I went to Mongolia at the invitation of the APU Company and at the suggestion of James Espey who works with them. The purpose of the visit was to provide marketing training.
APU is the biggest alcohol and beverage company on the Mongolian Stock exchange. In the marketplace, they are the dominant factor in vodka and beer – certainly in volume and, in my view, in terms of product quality as well. (The vodkas are the best I’ve ever tasted and the beers were equally outstanding.)
The company was established in 1924 as a state monopoly (with Soviet influence), became a joint stock company partly owned by the state and partly private in 1992 and today is totally privately owned and a top player. You’d think that such a market leader would rest on its laurels. No way.
In some respects it reminded me of Seagram before the show businesses crazies and greed set in. The people in marketing and sales are arguably the best in the Mongolian business and still continue to strive for excellence without arrogance. The production operation is top notch – I have never seen a plant and manufacturing facility so state-of-the-art. While I was there they had just received their ISO Certificate of Quality for soft drink and beer production. So, add world class to the mix.
Other similarities included concerns about social responsibility, customer service, debates about brand spending as a cost or investment, marketing and sales issues, and many other things the Seagram alumni will readily recall.
I found it interesting that governmental concern (and hypocrisy) about alcohol consumption is universal. In the US, prohibition failed because the government needed the tax and tariff revenue on alcohol. In Mongolia, the government gives APU an enormous award for being among the top five tax revenue producers (see photo below) yet, lobbies the public to drink soft drinks on New Year’s Eve.
I was so impressed with the management and team that I initially worried about whether I could meet their expectations and add value. Based on their knowledge of marketing and sales, what was supposed to be a training session, turned into discussions of beverage and alcohol marketing issues and case studies.
All in all, the people I encountered, except for the language difference, could be sales and marketing executives from any leading company in the world. I would have hired any one of them.
It was an experience of a lifetime.
My only complaint — I should have brought more vodka home.