Amber Beverage’s CEO Seymour Ferreira: “We Never Stay Still”
Kicking off our June Game Changers section is an insightful interview with Seymour Ferreira, Chairman and CEO of Amber Beverage Group, a part of the SPI Group. Amber Beverage Group unites 1500 employees in eight companies across the Baltics and Mexico, including the leading producer of alcoholic beverages in Latvia an authentic tequila producer in Tequila, Mexico and experienced distribution companies in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, a specialized retail chain of 70 shops operating in Latvia and Lithuania and a logistics service company. Here, Seymour tells Finance Monthly all about the company and what differentiates it from its competitors, his role within Amber Beverage and the impact that he’s had on its performance in the past four years.
You joined Amber Beverage Group in 2013 – what were your goals in driving change within the company?
I joined Amber Beverage, which was then called the Baltic Business Unit, to manage a series of independent companies. All of these companies were independently run by their own CEOs, who had their own perceptions on how their company should operate. Although some of our products were similar, the companies did not share any commonalities in terms of business. One of the first things that I did was to understand where we were and what we’re trying to achieve. Immediately, it became clear to me that these companies didn’t share the same vision for the future, or even common values. All the companies were completely different to one another, with different focus, different ambition levels and diverse understanding of performance and measures. Therefore, the first thing we did was connected to establishing a core vision and mission – our organization values. We also worked on spreading common financial and commercial goals, as well as a very clear and structured strategy, outlining how we wanted to operate and become a more profitable and efficient company – one that would be able to sustain growth over the medium and longer term.
How would you evaluate your role and its impact over the last four years?
Change is something that I am experienced in – it is something that I will ultimately bring into any organization that I’m involved with. When I joined Amber Beverage, it was quite apparent to me that the company needed change.
This took the form of legal and structural change from the BBU to Amber Beverage Group, a holding company, which legally brought together all of its business units. This meant that we could support our strategic goal of profitable growth with appropriate organizations, infrastructure, resource and a common language. There were some basic fundamentals that had to be established. One of the first things that we focused on was building a well-founded, international standard corporate structure. Additionally, we also wanted to make sure that we had the right infrastructure –IT systems, common processes and a way of evaluating our performance across the whole business, using revenue management principles as our foundation. This involved closely looking into our organization and its procedures and making sure that we had the right people in finance, IT, and HR, and then, centralizing as many common functions and processes as possible around a core upgrade ERP system.
The overall result of implementing new procedures and processes has made the company much cheaper to run, and has allowed our core businesses, of production and distribution, to focus their energies on running their operations, without worrying about the engine room as much. As a result, we have driven our profit up, while reducing our operating costs substantiality. This has also allowed us to be able to integrate new businesses and brands, which would have been nearly impossible when I first joined Amber Beverage. We have been able to buy the Moskovskaya Vodka brand, a tequila factory in Mexico, a wine company in Latvia, and a shareholding in a UK PLC, which will allow us to extend our footprint and over time, integrate that into our business too.
Overall, I’d say that thus far we have been able to successfully strengthen the core of the business and the company which in turn has allowed us to expand its presence outside of the Baltics.
What further goals are you currently working towards with the company and what is your vision for the future of Amber Beverage?
Broadly speaking, our mission for the future is to double our Ebitda, partly by focusing on making our operations in the Baltics more efficient. These countries’ declining population and rapidly changing tax and environmental situations mean that overall volumes within this market will get smaller in time. However, whilst we will continue to focus on being efficient in the region, we are also focusing on investing in our global portfolio to support our overall goal of driving international expansion. Our recently improved export team and our strategic marketing team are good illustrations of that. Of course, we will also continue to consider mergers and acquisitions in general.
What are some of the challenges that you are faced with as a CEO of Amber Beverage?
The main challenge that we are faced with is making sure that every company that is part of Amber Beverage continues to share the same vision. We are very focused on achieving our growth targets and consumer and client goals, which involves effective communication, regular reviews across all companies and across all markets. So my main day-to-day challenge is to constantly make sure that communication level is kept at the highest, and to be involved with our excellent teams in the details of our key projects and activities. All of this needs to be balanced with the needs of all different aspects of the organization – whether it will be our retail business, logistics business, production business, distribution, etc.
We are still trying to grow our top and bottom lines, in the rapidly changing environments in the Baltics, where recent changes to legislation and taxation are putting pressure on our production and distribution companies and which is something that we are continuously having to evolve around, without losing our core ambition to deliver excellence in everything we do. In America and Mexico, we have the challenge of increasing prices of raw materials and goods, whilst still meeting customer expectations. This means having to be ready to review, evaluate and change within our core strategy all of the time, having a team capable of this is part of any leadership challenge.
As I mentioned before, it is part of our mission to deliver excellence in whatever we do and that flows through the whole organization. As a CEO, you have to keep your eye on the numbers, you have to make sure that all those projects and plans are delivered against the time table, but you also have to make sure that your whole strategy is consistently being delivered.
Amber Beverage is the largest player in the alcohol industry in the Baltics – what differentiates the company from its competitors? What do you do to ensure that you are one step ahead of other beverage companies in the region?
Our strategy in the past 2-3 years has been very clear – our goal is to grow significantly, to be internationally recognized, but also to grow our base, our profitability, and our capabilities way beyond our local borders – the first thing that differentiates us from our competitors. The second is that in our production business, Latvijas Balzams, where we are proudly able to trace our expertise back to 1752 (the year when the Riga Black Balsam bitter was created) and have been manufacturing on the same sight at Caka Street for over 110 years. We have the highest standards of quality and production execution, illustrated perhaps more eloquently by the Stolichnaya Brand.
Thirdly, we take big leaps – we are the first Baltics Company to invest in Mexico – not only in the beverage industry, but also in any industry. It was a big, bold move, which perfectly highlights the kind of company that we are. What truly differentiates us from our competitors is the fact that we think very broadly, very internationally, and that we are constantly looking at how we can improve everything that we do. That means not only bringing new talents in, but building in-house talent through training and development. We have a substantial portfolio and we are able to manage it because we have exceptional people, exceptional processes and a really well-developed support structure. This combinations means that we can outperform, outpace and outcompete our competitors, in most cases. In Amber Beverage, there is a constant improvement – we never stay still.