March has been a significant month for Royal Spice Gardens Indonesia. There were several key developments that have served to secure the company’s future.
One of the most important ingredients for the corporate success ‘recipe’ is having the right team. RSGI had been threatened by the fact that the team was basically myself (Rex Sumner) driving the business as a sole Director (with a PA) and Dadap growing the vanilla. I don’t exactly live a risk-free existence when rescuing dangerous wild animals or while being involved in the court politics of Indonesia. So action was needed to be taken to strengthen RSGI should Dadap or I be unable to be present.
Professionals are hard to find in Bali. The best are already employed and the good ones are retired, unable to commit to a full-time significant workload. Others are difficult to find among the plethora of ‘unprofessionals’ trying to find an income that enables them to stay in Bali.
Aware of issues in the company that neither I nor Dadap were equipped to fix, RSGI brought on a team of consultants in November. Four months down the line, I was tired of hearing what was still needed to be fixed without seeing definitive progress and the plentiful results I had hoped for. As Director I dismissed them without signing the two year contract they had pushed for using the probationary clause that included targets and goals that they had failed to achieve.
Now I discover that professionals are like London buses. Wait forever for one, and two come along at once. However, this may well be because despite my incompetence at modern corporatism, I have managed to get the company to a situation where we are acceptable to professionals. This is no easy task, so I am going to give my self a pat on the back here!
The first professional to come along is a gentleman named Matthew Shorter, with experience in managing charities, businesses, conservation and in selling investments. He has joined us as Sales and Administration Director and despite a 3 week interregnum while he battled Covid, has already demonstrated his ability in sorting out the accounts, legalities, contracts and at the same time bringing in two new investors.
The second professional I am not ready to name, as we have reached a broad agreement but not finalised the details. He is a professional ex-Industrial Chemist, currently project managing at a gold mine in Manado, who spent 21 years as a fighter pilot in the RAF before embarking on a corporate career which brought him to Indonesia, where he became a hotel manager. More recently, he has been a Performance Coach with a global company bringing best practices to major Oil and Gas companies.
As a chemist, he will not only be our Managing Director but also in charge of the factory curing vanilla. This is exciting, because if he can bring that in by July, the Raja hopes to persuade the President to open the factory. We don’t even have the land yet…
What about me? I’m kicked upstairs as Chair of the Board and will wander around being annoying to them, while occasionally pulling off deals with royalty to get us new land and crops. I’m working on three deals at present. Good thing Indonesia is Muslim and teetotal or I might get a drinking problem.
One good thing from Covid is that I was able to stop smoking in a year I was not with chain smoking Indonesian politicians, police and royalty! This is going to be tested in the last week of July when the 6 day Indonesian Harmony week will take place in the Presidential Palace in Tampaksiring, opened by the President and attended by royalty from all over the region. As assistant to Raja Samu Samu, I will play a prominent role.
Back to the company, the new Garden14 is laid out and the first shade trees have gone in. All the other gardens are in excellent condition, a tribute to the hard work of Dadap, and we have lost only a couple of vanilla orchids to fusarium fungus, despite the wettest rainy season in 50 years. Lesser rainy seasons have wiped out entire plantations in the past.
We are bringing forward our pruning schedule by a month in case we get another bad rainy season, as the early start restricted our crop this year. This doesn’t matter financially, as the crop would have been too small, but would have been nice for more experimentation on cropping and curing. We can expect perhaps 50kg this year.
Matthew brings with him something even more important and beneficial than administration and sales ability. He brings a vanilla buyer. An eager vanilla buyer with whom he has an existing relationship and wants vanilla right now. I’m on it. There is existing vanilla available, but Indonesians are still expecting $350 a kilo while the international price has dropped to $250. This is an unexpected bonus that we may not be able to action seeing as it may mean actually buying vanilla before selling it. We will need confirmed orders and a grading scheme agreed first. We are not willing to take any risks here.
On a recent plantation tour, I was asked an interesting question. How many people do we support? I really cannot answer that. We have 25 locals working on the plantations on a part time basis. This is arranged by Dadap, and has to be part time. First of all, this allows us to employ more people, and secondly it allows them time to go to the temple. Balinese spend an awful lot of time in the temple and this arrangement allows the work to be done without compromising their religious requirements.
But are we supporting 25 households? It is likely considerably more and due to increase month on month over the foreseeable future as our company expands and we bring more adults and children’s tours to the region. We may have workers who share their salary with friends who help them work. I really don’t know and it is best that I don’t enquire too deeply. The important thing is they are happy. We are also changing their status, from self-employed, which is the traditional way in the villages, to employed. This means we pay their tax responsibilities, which otherwise they just wouldn’t pay. Critically we pay for their health care and for their family’s if they are head of the household under the Indonesian BPJS scheme.
As a Royal company, we must be not only be seen to follow all the rules and lead by example, we must enact it and instill it in those we work with.
As to other products, our focus is very much on vanilla, but we haven’t forgotten Agarwood. Our new chemist is researching extraction methods. I expect him to be more skilled at this than myself. I have worked out how to extract the oils, but not how to separate them for maximum quality and value. We are still trialing bird nest houses and there are a couple of others with potential that we are having trialed by third parties.
Adonara and Kalimantan have gone a little quiet on us, which is just fine while we catch up on the administration and I am focusing on Bali. Nevertheless, I am planning a trip to Flores and Adonara before too long.
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