By Jim Algie
By Gavin Nazareth
FOR THE COMMERCIAL MANAGER OF BEAM GLOBAL (THAILAND), THE BUSINESS OF BOOZE IS BOTH A SOBERING AND INTOXICATING PROFESSION.
WORKING FOR ONE of the world’s premier liquor titans, attending events with a bevy of Maxim babes and jet-setting around on business trips to Russia, Australia and all over Southeast Asia would be a dream job for most men. That accounts for some of Apichat Putivibool’s happy-go-lucky demeanor, but as a young, old hand in marketing and business management, the commercial manager for Beam Global (Thailand) is used to turning on the charm and exhibiting grace under pressure. The world’s fifth largest company dealing in top-shelf spirits has been ramping up its promotion and distribution efforts in Thailand, Apichart says. They teamed up with Maxim (Thailand) for a recent Jim Beam event at a resort on Phuket. They have also been hosting a series of Wow Parties for Russian Standard Vodka, a fairly new product in their portfolio, at Bed Supperclub. Apichart and his cronies “manage the concept” for these events and are always in attendance to make sure the parties deliver maximum bang for minimum baht. Already the number one vodka in the motherland, Russian Standard has been toasted by Impact magazine as the fifth “Fastest Growing Premium Spirit Brand” for the last five years in a row. Recently, Apichart spent nine days in Moscow and St. Petersburg at the behest of the distiller. “We had meetings of course, but they also wanted us to go to museums and important venues to learn about Russian history.” He pauses to chuckle. “Not many Thais know about Russian history.” For a man enamored of travel, this is one of the better perks. Every month, he usually does one business trip in Thailand (often for events) and one abroad to visit the conglomerate’s regional office in Singapore, for example, or Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City, as Beam Global pours on the regional promo. But his job entails a lot more than working holidays. As the commercial manager, he oversees all aspects of the business in Thailand, setting and meeting financial objectives. The financial side of things remains a cause for insomnia. While sales of alcohol go up during times of economic uncertainty, many people downgrade their favorite tipple to a cheaper brand. On a recent trip to Pattaya he spoke with a wholesaler who said that sales of premium spirits have dropped by 60 to 70 percent in Thailand this year.
Thirty-three, and still single, Apichart is a graduate of Bangkok University, where he did a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management before moving on to Mahidol Univeristy to complete a Master’s in Management. He parlayed his academic expertise into a job with Thai Bev. That’s where he got his first taste of the alcohol business. More than three years ago, he jumped on the Beam Global brand-wagon. It’s easy to see that he is a team player. During our chat in the boardroom, he often defers to his right-hand man and long-time friend, Wallop Obunsakul, the trade marketing manager for the Thai branch. Apichart’s low-key persona is not what you’d typically expect from a marketing maven, but one gets the feeling he prefers the “soft sell” approach. As you would expect from such an urbane fellow, he’s not a beer drinker. Mostly he prefers cocktails and Maker’s Mark Bourbon. “But I don’t drink as much as I used to,” he quickly adds, laughing and grinning again. After work and on weekends, you may cross footpaths with him as he cycles around the parks of Queen Sirikit or Rama IX. Preferring the solitude of cycling to the claustrophobia of gyms, he keeps a portable bicycle in the trunk of his car. The commercial manager relishes working for a company with such an illustrious history. By heart he can recite the company’s humble origins, when its flagship Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon launched in 1795, eventually becoming the distillation of macho drinks, favored by everyone from racing car drivers to politicians and rock stars (Keith Richards probably has more bourbon than blood coursing through his veins). From the United States, Beam Global Spirits and Wine leap-frogged the Pacific and Atlantic divides to soak up globe-spanning markets by encompassing a drinking man’s portfolio that includes Larios Gin, Canadian Club Whiskey, and Sauza, the world’s second biggestselling brand of tequila. Now that Jim Beam is the number-one bourbon in the world doesn’t mean the company has slaked its thirst for success. They’ve continued to expand and put on events in Thailand, particularly around the key areas for tourists like Phuket, Pattaya, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The ready-to-drink bottles of Jim Beam and coke are now a staple on the shelves of Tops, Foodland and Villa in these areas. Part of the promo campaign that Apichart and Wallop have been working on revolves around the trinity of “sports, music and passion”. “We want to appeal to younger people so we’re looking at sports like the X Games, which are popular among the young,” he says. Come November or December, Jim Beam will cause a big splash with a wakeboarding event at the Thai Wake Park in Rangsit. Get set for some radical moves and daredevil aerials because a lot of young Thai wakeboarders are riding the crest of this thrill sport. As always, Apichart and Wallop will be on hand. So make sure you stop by and ask them to buy you a drink. If you can loosen their lips a little, see if you can find out which of the dynamic duo is Batman, and who plays Robin. 2
THAILAND’S MOST FAMOUS FLORAL ARTIST SEEKS TO PRESERVE THE KINGDOM’S UNIQUE FLOWER CULTURE WITH HIS NEW BOOK – SCHEDULED FOR LAUNCH THIS MONTH.
