When Kenny Lim started working as an Event Sales Representative for Malaysian bottled water producer Spritzer Bhd in 2003, he didn’t get a free ride just because his father had founded the company. “My father treated me like a regular employee,” Kenny says. “I had the same KPIs and the same protocols to follow. I worked my way up to Sales Executive and several other roles before becoming Group CEO and it has been about 20 years since I started with the company.”
Kenny admits that the road hasn’t always been a smooth one. “My father’s right-hand man and left-hand man had been with him for a long time,” he says. “Then when the son comes in and is maybe at that time too young and has different opinions, that is what made me grow up. I had to learn to give everyone the opportunity to have a voice and give them time to adjust to change. Instead of saying, ‘This isn’t a good way’, we used numbers and simulations to show how things could be done. And slowly, people started to be more supportive and feel comfortable in believing in team work.”
The Spritzer team learned to work together to combine the best of the old and new guards. “My team is young and those that have been working with my father from the beginning are still with us,” Kenny says. “I think everyone is happy to learn from each other because one group can give experience and one can share ideas. When the two come together, it can be fun. We challenge each other openly and when there’s a problem, we always discuss it. The key is for every employee to have a sense of ownership. Trust is very important in how I manage.”
But being Group CEO of the largest bottled water producer in Malaysia comes with its challenges. Whereas Spritzer’s focus a decade ago was squarely on increasing its market share, the industry has now shifted towards a focus on sustainability.
“Nowadays, consumers are discerning and very tech-savvy, and they can find all the information they need online to decide whether they want to buy our product,” Kenny says. “We need to create the value customers are looking for, and that is environmentally friendly products that consumers will be happy to buy.”
The good thing is that now i’m not the only one who says, ‘let’s change’. I have employees telling me, ‘boss, this isn’t good. We need to change’. That feels great.
Looking at sustainability
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Spritzer had planned to introduce a more sustainable product, but the development was delayed due to the impact of the pandemic on the economy, coupled with the high cost and global shortage of recycled plastics. “COVID-19 greatly affected everyone so, for the next three-to-five years, our focus is still mainly bottled water. We need to rebound stronger,” Kenny explains. “Then we’ll focus on our new product.”
In the meantime, Kenny has joined the board of the Malaysian Recycling Alliance (MAREA) to boost recycling rates around the country. “MAREA includes 10 companies that have signed up to work with the government to figure out the best way for Malaysia to create a circular economy and improve recycling rates,” he says. “It’s an education process.”
Spritzer will also continue to upgrade and integrate new technologies into its production facilities and throughout its operations to reach Industry 4.0 standards by 2025. “We’re pioneers in Malaysia when it comes to automating our factories because we want to create a new level of efficiency and responsiveness to customers that was not previously possible,” Kenny says. “We’re far behind Europe, but we’re an industry leader in the Malaysian context and we will continue to improve our processes.”
A similar focus on adopting technology and knowledge management is evident at Spritzer. “We use IT tools to keep all our departments connected,” he says. “Selected Division Heads attend the Vistage Emerging Leaders Program every month to deep dive into their thought process and brainstorm with their teams on how they can apply this in their work. Likewise, I attend the Vistage Chief Executive Program monthly. Our employees can now easily work from home because we’re connected. We focus a lot on progress.”
Building strong relationships
Kenny believes that another key to Spritzer’s success is its longstanding relationships with key suppliers. “We understand the importance of strong supplier-customer relationships for a sustainable supply chain that is both efficient and responsive,” he says. “Most of our suppliers have been with us from day one – they hardly change. This allows me to call them and say, ‘I can’t wait two weeks for delivery, can you do it in two days?’ And they’ll do it because we have such strong relationships.”
With a solid five-year development plan and a fresh take on the future of the bottled water industry in Malaysia, Kenny is set to take Spritzer to new heights. “The good thing is that now I’m not the only one who says, ‘Let’s change’. I have employees telling me, ‘Boss, this isn’t good. We need to change’ – and that feels great.”
•Spritzer Group was established in the late 1980s and consists of eight subsidiaries.
• Spritzer and its subsidiaries manufacture and distribute natural mineral water, sparkling natural mineral water, distilled drinking water, carbonated and non-carbonated fruit-flavoured drinks, functional drinks, toothbrushes, preforms and packaging bottles.
• The company has received multiple certifications and awards since its incorporation in 1993, including the Asia Bottled Water Association Certificate of Excellence in Manufacturing.