Friday, January 20, 2012

Cervecería Barú, Panama, First Days of Work

With almost a week under my belt at the brewery, I figured it was time to get my thoughts together and fill everyone in! Actually, the truth is that I wanted to post two days ago... just haven´t had time. Oops.

The Lineup 

So Tuesday was my first day. My oh-so-kind alumni host was nice enough to drive me to work on the first day and accompany me to make sure I met with who I needed to find. While I feel he is going above and beyond to make sure I am comfortable, he reassures me that he wants to give me the best AIESEC experience possible. Other LCs. and VPs ICX... Take NOTE! Thank you Ernesto for being so thoughtful!

After checking in with reception I was escorted to the Human Resources department office where I met about half the team I would be part of. This week is a little unique as many are out traveling to our other facilities or on other similar business trips. The first day there were 4 of us which was probably better so I can go about learning everyone´s names and responsibilities slowly. Since the first day I have met 1 person each day and next week I will meet the last so we will finally be a full team, 8 in all.

The fun little surprise the first day was that they were expecting me on Monday. While in the end it was no big deal, I felt so bad to have confused the days and don´t know where the start date got lost in translation. Either way, my first day I jumped right in. I semi invited myself into an interview first thing in the morning with a potential forklift operator. During the interview, my US-based HR mindset raised some red flags with a few of the questions ask of the interviewee but I have to remember that I am not in the US! Labor law is going to be different. So immediately after I got my hands on a copy of the Panamanian Labor Law... stimulating stuff, let me tell you.

The majority of my first day was filled with system education. Heineken International is rolling out a new Performance Management system so I went about reviewing and educating myself on the old system and the new. This has filled several of my days, going through the details on the training and understanding what the managers and incumbents will have to understand. The process and material is not new to me, all standard HR teachings, but what is interesting is the way different companies benchmark to the standard and then implement it in their own way, aligned with culture. I am about knee deep right now in the "Heineken Way." All in all my first day was pretty low key with learning and observing without overwhelming me.

Since then my experience has been escalating. Wednesday I started having meeting with the heads of the various department. On that day, I met with the head of Marketing, Finance and Logistics. Here are some key takeaways to give you an idea of how neat this company and the industry are here in Panama.

Marketing: About 10 years ago, Cerveceria Baru was barely on the map and its brews, including its now star seller, were basically unheard of. About 6 years ago, the tides began to change and the stars aligned (with some smart marketing moves and a plan gone wrong by the competition) for the beer "Panama" and since then, the charts of preference and profitability have basically inverted. "Panama" is now the preferred beer of Panamanians, the most trusted, and of course, the beer that Panamanians believe most represents them. Apart from these HUGE wins, Panama has also won 3 international awards. My fun fact from Marketing: In Panama, beer costs $.45 per bottle, water $.60 and coke $.75. Yes, Panama is the only country in the world where beer is 1. so cheap and 2. cheaper than water and coke!

Finance: When the Baru Brewery was acquired in 2002 through 2006 it was under-performing and less profitable than the rest of Heineken International. With a change of leadership and the stars aligning for their lead brand, the beer "Panama" took off like a rocket and in 2006 the brewery turned a small profit... which was supposedly all spent on a Christmas party to celebrate the new era. Since the turn around the profits have skyrocketed. Even despite a small setback with potable water last year (remember the historic moment when the canal closed for the first time in history because of so much rain?) soon the company will be completely profitable, something they were not projected to achieve until 2018. #winning. 

Logistics: Because their star beer, Panama, took off so quickly, the production facility is unable to keep up with demand and many store shelves and bar fridges go empty in just a couple days of receiving stock. They stamp each bottle with the day it is completed and those that go into commercial use are returned to be refilled. In the return queue, you can find bottles that have been consumed and returned in just 3 DAYS. The average is close to 15 but that is absolutely RIDICULOUS! 

In all, my learnings have shown me that this is an awesome company with great potential and could fall under the category of Good to Great with sustained growth. The people here are passionate about their brands and selfless with their time and dedication. I am very excited and proud to grow with the company and be part of something at the heart of Panama. 

I will probably post again later today about the brewery as I have a very neat experience on my agenda today; a tour of the production facility. We shall see what pictures I am allowed to take and post but either way, I am very excited!

As far as work-life balance I have had some fun experiences after work too. After leaving work on Monday it took me about 90 minutes to get home, largely because of my own ignorance. I made it to the bus stop just fine and was waiting there with a small crowd. I proceeded to miss 3 buses because 1. they didn´t stop and 2. I didn´t know if I had to wave or something to get on. Either way, I signaled the next one which also did not stop but who pointed in front saying that I had to go to the next bus stop. Ok, now i know how to catch the bus. 

Ernesto was kind enough to meet me at the stop and accompany me home so I would know the way. We went a bit of a round about way so I could see some things in our neighborhood but it was more confusing than helpful. The rest of the night was spent in the grocery store getting me the makings for lunch and snacks and then in the old part of town, known as Casco Viejo. I will write more about Casco Viejo after this weekend because we will be spending time there but I do have to say that I absolutely LOVE Casco Viejo. It is old, with tight streets, classy buildings but half in destoryed and weathered while they work to renovate some of the old buildings. It is my dream to renovate one of the buildings there, they´re gorgeous. After wandering the tiny streets, cafes and plazas, we finished the night in a Cuban Bar with rum and called it an evening.

Wednesday I was all ready to get home from work quickly, caught my bus, made it to the stop, then got lost on the way home. When I finally called Ernesto to tell him I failed at finding the apartment, I was about a block and a half away. I swear its not me, the roads are all twisty and none are marked with their names!  That evening  we met with a big group at one of the casinos for their wing night. 14 of us ordered 140 wings and they were surprisingly good! I finally had the chance to meet more of the LC, including the LCP and VPICX who had been helping me but most of the members were not too forward. I have two months to get to know them though. 

Last night I left work and walked to Johana´s place which is conveniently close. We took the bus together and went to the grocery with Ernesto to host a dinner for a small group. Soft tacos, salsa and guacamole were on the menu but again, getting home took me a while so a couple of our guests arrived before we got back. Luckily this is AIESEC and everyone is flexible. The dinner was great (I even have leftovers!) and the company was even better. Its has been a great first week and the next couple days should be the perfect finish to a great first week here! 
Christian/Kiwi (LCP), Victor (VPICX), Johana, Mauricio, Ernesto,  Me

View from Ernesto´s apartment at night

View from the balcony at sunrise

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