These are Bartelisms -
"Large," "Huge," "Solid," "In a Big
Way," "I Don't Know If I Even Want To Go There."
Words, or phrases, said in a very loud and expressive manner.
You see Derrick Bartel is
Shandwick's whiz kid here in Thailand, and he practices PR speak. He's the
master of feel good, the bearer of buzz words, he radiates positive energy and
you just know he's going to make you feel good all over.
Derrick's official title is
senior consultant for the Financial Services/Investor Relations Group with
Shandwick, a public relations consulting firm.
First a little bit about his
background. In 1959, his parents immigrated to Montreal, Canada from Germany
(his dad was from Hamburg, and his mom was from what was then East Prussia).
Derrick's father was a Canadian immigrant success story. He started as a
laborer, paid his way to get an MBA in the evening, got a job with Hoechst, the
German chemical/pharmaceutical giant, found a mentor, advanced quite rapidly and
eventually became the company's Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
To get where he is today,
Derrick took a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at Concordia University in Montreal,
with a major in international business and a minor in administrative management.
He got his first taste of Asia back in 1993 when he went to India and worked on
a summer internship with his father, who was CFO with Hoechst India Ltd. in
Being somewhere else always
intrigued Derrick. All of his relatives live in Europe, and he has traveled
extensively throughout that continent. So from a professional standpoint he was
looking to go abroad when he graduated from university. The opportunity
presented itself with an institution based in Montreal called LaSalle College
International, which has several campuses right across Asia and is headquarted
in Singapore. LaSalle had an opening in its sales and marketing division to
raise awareness and promote its various programs throughout Malaysia in an
attempt to increase enrollment figures, and Derrick would be based out of Kuala
Lumpur. He says the financial benefits were not tremendous, but it was an
interesting and unique opportunity to go abroad.
10 June 95 was Derrick's
touchdown date in Kuala Lumpur, and he remained in that city until the end of
February 1998. Being a recruitment type position, it involved a fair amount of
travel on both peninsular and East Malaysia, and Derrick attended many
educational fairs. He says, "There was substantial interest in the
institution. I had to conduct a lot of interviews, and I met many people. The
parents are so heavily involved in these types of decisions, that sometimes I'd
meet entire families - primarily wealthy Chinese who were looking to send their
children to quality institutions abroad. A catalyst for this is that there is
tremendous favoritism displayed towards ethnic Malays in the Malaysian
educational system, so it becomes almost imperative for the Chinese to send
their children abroad to obtain higher education.
"My major ambition back
then was to come to Asia, and work in this fascinating and dynamic environment.
At that time, the Asian economic miracle was still in full force, Malaysia was
enjoying almost double digit economic growth, unemployment was non-existent and
consumer spending was strong.
Commenting on why there hasn't
been more animosity displayed towards the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, Derrick
says, "It's simply a numbers game," Derrick says. "Indonesia has
205 million people with a five percent ethnic Chinese population, who until
recently dominated more than 80% of the nation's economy. In contrast, Malaysia
has about 21 million and an ethnic Chinese population of about thirty percent.
You just don't have the comparable figures in terms of population percentage
versus economic influence.
"But also, great favoritism
has been shown in politics, education and business - right across the board - to
the bumiputras (ethnic Malays). In 1970, Malaysia initiated a New Economic
Policy in a concerted effort to redistribute the country's wealth more
effectively to the Malays. This stemmed from bloody race riots in the late 60s
that resulted in a number of deaths. This new policy tried to redistribute the
wealth so that the Chinese would not control the country economically. Malays
were given ownership of many prominent companies, they were given x amount of
seats on the board of directors of many high-profile companies, etc.
"The objective was to
create a new class of Malay business leaders and entrepreneurs to lead the
country forward. The majority of these policies, which we would consider
blatantly discriminatory, are still in place today."
After his contract with LaSalle
expired, Derrick took a few weeks
off, traveled around Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia, did some soul searching,
and did an assessment of what he wanted to do. He decided to stay in Asia and
pursue public relations consulting and he began working for an Asian consulting
company in June of 1996 called MDK Consultants which was started by Michael De
Kretser in Singapore back in the mid 80s.
While with MDK, he had a number
of interesting and diverse clients, including Hennessy cognac. An alcoholic
product in a Muslim country? As Derrick says, the work provided him with many
interesting communications challenges. He had to build the brand and promote the
cognac in a very subtle way. "It was Chinese-specific," he says
"You can't generate any publicity or brand awareness from the mainstream
Malaysian press on alcoholic products."
