Baurs: An emblematic pioneer in the corporate sector – Managing Director / CEO of A. Baur & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd., Rolf Blaser

Baurs’ corporate legacy is built on its Swiss heritage and value systems whilst maintaining a fine line between the dynamics of contemporary and traditional roots. The name Baurs endures a strong unity among trust, reliability, quality, and innovation. These characteristics are well reflected throughout all the facets during its 125 years of a revolutionary journey. Initiated back in 1884, its founder, Alfred Baur, a Swiss national who travelled to Ceylon, worked his way up as a proprietary coconut planter and eventually established ‘The Ceylon Manure Works’ in the year 1897 (now known as A. Baur & Co.). This was the first Sri Lanka fertilizers company, exclusively involved in both organic manures and chemical fertilizers.

Furthermore, Baurs holds the primary right to claim the scientific advice to farmers whilst providing hands-on training, as early as 1898. Their enthusiasm and passion portrayed continue to grow stronger than ever. Reversing back to the time, when the Sri Lankan Government diverted its intentions towards organic agriculture conversion in 2020, Baurs took immediate measures to interconnect with relevant subject experts. Furthermore, this interest was extended to renowned institutions in Switzerland; The School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL), and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). Switzerland being a country with the sixth highest penetration of organic farming in the world, Baurs found it quite compatible in gathering a team of senior experts to study the country’s agriculture ecosystem and actively seek practical solutions to successfully embrace this conversion.

These experts revisited the country earlier this year as part of its second phase of the comprehensive study, to further engage in an in-depth analysis and 3600 evaluation, in order to follow the preliminary findings based on their initial visit in August 2021. In addition to the holistically-planned route to sustainable organic agriculture, Baurs, together with the industry experts, is now in discussion with various stakeholders including regulators, associations, research institutions, academia, and international and domestic R&D best practices, with hopes of establishing a Centre of Excellence. Targeting the possibility of sharing knowledge with leading academics, one of Baurs’ fine employees, paved his way through his expertise in organic agriculture, to represent their Faculty Board, in the newly established Faculty of Urban and Aquatic Bioresources at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

Accepting audacious propositions to lead head first, is a true inspiration to the corporate character that Baurs has deeply embedded and translated into its day-to-day activities. Baurs was the first in building and operating an industrial rail (1901), in introducing the first agricultural tractor heralding a new era of mechanization in agriculture (1919), in establishing the first fully electrified tea factory (1936), in finding a cure for the malaria epidemic (1946), in producing the first basmati rice (1975), in registering the first biopesticide FAWLIGEN to eradicate and in controlling fall armyworm (2020). Furthermore, in 2021, Baurs was the first to launch the Swiss apprenticeship model in the hospitality sector, together with the world’s leading Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne.

The Swiss apprenticeship model is a highly proven system and has won numerous medals in the WorldSkills competition. Alfred Baur’s education was entirely based on this, with an apprenticeship at Volkart Brothers. Similarly, the current Managing Director/CEO, Rolf Blaser, shared a similar path, although his apprenticeship was focused on the consumer electronics industry.

Throughout the years, Baurs recognized tremendous growth and progress. Foraying into healthcare with J. R. Geigy Ltd (Novartis) in 1945 and then with Roche in 1955, Baurs entered the shipping line business with NYK for passenger and cargo but discontinued due to administrational reasons. Today, its healthcare division is among the top three importers in the country with a portfolio comprising of pharmaceutical, surgical, and diagnostics including nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, herbal, and ayurvedic. In 1957, it stepped into the aviation industry as the General Sales Agent (GSA) for Swissair and represents the airline ever since, including ground handling. Another noteworthy mention is Baurs’ long-standing banking relationship with HSBC that stands intact since 1897; the first customer on Hexagon; A membership with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) since 1899.

Baurs was also one of the first to embrace digital transition back in 1982, following IBM’s entry into Sri Lanka. Ever since, it has continued to adapt to the evolving technological changes, embracing cyber security & disaster recovery measures, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and IoT among others. In October 2021, Baurs completed a major milestone by upgrading to SAP S/4 HANA 2020 on cloud deployment with SAP Analytics Cloud Live reporting. Despite the various encounters with an unprecedented pandemic, the project was executed completely off-site using online communication. Furthermore, the company dominated in sales force automation which goes beyond mere mobility, data, and analytics, to integrate the various businesses and channels using a design-thinking approach while challenging its current status quo.

