All work and a little play

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  • Friday, 06 Apr 2012

GUINNESS Anchor Bhd (GAB) has been pulling in record numbers in volume and market share.

I decided to find out about the brewery business in Malaysia and all about the man behind the company when I met GAB’s chief executive officer Charles Ireland for lunch recently.

Dining at Pietro and feasting on delectable Italian cuisine, we delved into his approach to work, the challenges, how he got to his position and what he does to prevent job-stress burnout.

Ireland, originally a computer science and applied mathematics student came to question his interest in his areas of study and went on instead — in a brave move — to complete a business administration certification at the University of Warwick in the UK.

From there, he joined Nestlé as a management trainee and worked with the company for 10 years before making his move over to Diageo plc, one of GAB’s corporate parents.

As a Diageo employee of 15 years, and with his personal preference to remain in the same business segment, Ireland was seconded here when GAB was looking for a new CEO.

Ireland has been one of the longer-serving CEOs at GAB.

Typically, postings tend to hover around the three-year mark. However, before Ireland’s appointment, GAB’s chairman requested “the next appointee be given significant time for continuity.”

Ireland bluntly states: “There’s also no better way of getting moved very quickly than having poor performance.” Ireland is now in his sixth year at GAB.

Ireland is dedicated to his work, both at GAB and GAB Foundation. His staff is by now more than accustomed to receiving work-related emails well into the wee hours of the morning — peppered with sports references!

Thus, over carpaccio, began my introduction to the things that make up Ireland’s world: golf, football and GAB.

People, brand and performance

Ireland, being an ardent Chelsea supporter, spoke extensively about how team management — be it in football or in business — is essentially similar.

Citing Andre Villas-Boas’s move to Chelsea, Ireland narrated the teething process that similarly defined his initial move over to GAB.

Ireland’s strategy lies in what he calls his keen identification of the key elements of a successful company: “people, brand and performance”.

The main goal for Ireland was to improve the company’s agenda for its people to the level of a multi-national corporation and also to further build the brand nationally.

GAB recently completed two successful campaigns for Chinese New Year and St Patrick’s Day.

However, there have been brand-building initiatives which didn’t fair quite as well. One of these being Tiger Street Football.

“It worked really well from some aspects. But, it is a learning experience. I think we will do it again this year, but apply some of what we learnt last year”.

Ireland explained that when it comes to GAB’s growth in Malaysia, much consideration must be given.

“The market dynamic is very interesting. It’s a very delicate market to operate in with religious sensitivities and at the moment, there are political sensitivities to be considered as well.”

Malaysia and the brewery business

GAB’s performance revolves around their mainstream, premium and super-premium beers.

The super-premium beers are the imported beers. Of Malaysian consumers’ response to these, Ireland says, “Malaysians are both promiscuous and loyal at the same time. They will be promiscuous in trying something different and go back to their normal choice of beer.”

However, he remains optimistic about the future of imported beers in the Malaysian market because he is of the opiniion that, as markets develop and consumers have more disposable income, they become more sophisticated in taste and broaden their repertoire of beverages.

With regards to the mainstream and premium beer markets, GAB has enjoyed continual success in Malaysia.

GAB Foundation

Under Ireland’s leadership, and in keeping with GAB’s emphasis on corporate social responsibility, the GAB Foundation was born.

The GAB Foundation, of which Ireland is a trustee, has received an enthusiastic public response, especially for their River Rehabilitation Project.

Ireland speaks of the project with well-deserved pride. The condition of Sungai Way has significantly improved since.

Their effort to educate the public on environmental awareness has paid off.

“It went from something that could extinguish life — nothing lived in there and if you put a living thing in there, it wouldn’t live very long — to where they catch fish this big in it,” he quipped while gesturing to the Barramundi which he nicknamed Mr Whale.


No doubt Ireland has contributed much to GAB’s growth, but that leaves me to question what a man in his position does to strike a balance between work and life.

Because, to quote the man himself, “To be successful, you have to apply yourself a little bit more than the next person. I think people who are successful generally try harder and work harder.”

This may be so, but what about that elusive key to a satisfying life that most of us have been striving to find?

In Ireland’s homeland which is the UK, the Mental Health Foundation has reported that stress-related sick leave costs British industry £370mil (approximately RM1.8bil) every year.

Ireland turns to his love for sports to strike a balance between his career and his life outside of that career.

An experienced golfer, Ireland first came to Malaysia nearly six years ago with a respectable handicap of 14 and has been an active participant in the local scene.

However, he puts it ever so candidly when he admits, “The job is getting in the way of golf.”

And as GAB continues to grow, Ireland seems to find his golf handicap escalating right alongside.

Although he had to cut back on the time spent on the greens, Ireland takes it well in his stride and compensates by using any spare moments in a day to follow Chelsea’s games, sometimes accompanied by a refreshing bottle of Tiger beer.

Perhaps those late night emails to his staff hides the key to a satisfying life after all.

For the man, Chelsea is fun, but one gets the feeling that this CEO gets the most meaningful form of reward in his life from his work.

MetroBiz thanks Pietro for providing the venue for this interview.

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