Hewlett Packard was another one
of Derrick's clients. The company, globally and in individual markets, was
trying to move from strictly being viewed as a printer company into the PC
market with their new computer - the HP Pavilion. "HP had huge market
potential, a strong and well-recognized brand, and an enormous opportunity to
generate sales, so this campaign was a major thrust for them because they were
in a real dogfight in the small-margin Malaysian computer market," says
In April of 97, an opportunity
arose for Derrick to go work with Shandwick, a London based company with offices
and affiliates throughout the world. It was then the largest independent public
relations consulting firm in the world (in October of 1998, the New York-based
Interpublic Group of Companies - IPG - acquired Shandwick in a US$158 million
Why did Derrick decide to switch
firms: "It was financially rewarding, the Shandwick name is universally
recognized as a reputable firm, I found the client base was interesting, and I
wanted to work within a global network."
Derrick also knew several of his
clients were going to be financial services related companies and being from a
business background this appealed to him. "Two of my customers were with
one of Malaysia's leading banking groups, Southern Bank Berhard - their Unit
Trust Division, and their Direct Access Division (provider of direct banker
services, including on-line capabilities)."
Derrick also worked on an
ongoing retainer basis with MasterCard when the company was the official sponsor
of the Youth World Cup held last year in Kuala Lumpur. It's the most significant
youth soccer event in the world. Derrick, being the social animal that he is,
has met many important people in his life, but none more so than legendary
Brazilian striker Pele, who is a key global spokesperson for MasterCard.
"We brought him to KL for the tournament and arranged a series of targeted
media activities with him. We also set up a coaching clinic with Pele and the
Mr Bartel, an avid soccer fan
and player, had a chance to meet and talk with Pele at length during that
tourney: "What struck me most was his passion for the game. He talks about
the game constantly, and how it can and should be improved. He's very warm and
friendly and he's terrific with kids. It's amazing how the superstar athletes
like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson and Pele have these winning
smiles that glow and radiate and just light up kid's faces."
Derrick arrived in Bangkok in
March of 1998. He was looking for something different, a new opportunity.
"Malaysia and Thailand are like night and day," he says. "They
are completely different environments all around, whether it be political,
economic, social, or cultural aspects. The assimilation of the Chinese into the
Thai society is a very different dynamic, as every one has become Thai
"Whereas, you still have a
very distinct and visible racial breakdown in Malaysia (approx. 10% Indian, 30%
Chinese, and 60% Malay), but they do co-exist happily and peacefully. The
favoritism given to the Malays is pretty alarming but the Chinese are so
industrious and they have carved out a sizable business niche for themselves.
Having had numerous Chinese
colleagues and friends in Malaysia, I know they are also relatively apolitical,
despite the bias shown towards the ethnic Malays. They feel no need to complain
about a lack of fairness in the system because things have been so comfortable
for so long. Of course, recent political and economic developments may change
the rules of the game.
"You also have much greater
freedom of expression in Thailand. If I were wearing an anti-Mahitir button in
front of the Canadian embassy in KL, I could theoretically be unceremoniously
cuffed, carried away and held under the Internal Security Act for an indefinite
period of time. You are not allowed to hold public political gatherings of more
than three people in the country without ministerial permission, as ludicrous as
that may sound."
What does the future hold for
Malaysia? "I believe the capital control measures recently implemented will
prove to be a setback for the Malaysian economy in the mid-to-long term,
although they may provide some initial success. The political system is so
institutionalized and backwards that major reform is required. Unfortunately,
you have Dr M desperate to retain power and control. He also happens to be a
ruthless, razor-sharp politician who will swiftly crush any opposition or
dissent. We've obviously seen this to be true in the Anwar case. Though there is
increased political consciousness and grassroots support for the `reformasi'
movement, I think Mahitir will ultimately decide a behind-the-scenes guilty
verdict and Anwar may gradually disappear from the political arena.
One of the reasons that Derrick
came to Bangkok was that Shandwick
was appointed to work in a consulting capacity with the Financial Sector
Restructuring Authority (FRA). "It's a huge project of massive importance
which was one of the critical starting points in turning the Thai economy around
and regaining investor confidence. Across Asia, if you had to point to one
systemic weakness in these economies - it would clearly be the banking and
finance sector. Thailand probably took the first major step in the hurdle to
rectify this problem when on 8 Dec 97 the government made the decision to shut
down 56 finance companies and subsequently liquidate their assets."
One of Shandwick's clients just
happens to be Pfizer, who are the
manufacturers of Viagra. Derrick recalls: "It's kind of funny, actually.