Evolving throughout the agriculture and industrial revolution, Baurs is well-positioned in understanding the need and impact of the 4th industrial revolution and is now gearing up for Business Model Innovation (BMI). Plans are already underway to embrace these upcoming innovations through a well-defined blueprint integrated with technology and operational excellence.  

Today, Baurs is not just the largest private fertilizer company but also a fast-growing brand in diverse sectors, supported by its vertically integrated shared services, where Baur Life Sciences takes the lead for innovation.

Baurs places a high emphasis on compliance, with standards and processes being deployed and adhered to in all aspects. The various ISO certifications, OHSAS 18001, UKAS, and ‘Green Channel’ privilege with CEO and AEO status from the Sri Lanka Customs, speak for themselves. The company-wide policies focused on ethical and responsible dealings are well reflected in its Code of Moral & Ethics, alongside the numerous good practices.  

The iconic 80-year-old building housing the headquarters of Baurs carries a legacy of its own. It was also occupied by the British Navy and the Swiss Embassy. Regarded as one of the strongest and long-standing architectural landmarks, it was the first bomb and shock-proof building in Colombo and the first to also have an underground parking area. Lakshman Niyangoda, the previous Managing Director currently serving as the Non-Executive Chairman, once stated ‘The walls of this building have heard and witnessed all our plans, prayers and passion, and we share a strong emotional connection with it.’ The newly refurbished front reception area also features the first mural in Sri Lanka by Australian artist Donald Friend.

Baurs’ maintains an uplifting work climate, cultivating intrinsic trust, pride, camaraderie, and fun among all its employees. While ensuring that every individual receives the proper guidance, training & continuous development, mutual respect, care, and integrity, one is continuously stimulated towards taking on novel opportunities and responsibilities that will contribute to broadening their horizons, both personally and professionally. During the height of the pandemic with curfew being imposed all over, Baurs assured job security with no layoffs or salary deductions. Instead, it provided financial assistance and increased insurance cover for its lower-income group, including emergency food supplies being delivered to the homes of all employees. Moreover, job rotation was actively pursued to prevent job loss due to less business.

With the view of motivating its employees post-covid, Baurs did not fail to remind its employees of the optimism that existed before the pandemic. Welcome packs, gift vouchers, photoshoots, meditational advice, and simple fun-packed activities (like Baurs’ Jerusalema Challenge) were introduced to employees at the headquarters to production sites and sales centers.

Baurs also provides prominence to gender equality and women empowerment, hence taking immense pride in having two accomplished and talented women in its board and executive leadership. Equality, diversity, and inclusion are demonstrated at all stages of hierarchies, from the top, all the way to the bottom. Women are actively encouraged to take on bold challenges, while their colleagues never fall short in supporting them.

Sustainability has always been a part of Baurs since its inception, primarily through responsible innovations. The company officially declared sustainability as a priority, following its discussions and involvement with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) last year. Baurs will now align its strategies, culture, and operations to integrate and reflect the ten core principles of UNGC, in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption, while contributing to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Baurs is owned by the charity foundation, Alfred et Eugénie Baur in Geneva, Switzerland, which also owns Baur Museum “Collection Baur”. Its shareholders are always inclined towards long-term goals and wider responsibilities such as supporting philanthropy, nature, and folklore, whilst ensuring the continuation of Baurs. Extending the values of the foundation, Baurs indulges in numerous socially responsible activities such as empowering children with special needs by donating to the National Council for Deaf, enabling and assisting in infrastructure development through its signature School Furniture Project, donating furniture to over 380 schools and over 280 institutions; including religious establishments across all 25 districts. Furthermore, various emergency relief & intervention, and youth training programs were arranged in rural towns including a six-month internship opportunity with Baurs, which opens the gates to being a full-time employee years later. During the height of the pandemic, Baurs made reliable donations of 100 used computers to needy schools and other education institutions, ensuring the education of the children.

With a dense history connected closely to humans and humanitarian acts, Baurs continue to prosper and grow in terms of a company and an active body largely involved in philanthropy. Being a corporate resonating strength and resilience, Baurs’ corporate legacy is one that will live on and last for the years to come.

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