The Thailand Investment Review recently had the opportunity to pose a series of questions to Mr. Bruce Blakeman, vice president for corporate affairs in the Asia-Pacific region for Cargill, stationed in Singapore.
Mr. Blakeman joined Cargill in 2005, after serving four years as a Presidential Appointee in the in Bush Administration. He was first appointed as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of Commerce where he ran the domestic operations of the U.S. Commercial Service (2001-2003). He was then asked to serve as the Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans' special envoy to China stationed in the Beijing Embassy where he served for two years (2003-2005). Prior to this, Mr. Blakeman served in a variety of positions gaining experience in Asia, Australia and the United States.
Thailand Investment Review (TIR) : Can you please give us a general description of your company?
Bruce Blakeman: Cargill is an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services. Founded in 1865, our privately held company employs 140,000 people in 65 countries. Cargill helps customers succeed through collaboration and innovation, and we are committed to applying our global knowledge and experience to help meet economic, environmental and social challenges wherever we do business.
The customers we serve are:
- Agriculture: We buy, process and distribute grains, oilseeds and other food commodities to makers of food and animal nutrition products. We also provide crop and livestock producers with products and services.
- Food: We provide food and beverage manufacturers, food service companies and retailers with high-quality ingredients, meat and poultry products, and health-promoting ingredients and ingredient systems.
- Financial: We provide our customers around the world with risk management and financial solutions.
- Industrial: Cargill serves industrial users of energy, salt, starch and steel products. We develop and market sustainable products made from agricultural feedstocks. We also provide ocean shipping solutions to customers.
TIR: In what year did your company start its operation in Thailand?
Blakeman: Cargill's activities in Thailand started in 1968 with the opening of an office in Bangkok.
TIR: How many employees does your company have?
Blakeman: In Thailand, we have about 12,000 employees.
TIR: How many of them are Thai?
Blakeman: About 75 percent of our employees in Thailand are Thai nationals.
TIR: Please describe your company's main products and those manufactured in Thailand.
Blakeman: Today, Cargill's operations in Thailand comprise the origination, sourcing, processing, handling, distribution and marketing of a wide range of products including agricultural commodities, animal feed, poultry and food, as well as food and beverage ingredients. We are one of Thailand's largest producers and exporters of cooked poultry products and also one of the largest buyers of Thai sugar that is destined for export markets. Other businesses include starch manufacturing from Thai cassava and we export a variety of Thai foods and fruit juices.
TIR: What are your future growth plans here in Thailand?
Blakeman: We see a lot of growth opportunities in Thailand. One specific area is in aquaculture where we provide sustainable feed solutions to fish and shrimp growers. Thailand is the second largest producer of shrimp in the world. In July we acquired the Thailand-based shrimp feed manufacturer Siamakme Aquatic Feeds Co., Ltd, to strengthen our presence in Thailand and provide a platform for further expansion in this important market.
We will also continue to grow our Thai poultry business. We just announced a USD $10 million (approximately THB 300 million) upgrade our integrated poultry processing facility in Saraburi. This comes on the heels of a USD $110 million expansion of our poultry processing facility in Korat.
Together the facilities have an annual production capacity of 80,000 metric tons and are part of a fully integrated poultry supply chain that serves customers in Asia, Europe and North America.
TIR: What factors give your company an edge over competitors in the industry
Blakeman: Cargill's global experience and breadth of knowledge and expertise allows us to provide customers with an unparalleled view of the many interdependencies of today's world. In particular, our expertise in supply chain management, risk management and research and development has forged a strong competitive advantage we can share with our customers.
Plus, our intense focus on food safety makes us a reliable partner with the food manufacturing industry and livestock and aquaculture growers.
TIR: What is your opinion about the current condition of the food industry in Thailand?
Blakeman: The food industry in Thailand is thriving and Cargill is delighted to be a part of it. With Thailand's great natural resources, creative people and strong workforce, Thailand is an ideal place to be in the food business. The government is also incredibly supportive of multinational companies investing in Thailand, which has been a key to our success.
TIR: How would you describe the relationship between BOI and your company?
Blakeman: Most of our investments in Thailand are BOI investments. The BOI has been an important partner for Cargill in Thailand and BOI incentives have helped us grow our business.
TIR: How would you describe Thai employees?
Blakeman: Our employees in Thailand are creative, hard-working, reliable and eager to learn.
TIR: What kind of education and qualifications, and experience do most of your Thai employees have?
Blakeman: It depends on the business and the employee's job. We have jobs that range from high school education qualifications to post-graduate degrees with superior English skills.
TIR: Does your company provide any workforce development programs (e.g. English language training)?
Blakeman: We have several development programs for employees, including language, leadership and technical development programs. One example is our "School in the Plant" program, which allows employees to complete their primary, secondary and high school education while working for our poultry business.
TIR: What are some industry-related risks that have been identified by your company?
Blakeman: For our own businesses and our customers' businesses, Thailand is a key export platform, so one of the biggest risks is market access to other countries, especially other Asian countries. Open markets and free trade are critical for our success. Anything that could cause an export market to put a ban on Thai goods or interrupt Thai imports is particularly critical to us.
TIR: How will the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) benefit and /or challenge your Thailand operation?
Blakeman: It would be very beneficial to our business and should result in better market access for our products and our Thai customers' products.
TIR: Is there anything not covered that you would like to add?
Blakeman: We are proud of our corporate responsibility work in Thailand, which has also contributed to the success of our business. We work on a range of projects to address economic and social challenges in Thailand's rural areas, including providing access to clean drinking water, giving scholarships to about 1,000 students each year and working with tapioca farmers to improve their yields and incomes.