Back in early March, we put together the pitch for Viagra and there wasn't any
media coverage at all. My boss and I were amused when we saw the brief - a pill
for erectile dysfunction. Again, this posed an interesting challenge as Thailand
is a very traditional society, and sex or sexual function is not openly
"At the time, we didn't
believe Pfizer was going be a major client but shortly after we delivered our
presentation, they appointed us to work with them and immediately thereafter the
floodgates opened in the US - on March 27 the US FDA approved Viagra, and you
saw all the media coverage: The Wall Street Journal, the wire services, the
front page of Time and Newsweek. It was mass media bombardment. It has probably
been the most successful drug launched in the history of the pharmaceutical
industry. Sales went through the roof in the first three months. It has turned
out to be a sizable job for us with crisis communications playing a critical
role. The Thai FDA has been very cautious and diligent in awarding regulatory
approval, so we've had to play it carefully. The FDA has also stipulated that
Pfizer must embark upon a comprehensive education and information campaign, both
for doctors and the general public."
Shandwick is also currently
serving as a strategic advisor to the Ministry of Finance on the government's
privatization of state-owned enterprises. Derrick believes that privatization
can play a huge role in kick-starting the Thai economy. "The public sector
here is so bloated and inefficient," he says "and greater private
sector participation is critical to Thailand's future competitiveness in the
global economy. It will certainly be a key driver for the economy, attracting
foreign funds to the energy, telecom, transportation, water and other sectors.
"Public sector employees
are quite naturally worried about losing their jobs but if you look at the case
history of privatization around the world it shows that over the long-term,
privatization actually creates more jobs than it eliminates. In the long run,
you attain greater efficiency, and most importantly lower costs and better
services for the consumer. You enjoy optimal value for the money and you are
able to obtain cheaper electricity or improved telecom service at a lower price.
It's become a race across Asia - South Korea is looking at a major privatization
plan, China has such a bloated state sector, Indonesia is implementing a plan to
stimulate greater private sector involvement - and these are all attractive
investments, so it's essentially a race to the finish line. If Thailand pushes
this through more quickly, it will stimulate the flow of funds and boost
liquidity, which will contribute substantially to economic revival. The
political will to do this and the many vested interests are major stumbling
According to Derrick, what makes
public relations work most effective?: "When the client allows the public
relations firm to work and operate as an extension of their marketing/corporate
communications department; in my mind, teamwork and close collaboration can
deliver results that impact bottom-line performance."
What has Derrick learned while
working here? "I think one major strength that I've gained here is the
ability to communicate and connect with people. I've become a better listener
and I now appreciate the intricacies of non-verbal communication. On certain
occasions, I've been in a meeting that's entirely in Thai and just by non-verbal
communication and hand movements I can comprehend the gist of what's going on.
You develop an acute awareness of what people are saying, and that's a very
valuable skill to possess in both a business and social context."
Future plans: "The Derrick
Bartel master plan is to go back and pursue an MBA at a top North American
business school. Following graduation, I'll likely look to a career in
management consulting with a leading global firm. In terms of position, I
will seek to be an emerging markets specialist - so I certainly see myself back
in Asia, in the near future."
What does Derrick miss about
Canada? "I still think of Canada as my home, but I feel rather disconnected
from it. I miss the bagels and smoked meat of my hometown. I miss the trendiness
of Montreal, it's a hip town. I also miss the many festivals including the jazz
festival because I'm a big blues fan - I love B.B. King and Buddy Guy. Perhaps,
most of all, I miss the beloved Montreal Canadiens, hockey's most glorious
franchise and the most successful team in the history of professional sport.
"But I feel so
disillusioned with the political scene there. When you live in Quebec, everyday
you are bombarded with the separatist issue, you become jaded. I'm actually
happy, I'm out of that environment - I don't have to constantly hear the
difficulties. But sadly, I think a lot of the young anglo-community in Montreal
are flying the coop. Many of them, my friends included, have gone to work in
Toronto, or they have gone out West to the "promised land" in
Vancouver. So the separatists, although they lost the battle in the recent
referendum, seem to be slowly winning the war.
"What are the over-all
benefits of separation? Do a cost benefit analysis, pros and cons: It simply
doesn't add up, it doesn't make business sense for Quebec to become an entity of
its own. It's not a viable argument to say that business-wise things will
improve. I have a hard time swallowing it. I feel passionate about Montreal and
everything it has to offer - it's a wonderful place to grow up.
"I find it shocking and
almost incomprehensible that in an era of globalism and increased unification,
characterized by the free flow of people, capital, goods, etc. (The EU is an
obvious example) that Canada continues to be on this fragemented course.
Unfortunately, I'm not overly optimistic about the prospects for Quebec as we
move into the next millennium."
Hang around Derrick for any
length of time, and you start to believe that the world isn't such a bad place.
You also end up talking like him, you can't help it - you see it's contagious.
As I left, I said, "After some initial concern over whether I EVEN WANTED
TO GO THERE OR NOT, that was a SOLID meeting, where we covered a HUGE array of
topics, went over a LARGE amount of ground, and cleared up the confusion IN A
BIG WAY." Touche, Bartel.