Modern & Dynamic, but Rooted in Traditions – Rolf Blaser, CEO of A.Baur & Company

With two decades in leading positions with multinational companies like Sony and Johnson & Johnson, Rolf Blaser – the Group Chief Executive Officer of the 124-year old A. Baur & Company decided to pursue his personal and professional career in India, where he stayed for ten years, in Bangalore and Delhi. Well educated and experienced in Asian societies, he was perfectly equipped to take over the leadership at A. Baur & Company, or Baurs as the company is better known, from late 2017 onwards.

Moreover, the 150-year-old Swiss dual-track education system allowed Rolf to become a Certified Sales and Administration specialist. He is also an Economist by education with an MBA from the University of St. Gallen.

Despite the fact that the country has faced numerous incidents and challenges in the past, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Baurs is doing relatively well, as its fundamentals have grown over 124 years in Agriculture, Healthcare, and Consumer goods – all of which serve the country’s essentials.

“Fertiliser, Agrochemical and Animal Health have shown solid performance in 2020 but with serious operational challenges, given the movement restrictions driven by the pandemic. Pharmaceuticals, Surgical, and Diagnostics could render its products and services without any interruption, thanks to Baurs excellent supply chain and relationships with major leading pharma companies over half a century or more.

“Our textile, machinery, and consumable business collapsed early after the first lockdown when the garment industry came to a standstill but also recovered early when orders flocked on again. However, it’s not the same again!” Rolf said.

Looking at Sri Lanka’s Tourism industry is a tragedy. Nevertheless, Rolf remains confident and committed. “Sri Lankan Tourism will bounce back strongly, once air travel resumes. Especially in the view that Sri Lanka was Lonely Planet’s place to visit in 2019, and since Sri Lanka remained on the ‘bucket list’ of many, it will be a top destination soon. Also, the exemplary way the Sri Lanka Authorities arrested the spread of COVID-19 and avoided a major outbreak makes our country a ‘safe’ place to visit,” Rolf opined.

The industry expert further stated, “This is exactly why Baurs invested in bringing the Swiss Education system to Sri Lanka by launching VET by EHL, Vocational Education and Training by École hôtelière de Lausanne, the oldest and best Hotel Management School in the world. The first batch of students is already underway and the feedback we are getting is amazing. Swiss Hotel Management Academy (Pvt) Ltd, through which Baurs launched its Swiss Apprenticeship model in Sri Lanka, claims four innovations in one go. The students love it.”

When questioned about the importance of international trade in Sri Lanka, Rolf found home ground as an Economist. “With a relatively small population, Sri Lanka relies heavily on export to grow its economy significantly. Export will only increase if competitive products are available. This competitiveness will be attained by competing in international markets both at home and abroad. In a nutshell, this emphasizes the significance of international trade with low import barriers. More protective measures will result in less competitive products.”

When speaking of how Baurs manages steady and continuous growth, the Group CEO smiled and said, “We took our time to get where we are today, exactly 124 years. Our mantra is steady and continuous growth. As we are owned by a charitable foundation, our shareholder is not interested in profit, but rather in the long-term viability of all our activities. That is why we make significant investments in our business, technology, organization, processes, and, of course, people. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the Baurs Fertiliser Factory is one of the most modern and high-tech Fertilizer Factories in South-East Asia. We are currently not only upgrading our Group’s ERP system but also investigating completely new ways to adopt technology, which has an impact on how we conduct business.  Modern and dynamic, yet deeply rooted in tradition. Many ‘first in Sri Lanka’ by Baurs can be found in our history books. It is the first provider of scientific advice to our farming community, the first tractor used in agriculture, and the first underground parking in our headquarters building are all examples of this. The most recent groundbreaking innovation was the 2020 release of Sri Lanka’s first biopesticide to combat the Fall Armyworm and protect our maize fields.

“Baurs is representing some of the finest and largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, where only the best is good enough. The same holds true when it comes to ethics and compliance. After a change in the European Law, where fines can be imposed as a percentage of worldwide turnover, many reputed pharmaceutical companies deployed the highest level of moral, ethical, and compliance. This is when a partner like Baurs comes very handy, as we have celebrated compliance over many decades, regardless of the additional cost it generates. Adding a powerful and effective distribution network, we attract like-minded companies with similar corporate cultures. This served as an important ingredient for very long-standing and successful partnerships with our agencies.”

In conclusion, Rolf affirmed that even though the business model of Baurs has changed over the years, its philosophy and the way it conducts business hasn’t changed.

“In my opinion, the impact of COVID-19, fueled by the fourth industrial revolution, has dramatically increased the rate of change in business models. In less than ten years from now, Logistics, Supply Chain, and Trade will be unrecognizable. As a result, we believe that our corporate values of Trust, Reliability, Quality and Innovation are the best way to navigate the future.”

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