Bundaberg Brewed Drinks CEO John McLean MAICD opens up on why education has been crucial to taking their famous ginger beer from Bundaberg to the world.
If you had tripled your business’s revenues over ten years and doubled your workforce, you might be forgiven for putting your feet up for a while. If you’d taken an Australian household name to the American consumer market and made a successful push into Asia, you might think you had nothing left to learn.
But not for John McLean MAICD of Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, the Queensland company behind the “best non-alcoholic beverages in the world” including a famous ginger beer. For McLean, CEO since 2007 of the proudly family-owned business, “education is absolutely crucial”.
Constantly developing his knowledge and learning about business governance in foreign countries has been a key to McLean’s success in overseeing Bundaberg’s expansion into new overseas markets.
“I want to stay current. I’m a director in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and I need to keep abreast,” McLean says.
With this in mind, McLean has enrolled in the AICD’s Company Director Course Update, a refresher course for those who have previously completed the flagship Company Directors Course.
I want to stay current. I’m a director in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and I need to keep abreast.
McLean first did the Company Directors Course – the market leading program on corporate governance for directors, aspiring directors and executives – more than a decade ago before he took on the top job at Bundaberg. He’s now refreshing his knowledge as part of the continuous education he sees as vital in his job as a company executive.
“I believe strongly that education is the ticket to the table,” McLean says. “You may have a seat at the table already, but to retain that ticket to be there, you have to continue to educate and transform yourself.”
McLean’s deep-seated belief in the value education first saw him pursue a career as a teacher, but those plans were sidetracked when McLean joined the family business of his wife Rae-Lee, daughter of Bundaberg Chairman and majority shareholder Cliff Fleming, in 1994.
McLean stays connected to his former teaching life through membership of his local school board. He’s sat on the board for the last nine years, part of giving back to his beloved Bundaberg community.
This community-minded ethos stretches to the way McLean runs his business.
“We’re very proud Bundaberg people and one-eyed Queensland supporters,” McLean says. “But we are also a global player now and we’ve got to support families and communities where we have people employed. Bundaberg Brewed Drinks is a family business, but it is also a business of 230 families. We are genuinely interested in our team because we believe when you have a happy team and motivated employees, you get a better result.”
It is a mindset that has underpinned Bundaberg’s pursuit of not just growth but sustainable growth. And it is this commitment to sustainable growth that motivates Bundaberg’s emphasis on good governance.
Cliff Fleming, in a move that his son-in-law hails as visionary, instituted a company board in 1997. Bundaberg’s six person board now has three members outside of the family and the formal legal structure the board provides helps the company’s leaders think clearly about their strategy.
Another buttress of the long-term focus of the company is that, as a family-owned and -operated business, it is not subject to the whims of public markets that would come from being listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.
We don’t want to be the Olympics. We don’t want to have every banner walking around the arena.
“We don’t have to worry about what the share price is today because we don’t have a share price,” McLean says. “We’re very long-term and family capital is patient.”
The careful approach to growth has been borne out by the success of Bundaberg’s international expansion with nearly 40% of the drink company’s revenues now coming from outside Australia. The company has selectively chosen which markets to enter and which local players to partner with.
“We don’t want to be the Olympics,” McLean says. “We don’t want to have every banner walking around the arena. We focus in on the markets that suit our needs, the markets that are the right ones.”
And just as McLean believes in constantly educating himself, he’s not done with growing the Bundaberg brand.
“We will continue to grow, continue to develop sustainably and invest in our communities,” McLean says of his plans for the company’s future. “We will continue to be a proud family-owned Australian business that’s taking the best non-alcoholic beverage around the world.”
This article originally appeared in The Courier Mail on 20 May. Visit here for more information on the Company Directors Course Update.
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