy of a simple life and hard work has been taken up by his children, who are expected to steer the conglomerate to further success.