2PROFILE_AT PLAY THE LANGUAGE OF flowers has for long permeated the Thai way of life. From simple bouquets and posies to intricately woven garlands and pendants, flowers are used to color the humdrum of everyday life’s rituals and rites of passage. Some blossoms are even used in cooking, and others for their medicinal properties to treat a variety of ailments. And it is this floral vernacular of the Kingdom that Sakul Intakul intends to preserve within the leaves of his latest book, Dok Mai Thai: The Flower Culture of Thailand. It is also the fifth coffee-table tome by the internationally acclaimed floral designer, best known for interpreting spiritual ideas through sculptural plant and flower installations. Scheduled for launch this month to commemorate the 77th birthday of Her Royal Majesty Queen Sirikit, the idea germinated when he began working as part of a team that decorates venues for state banquets and other royal events. “Around ten years ago I got an opportunity to work with a team that included ladies of the inner court. After observing their work, I included their designs into mine, incorporating traditional Thai floral design into contemporary creations. It was then that I realised that my knowledge of my own floral culture was incomplete. I began asking them questions, to show me how to do the various designs. And as my interest grew I started to look for books, and research it in the archives,” explains the bespectacled 44-year-old. His bouquet of work includes the floral decoration for the state banquet held at the Grand Palace two years ago in honour of foreign royalty attending the 60th anniversary celebrations of His Majesty the King’s accession to the throne, a collaboration with Jean-Paul Gaultier for the Rome International Film Festival 2007, that resulted in the Red Carpet D’Auteur (a red carpet flower installation), and the floral decorations for the
wedding of Hong Kong movie stars Carina Lau and Tony Leung in Bhutan. It was his search through archives and historical records that opened Sakul’s eyes to the need for preserving the Kingdom’s floral heritage and the idea of a book on the subject took root. “Having written a few books before I thought I should do something on the flower culture of Thailand – the idea was conceived in 2004. Research for the book was laborious and involved poring over historical records, traveling to different parts of the country, photographing, sketching and vetting the multitude of designs available. Sakul elucidates this: “I hired a researcher to go to the National Archives to find some of the old designs. It was extensive. We also went to many temples to look at the mural paintings, like those at Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom, where the murals show gods and celestial beings decorated with garlands, and head dresses made from flowers. Some of the pendant designs came from the stucco of the gables of Wat Bechamabophit. We also talked to some old master florists like
Ajarn Prathom Lochananond, who is also on our board of advisors.” The 176-page all-colour book contains a range of floral creations, from malai (garlands), khruang khwaen (floral pendants), krathongs and ngan baitong (floral floats, leaf containers and banana leaf work) to a look at the sub-cultures of the Lanna and Isaan regions of Thailand. “The way I have compiled the book is like a beautiful story about how each design or arrangement relates to the way of life of the Thai people. I don’t tell you how to make them or what material to use,” says the artist for whom inspiration comes from flowers themselves, people, architecture, culture, textures, colors, and his travels to places like India, Japan, China and Myanmar. With his eye for distinctive line, texture, and the sculptural quality of his work, it does come as a surprise that Sakul is not schooled in the arts, graduating instead with a Bachelor Degree of Electronics Engineering from King Mongkut Institute of Technology. “Fate,” he says, “had it that I would study engineering. But I have always liked plants
Royal banquet, Diamond Jubilee (2007)
“FLOWERS HAVE A POSITIVE ENERGY; THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL. THEY ARE TOOLS FOR PLANTS TO PROPAGATE” and flowers and had a collection of plants, cacti and saplings when I was young, growing and propagating plants with seeds and cuttings.” Flowers and engineering may seem strange bedfellows but they are engineering marvels in their own right. And fate played him a second hand, when at his first job as a sales and marketing officer for a Japanese engineering company based in Thaniya Plaza Building, a notice for a new flower arrangement school, the Manako Flower Academy, attracted his attention. Sakul soon progressed from the basic level to teacher’s level, learning classical arrangements like the horizontal, the dome, and corsages. “I thought it would be a hobby, but it consumed me. I got lost in the world of flowers.” “Flowers have a positive energy; they are beautiful. They are tools for plants to propagate
and are the best thing the plant kingdom offers to the universe,” he offers as an explanation for his all-encompassing passion. A consuming love affair with the plant world that has made him a much in-demand artist, has led to Royal commissions from Queen Sirikit, floral concept designs and installations for Bulgari Hotels and Resorts in Bali, The Sukhothai and Conrad hotels in Bangkok, a line of ceramic vases, regular columns for Elle Décoration and Ploy Gam Petch, a local fashion magazine, and four books – including the international bestseller Tropical Colors: The Art of Living with Tropical Flowers. His biggest projects in the future will be the Sakul Intakul Foundation, which will research and record flower cultures and the associated sub-cultures across the Kingdom, and setting up the region’s first museum for Asian flower culture that will seek to educate visitors about floral art from Thailand, China, Bali, India, Myanmar, Laos and Japan. In between he plans to launch a line of crystal vases and wants to collaborate with lacquer manufacturers in Vietnam. Right now though he hopes his present labor of love will help people rediscover the floral culture of Thailand before it becomes extinct. “It’s never been really recorded, except for a book on Thai flower arrangement printed around 60 years ago. Most of it is passed on verbally from generation to generation,” he says. “Thailand is a place where a unique flower culture has flourished, and it is my privilege to tell the story.” 2
Sakul’s tribute to Thai floral culture