These days, you can’t go a few blocks without seeing the Jotun logo in Thailand. It wasn’t always that way.
When the paint manufacturer began operations in the Kingdom nearly 55 years ago, it encountered fierce competition along with other challenges. Mr Bjørn Granerød first arrived in the country two years after the firm began operations and received a truly warm welcome upon his arrival. “I landed at Don Muang Airport in April 1970 on the hottest day of the year. It was about 45-degrees Celsius. On the tarmac, it felt like at least 60 degrees,” Mr Granerød explained. “The intense heat made me think about returning to Norway the very same day. But I stayed and eventually I adjusted to the heat and the climate.”
As a company, Jotun needed to differentiate itself. After struggling in the housepaint market early on, it opted to focus on protective and marine paints where the firm had more know-how and experience than competitors. Mr Granerød noted that the decision began paying dividends as the 1970s progressed. This encouraged Jotun to enter related fields, such as powder coatings. “We established the very first powder coatings production facility in 1977 when Corro-Coat (Thailand) Ltd. was born. No one else had ever attempted to produce such coatings in East Asia before, mainly due to the high temperatures needed. But after many difficulties, we succeeded in our efforts and never looked back,” Mr Granerød recalled.
In the early 1980s, the company tried again to gain a foothold in the housepaint market after establishing itself as a leader for protective and marine coatings in Thailand. For Jotun, this meant finding ways to stand out in a crowded marketplace. “We brought in experts on marketing and sales to promote our products nationwide. With that followed the introduction of mixing machines into our dealers’ shops which revolutionised the number of colours available to customers,” Mr Granerød stated. “The switch in strategy turned out to be a success. Housepaints are a big part of our overall sales today.”
Of course, Mr Granerød and Jotun encountered challenges along the way. This includes one problem modern-day businesses still encounter. “Traffic was, if possible, even slower than today. There were not so many cars on the roads back then, but there were fewer roads available. The average speed during rush hour was 3-6 kilometres per hour,” Mr Granerød detailed. “Business and customer service were rather hard to execute. No mobile phones were available. It was telex only. So, it was far more difficult to communicate or visit customers.”
Sometimes communication with customers didn’t go as planned. In the early 1980s, faulty raw materials caused some white paint to turn grey within weeks of application. The company was forced to repaint numerous houses over a short time. Most people understood, although one gentleman had a rather unique way of lodging his complaint.
“A guy came into our office wanting to know when we would repaint his now greyish house. I explained we would do the job as soon as possible, but that he had to wait his turn,” Mr Granerød recounted. “He looked at me and asked again, this time pulling out a large gun and pointing it at me. I got his message and told him we could start the very same afternoon. You don’t negotiate with such people, neither in Thailand nor anywhere else. And you don’t make a big thing out of it either.”
While incidents like that aren’t the norm, they certainly made life interesting for Mr Granerød. However, it is the people who had the most profound impact on him, both professionally and personally. “Except for the very top management, all leading positions at Jotun are occupied by locals. This was our aim from the very beginning. The skill and loyalty of the local population must be honoured and utilised to its fullest extent,” Mr Granerød said. “And the locals certainly lived up to our hopes.”
Now enjoying his retirement, Mr Granerød still spends winters in Thailand. It’s certainly a far cry from standing on the sweltering tarmac at Don Muang Airport in 1970 with nothing more than some clothing and a toothbrush. “When I arrived in ‘The Land of Smiles’ in 1970, I had nothing more or less. When I left Thailand in 1995, I had everything. A loving wife, two lovely daughters, lots of friends, countless memories, and some money. I cannot thank Jotun and the Thai people enough for giving me this period of my life which has been so important. I would not give it away for anything in this world,” Mr Granerød proclaimed.
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