Sep 28

Who Cares Wins

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

December 28,2004. Two days after the Tsunami had hit the southern part of Thailand and had left a picture of devastation, I am in my office in Bangkok. I phone Mr. Promboon Panitchpakdi, the Executive Director of the Raks Thai Foundation (RTF), the local arm of CARE International, one of the world’s largest development and relief organizations present in over 80 countries. I ask Promboon what the response of the Raks Thai Foundation to the Tsunami is. He is already in the disaster zone in the South of Thailand. With sadness in his voice he describes to me the terrible sights that he has made overthere where so many people have been killed by the giant waves. Rescue operations of local and international aid organizations have already started. Promboon tells me what is needed most by the survivors at this point of time. He mentions also which things have already been in oversupply, since too many aid organizations, despite their good intentions, have sent too much of the same. Bottled drinking water for example is already available in excess, while at the same time, there were no blankets or dry, warm clothes available. I tell Promboon that our company will come up with a financial donation and that I will get back to him within one hour.

When I discuss the issue with the two only senior managers at our office present on that day, we agree that we should do something. Mrs. Rungrawee Selananda, our Finance Director, suggests to donate one million Baht. I contact two more members of our Leadership Team at home via mobile phone. They are in support of our proposal and also think that one million Baht is a reasonable amount. My next call goes to Harald Link, the CEO of our Joint Venture Partner B. Grimm Co. He gives me immediately green light for the donation. Due to the festive season, I know that I cannot reach my boss in Germany. Nevertheless, I know that I cannot do anything wrong with the donation, since I know him well enough to realize that he too will be fully in support of the donation.

45 minutes have passed since my first conversation with Promboon on that day. I phone him again. I tell him that our company is donating one million Baht and that we will issue the cheque today. Despite the very sad occasion, I can sense the joy in Promboon’s voice. Our quick response (Merck Thailand was mentioned later in an international newspaper article as one of the first four companies to respond to the Tsunami) will immediately enable Promboon to scale up significantly his relief measures, and one  million baht (about US-$ 35,000.–) can go a long way in such an environment.

Still today, I can say that this was one of my most important and best decisions that I have taken during my whole career. At the same time, despite the sad occasion, it is one of the most cherished and joyful moments of my career. And it is one of those memorable moments, a soft and highly emotional issue, that I value much higher than the hard ones like winning a big contract, achieving a stretch sales target, winning a big order, or getting the approval to build a new distribution center.

The need for companies to make a tangible contribution to society has never been discussed more than today. One way to do this is to form a partnership with a NGO (=Non-governmental organization). Already in 2002, Merck Thailand had formed a partnership with the Raks Thai Foundation / CARE Thailand. It was not an easy start, because the way how a business enterprise and a NGO are operating, are so different. I still remember the words of Mr. Sukich Udindu, at that time the Director of the Raks Thai Foundation with whom I founded our partnership: “We want to learn from you; we want to become more professional. We know, as a NGO, we are slow, but please never forget that the beneficiaries from our joint efforts, the needy people, are even much slower.” He explained that it takes his NGO about six months until they have gained the trust of the villagers who are supposed to benefit from the capacity-building measures.

It was quite a drastic change for the Raks Thai Foundation who used to receive the majority of their funds from overseas, mainly through the headquarter of CARE International, to have all of a sudden a very demanding local partner (us) contributing a significant part to their financial revenue. While the Raks Thai Foundation was used to produce once a year a voluminous report for documentary purposes for the CARE International Head Office, all of a sudden we came with a lots of requirements starting with a simple thing like a PR brochure from the Raks Thai Foundation, so that we can introduce them to our customers. From the beginning, we involved our customers in donation activities, since my philosophy is to try, for every Baht we as a company are giving, to find a customer or someone else to match it and to donate too.

The first round with our customers went quite well, but when we came back six months later to ask for more donations from them for our “matching fund – campaign”, the customers wanted to know how their previously donated money had been put to good use by the Raks Thai Foundation. Therefore, we had to ask the Raks Thai Foundation for pictures, short project reports and a newsletter about their project activities. After some struggle at the beginning, they coped very well with our respectively our customers’ demands.

In the true spirit of caring leadership, the Leadership Teams of the Raks Thai Foundation and Merck Thailand were able to master the initial challenges in the newly formed cooperation and became a role model for a partnership between a NGO and a business enterprise.

Over the years, Merck Thailand and its employees, customers, suppliers and partners have donated more than 24 million Baht to the Raks Thai Foundation from which more than 10,000 people in communities in the Northeast, North and South of Thailand have benefitted. In line with its slogan “Hand in hand, because we care” Merck Thailand set up three aid projects with the Raks Thai Foundation which are still running as per today:

a) the Merck Young Leadership Development Program in Udonthani and Nongkai

b) the Merck Community Caring and Action Partnership Program in Mae Chaem, Chiang Mai

c) the Merck Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Program in Ban Bang Bane, Ranong

When it came to project realization, Merck Thailand trusted in the expertise and experience of the Raks Thai Foundation. Our objective was not just to write a cheque giving money away, but to get actively involved. Realizing the different strengths of companies and NGOs, Merck Thailand leveraged its business infrastructure to implement measures for fundraising; the Raks Thai Foundation brought in all their competence in social development work.

Summarizing, the objectives of Merck Thailand’s partnership with the Raks Thai Foundation / CARE Thailand were as follows:

  • First and foremost, to make a contribution to the Thai society

However, as a business enterprise, a for profit company, we had also clear business goals:

  • Position Merck Thailand as a “caring” company (in line with our company’s core value “care”)
  • Create a better image of Merck Thailand in the eyes of the employees, the customers, the shareholders and the society in terms of “contribution to the society” (”living the 4 stakeholders – approach”)
  • Differentiation from the competitors
  • Increase employee and customer engagement

Independent surveys show how rewarding such business enterprise / NGO – partnerships can be:

  • Consumers would rather do business with a company that stands for something beyond profits.
  • Customers admire and buy from companies that show concern for the community.
  • People like to work for a company that cares.
  • People like to buy from a company that cares.

Therefore, I would like to encourage business enterprises as well as NGOs to explore possibilities that can be worked on together. It is essential that both parties share the same goal and are committed to make a difference in the world.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 28th, 2009 at 20:08 and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Leave a comment

  1. panya says:

    Good memory and keep writing.
    Be strong

  2. Gabriela says:

    Dear Heinz Landau,
    meeting you last February together with Manfred is still a great memory. Reflecting about excellent leadership I often think about you. All the best Gabriela

  3. Promboon Panitchpakdi Promboon says:

    I verify the words of Mr Landau. The Tsunami response of Merck Thailand, through Mr Landau’s leadership, was extra-ordinary and still have impact even today. Many companies want to see quick results such as children smiling and laughing. While that is fine it is also important to children grow up to be valuable assets of society. Merck Thailand and Mr Landau in particularly has demonstrated this understanding of development and contributing to society. Raks Thai Foundation on the other hand has learned so much from our partnership with Merck Thailand.

    All the best