Thai Union Group PCL, a global seafood leader committed to innovation and globally responsible behavior, was awarded Best Group CEO Thailand 2019 and Best Group CFO Thailand 2019 in recognition of their dedication and commitment to excellence. Under the leadership of President and CEO,Mr. Thiraphong Chansiri and Group CFO, Mr. Joerg Ayrle, Thai Union has expanded from a business with an annual revenue of approximately 100 million USD to an operation with a revenue of more than 4.1 billion USD.
Their strategic vision and leadership has played a vital role in the company’s sustainability efforts towards transforming the seafood industry and has implemented several initiatives throughout the organization allowing Thai Union to be responsible and competitive with significant improvements inefficiency. In this exclusive interview,Group CFO, Mr. Joerg Ayrle, discusses the company’s success and their continuing commitment to sustainable solutions and leadership excellence.
Thai Union is a company with humble beginnings. First founded in 1977 as a canned tuna processor, Thai Union now has over 40 years of seafood processing experience and has grown to become one of the world’s leading seafood companies. “By expanding our footprint globally,” says Mr. Ayrle, “we now have a portfolio of market-leading seafood brands across Asia, the US, Europe, and the Middle East.We have production facilities all around the world and an incredibly passionate and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. Since listing on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 1994,Thai Union has continued to focus on profitable, sustainable growth and a steady performance. “More importantly,” he continues, “we focus on putting the interests of our stakeholders first, and this has been demonstrated through our ability to consistently pay dividends to our shareholders every year, as well as responding to consumer and market demands.
“As a consumer company, we recognize that lifestyles and consumption habits are shifting as consumers demand healthy,sustainable choices – now more than ever. This is why innovation is one of our key strategic pillars and plays an important role in driving business growth and shaping the future of the company as it gives us an uncompromising competitive advantage.”
According to Mr. Ayrle, Thai Union has also launched their Global Innovation Center (GIC), a state-of-the-art research center in central Bangkok to develop new products, maximize the value of co-products and improve their production processes. Beyond tuna oil, their ingredient business is expanding into more specialized marine nutrition products, as well as alternative proteins, which is seeing growing demand among the health-conscious consumers.
In collaboration with Mahidol University and the National Innovation Agency (NIA), Thai Union has co-founded SPACE-F, the first globalfood-tech incubator and accelerator in Thailand, which has been joined by Thai and international startups aimed to drive innovation in the food- tech industry. Additionally, as part of their continuous investment in innovation, Thai Union has established a Corporate Venture Fund with an initial commitment of 30 million USD for investments in innovative, start-up companies developing breakthrough technologies in food-tech. Their first investment was in Flying Spark, an alternative protein start-up.
Standing by their commitment to innovation and excellence, Thai Union developed SeaChange®, their global sustainability program in 2016, which has become a key pillar of company culture and corporate strategy. “It is a guidepost for all of our decisions and how we operate our businesses,” says Mr. Aryle. “Over the past many years, the seafood industry has faced a lot of criticism around human rights and sustainability. This is why Thai Union launched SeaChange® as a global sustainability program. SeaChange® demonstrates and promotes sustainable practices, from human rights to responsible sourcing, through transparency and greater accountability throughout the supply chain in the global seafood industry.”
As part of SeaChange®, Thai Union launched their Tuna Commitment in December of 2016, which is an initiative to responsibly source their branded tuna from fisheries that are either Marine Stewardship Council(MSC) certified, or engaged in Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) to move them towards MSC certification. “Our aim,” says Mr. Aryle, “was to achieve a minimum of 75 percent by the end of 2020. We’re proud to say we have already reached this goal, achieving 79 percent at the end of 2019.”
Their commitments to sustainability don’t stop with responsible sourcing,but extend to include ocean pollution and empowering workers’ voices. “On the ocean plastics front, Thai Union joined forces with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative in 2018 to tackle the problem of abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear,” says Mr. Aryle. “Regarding safe and legal labor, we have introduced our Vessel Code of Conduct, which is an extension of the Thai Union Business Ethics and Labor Code of Conduct, built around crew contracts, wages, and health and safety, particularly for our suppliers dealing with workers on fishing boats.”
In order to promote greater levels of accountability and transparency across operations, Thai Union last year introduced a new, global Whistle blowing Platform in partnership with global compliance solutions provider, Navex, for all staff and workers to ensure strict compliance with ethical and legal standards in the workplace.
Thai Union’s on-going work on sustainability issues was recognized by being ranked number one inthe world in the Food Products Industry Index in the 2019 Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) for the second consecutive year,with SeaChange® driving the score achieving a 100th percentile ranking for total sustainability score. Thai Union was also included in the FTSE4Good Emerging Index for the fourth consecutive year, andhas been recognized with the Best Sustainability Excellence Award at the SET Awards 2019 by the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).
In 2019, Thai Union was also ranked No. 1 on the inaugural Seafood Stewardship Index, which assessed the contribution of the world’s 30 largest seafood companies to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “These recognitions not only highlight our work in sustainability,” notes Mr. Aryle, “but also demonstrates our recognition by leading institutions around the world.”
In addition to their sustainability efforts, Thai Union’s excellence and leadership extends to their local communities as well. “Like any good corporate citizen,” says Mr. Ayrle, “it is important that we pay attention to the communities in which we operate. Thai Union is active across the world on both a local and group level.” The global seafood leader participates in beach clean-ups,sponsors local events to play a role in local culture, provides education to the children of migrant workers, hosts numerous workshops, and conducts community engagement and development programs in local communities. “In Bangkok, we were a proud sponsor of the 21st Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music and have been a sponsor of the Thailand Volleyball Association for over 20 years, while in Europe we sponsor football teams for those in less privileged communities,”continues Mr. Ayrle. “This is all part of being a good corporate citizen,as well as an active, responsible participant in our communities.”
When discussing future plans for the company, Mr. Aryle states that Thai Union’s vision is to be the world’s most trusted seafood leader, caring for our resources to nurture generations to come. “We also seek to continue to deliver healthy, nutritious and sustainably-sourced products to our customers globally, creating sustainable value for our stakeholders.”
“This,” he notes, “is driven by three key pillars:
“First, strengthening our core business:Thai Union is focused on achieving sustainable, profitable growth, with an emphasis on continued investment in productivity enhancement, and the turnaround or rationalizing of loss-making businesses.
“Second, building new value-enhancing businesses: We are expanding into new, attractive, value-enhancing areas to diversify and shift our portfolio,investing into new and more profitable businesses, focused on growing our PetCare and Feed businesses, and exploring high-value, accretive M&A opportunities and investment instrategic areas.
“Third, leading the industry on sustainability: We are committed to ‘Healthy Living, Healthy Oceans’ and will continue to lead the industry on sustainability. We will expand our SeaChange® sustainability program to fight Climate Change and redouble our efforts to achieve globally-responsible operations and strong corporate governance.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Aryle also notes that the company’s key focus is cash preservation, capturing opportunities, and managing daily operations, with the health and safety of employees as their absolute top priority.
With the company’s success,excellence, and commitment to leadership in mind, we asked Mr. Aryle what, in his opinion, makes a good leader. “In my view,” he says, “a goodl eader plays different roles in different situations. A good leader has vision,direction, and forward energy to guide an organization to success. A good leader is caring and compassionate with their teams and with people who need support and coaching. A good leader must be trustworthy and transparent for stakeholders.They must know when to stand firm and when to listen and think to develop their own perspectives. But, most importantly, a good leader has humility, fosters collaboration and teamwork, and brings out the best in people and organizations.”