Asia, speaking Spanish and Wine…!!
What’s your story?
I left the UK during the financial crisis in 2008 as I was made redundant from an accountancy position. I decided I wanted to work to make the best of a bad situation, so I made a shortlist of my priorities. I wanted to work with products rather than numbers, be based in Asia and be in a role that allowed me to speak Spanish. Wine seemed like the perfect fit! Luckily my timing was right, as Concha y Toro (South America’s largest winery group) was expanding their Asia division and I got an introduction. However, to get the job, I had to buy a one-way ticket to Chile for the interview! I became an Export Manager for them and saw a massive opportunity to improve the way the wine industry worked. Three years later, Winefamily was born.
What excites you most about your industry?
People are getting more relaxed about wine and there is a progression to make it less stuffy and more inclusive. Wineries are able to engage with their consumers on a global scale using social media, and these types of connections are building a stronger bond between the two groups that really matter – the consumer and the producer. This trend is happening in beers and spirits too. People want uniqueness, backstory and charm alongside great quality.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve lived in Singapore for 5 years and I love it. I had never set foot in any part of Asia before I came with my suitcases to live permanently; for some reason I knew I always wanted to live on this side of the world. I did my university politics thesis on Chinese Strategic Culture and I enjoy learning Mandarin. I love every country in the region and I am nuts for the food. I am in a hawker centre daily!
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore. It’s just so easy; from travel both on the streets to internationally, Internet connectivity, business support services, safety and freedom from corruption. Regulation is to an appropriate level and administrative tasks are relatively painless. My experience of setting up a company in Asia is only here in Singapore, so my comparative capacity is a bit low, but I would set up a business here again and again.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Just the other day a good friend and I were discussing our very different, yet equally stressful, jobs. Her advice was ‘Share. Share as much as you can. Speak to everyone around you and answers are more quickly found.” My personality is to load everything on my shoulders, but every time I have really opened up to others and shared my worries, I have been amazed at how willing people can be to help. I need to share more!
Who inspires you?
I find inspiration in many people. There are so many people getting out there and trying new things. However, in my adult life and as I have grown, I have appreciated my parents achievements more and more, and they are my biggest inspiration. In terms of public faces, I am in awe of Malala Yousafzai and her courage.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
People never believe they are in the wrong. It seems obvious and certainly not ‘mind-blowing’ on the surface, but when you let it sink in, it changes how you approach every conflict. To think ‘if I were them, knowing what they do, and having experienced everything they have, I would do exactly the same’, is hard, but it’s also life changing. That, and more recently that scientists have figured out how to unboil an egg!
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
At every turn you make a decision that, on balance given the information in front of you, is what you see as the best course of action. So dwelling on what I might have done differently is something I try to avoid. I am thankful that my twists and turns have been eventful, interesting, educational and character building. I have a lot of things that I will do next time differently, most of which revolve around not walking so much of the road on my own and building the team from day one.
How do you unwind?
Running and swimming really help to clear my head. I’ll jog around Botanic Gardens on Mondays and Macritchie Reservoir at the weekends. I have recently taken up Crossfit and it gives me the only real time in the week where work doesn’t pop into my brain, because I am entirely distracted by the pain of the exercises! I love going to the cinema with friends and, of course, wine is definitely a welcome companion to a relaxing moment.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love the Gili Islands in Indonesia. I wish I could go more. It has no motorized transport but there are still fantastic beach bars and restaurants. It’s completely idyllic. I am still the type of guy who likes a bit of nightlife though, and luckily there are lively bars at night to keep me entertained.
Everyone in business should read this book:
For personal development, ‘How To Win Friends & Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. Many know it as it was written in 1936, but it’s a book that really helped guide me on how to engage with people in a positive way to ultimately get what you need. It helps with putting perspective on other people’s actions that ultimately distresses you too. For business, ‘Running Lean’ by Ash Muarya is what every business owner should read and execute. Both of these books I revisit periodically to keep myself in check.
Shameless plug for your business:
Winefamily is an online marketplace for wines, built to bring efficiency to a massively fragmented industry for the benefit of both wine sellers and buyers alike. Merchants operate virtual shops on our platform with no set-up fees, whilst consumers get wines delivered to their door with free delivery when buying 6 bottles. Whilst still bootstrapped, we have grown to nearly 40 leading international and local wine merchants selling with us in Singapore.
How can people connect with you?
Feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] for any queries or expressions of interest.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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