Aviad Meitar: An Unimaginable Journey: How Pepsi Beat the Odds in Romania - Author interview
Successful international business executive Aviad Meitar was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his inspirational and highly readable book An Unimaginable Journey: How Pepsi Beat the Odds in Romania.
Aviad Meitar describes how he set up Pepsi's business in Romania in 1991, just after the fall of the Communist regime; how he oversaw the venture's growth; and its eventual sale fifteen years later to PepsiCo's second largest global bottler. He also shares his vision backed up by following the ancient Viking Laws.
Thanks to Aviad Meitar for his time, and for his interesting and informative responses. They are greatly appreciated.
What was the background to writing this book An Unimaginable Journey: How Pepsi Beat the Odds in Romania?
Aviad Meitar: Ever since my early visits to Romania, at the beginning of 1991, I felt that a special story was developing. The way the idea to set up a business in Romania first came about– by three non-business people situated in Kentucky, U.S., who were courageous enough to travel to the country just days after the bloody revolution there; the introduction to our investment group – through a connection of people that had played squash together in a unique setting; the coincidence of knocking on PepsiCo's door just as they had lost the only candidate they had to become their bottler in the country…and these are just a few of the many unusual circumstances that we encountered. I had a strong sense that one day I would want to write this story, and share it with a larger audience.
How did you choose to establish a Pepsi business as an entrepreneur in Romania?
Aviad Meitar: The opportunity actually came "knocking on my door". These individuals mentioned above approached our investment group. I was responsible for business development so I was given the task of looking into it. While we had no knowledge of Romania nor of the beverage industry, I felt it was something that warranted exploring. And that's how I started going to Romania, and while it was clear that it was not an easy proposition, I made a decision to pursue it and convinced our group to support it.
What unexpected challenges did you face in the Romanian market that tested your skills as an entrepreneur and leader?
Aviad Meitar: We encountered significant challenges from the start: setting up a business in a remote and unknown market, just coming out of almost 50 years of communism made for a large task. There was a fair amount of bureaucracy we had to contend with as a foreign investor. Then, we discovered that businesses were very much production focused and basic disciplines like sales, distribution and marketing did not exist. We had to train people in these disciplines and start these activities from scratch.
Were there difficulties with the political climate in a country in transition from Communist rule to a market economy?
Aviad Meitar: The political climate was widely considered unstable at the time, especially in the U.S.. However it turned out to be untrue. The country proved that their young democracy was solid, going through a number of changes from one side of the political map to the other, all without an incidence.
Aviad Meitar (photo left)
When you entered the Romanian market with Pepsi, what challenges did you face from established brand Coca Cola?
Aviad Meitar: The daunting undertaking of going against Coke was truly a David vs. Goliath match up: we had no experience in the beverage industry while they came into the market with three very experienced bottlers; we were mired with the old remains of the Pepsi presence during the previous regime – old logo bottles, multi-color crates, while they came in with a squeaky clean image – new bottles, crates and trucks; we had a very small budget, while they came in with deep pockets, ready to invest more than 50 times our budget! But we stayed the course and made our venture a success.
You employed ancient Viking laws to management. What were these Viking concepts, and why did you choose them as guiding principles?
Aviad Meitar: There are four main Viking laws: Be Brave and Aggressive, Be Prepared, Be a Good Merchant and Keep the Camp in Order. As I mentioned in the book, I did not come armed with these laws as we set up the Pepsi business in Romania. I came across them much later in a visit to Scandinavia. What I realized was that a. these laws were very relevant to businesses in the modern era and b. that we have been deploying many of the rules under these laws in our business in Romania, something which I believe has helped us achieve success.
How did you apply the Viking law of Be Brave and Aggressive?
Aviad Meitar: An important rule under this law states "Attack one target at a time". This means that a business should deploy its resources in one area of activity rather than spread thin in different directions. We made a strategic decision to ignore temptations to venture off in other directions and stay focused solely on the beverage industry. It was clearly critical given our limited resources.
How did you apply the Viking law of Be Prepared?
Aviad Meitar: One rule under this law is "Choose good battle comrades". We took that to mean "create a strong team around the leader". This is something we carefully created, using mostly local talent that grew up in our business. Our top management team had in the latter part of our venture over 100 years of combined tenure in the business. They were a key ingredient to our ability to battle a competitor with much greater resources.
How did you apply the Viking law of Be A Good Merchant?
Aviad Meitar: The first rule under this law says "Find out what the market needs". While it might seem obvious, in a consumer goods business in particular a company needs to be attuned to consumers desires. In looking to introduce new products, packages and even new segments of the beverage industry, we made sure to engage in consumer research before making decisions.
How did you apply the Viking law of Keep The Camp in Order?
Aviad Meitar: This is my favorite law, and under that I like in particular "Arrange enjoyable activities which strengthen the group". As an example, we created an annual event called the Marketing and Sales conference, to which the entire sales organization was invited. It quickly became a major part of the company's culture, a great venue to celebrate our achievement and energize the organization before the summer season.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in any country?
Aviad Meitar: Pepsi had a slogan "Think Global, Act Local". This means that as an entrepreneur coming from a developed country, you should bring knowledge and expertise that may be lacking in your target market. However, you should be careful to consider the local business culture, and treat local managers with respect. Over time these managers will develop and be able to handle greater responsibility. Having treated them appropriately will make them loyal and have a vested interest in ensuring your success.
What is next for Aviad Meitar?
Aviad Meitar: Currently I am the Chairman of the Bulgarian Pepsi bottler, a business that our group of investors acquired after the sale of the Romanian business in 2006 to PepsiAmericas, PepsiCo's 2nd largest bottler worldwide. We are working on making that another success story for the Pepsi brands.
My book review of An Unimaginable Journey: How Pepsi Beat the Odds in Romania by Aviad Meitar.
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