Jiri Rakosnik, Marketing Director, Heineken Malaysia Berhad, shares with The Yum List some stories from behind the scenes.
You’ve been building brands since 2004, with a large chunk of that time in the beer industry. Walk us through that journey.
I love to create and build brands that’s why my career is fairly straightforward. I was raised in ReckittBenckiser in a three-guy team responsible for laundry detergents, fabric and water softeners, we called ourselves the “laundry boys”. This was a really good experience to get to know how to run business, as RB (ReckittBenckiser) is a highly competitive organization where a brand manager truly needs to act as a General Manager of her or his brand. From Prague, I went to London with this company but wanted to progress in the more brand-building part of my career after acquiring the business essentials. And there came in the beer, SAB Miller – the owner of Pilsner Urquell where I started as the senior brand manager for Gambrinus, which was a quarter of the beer market. It was a huge honour and huge stress. A few years later, I was poached to Heineken. First in Prague, as the marketing director, then to Amsterdam as the global marketing director for cider – helping Heineken increase the footprint of cider in as many markets as possible around the world. And around 14 months ago, I landed in Malaysia for the Asian adventure. I had been backpacking through Asia for many years and was happy to further experience the local culture in its true power.
Does being a Czech (the country with the biggest beer consumption per capita) have anything to do with getting into the beer industry?
I moved back to Prague from London when they called me to be the brand manager for the biggest beer brand. For us, beer is a national heritage, a true masterpiece for the craftsmen and brewers, and for a marketer, a dream to work in such a high-involvement category with so much passion around it.
Beer Culture: What’s interesting about the Malaysian beer scene, and what are the differences between it and the Czech Republics?
There is a lot of potential for beer to become a bigger part of popular culture in Malaysia. It can be appreciated for its craft and variety and quality of taste versus just the alcohol. A few things that will hit you straight away when people are ordering beer here. In the Czech Republic, you’d walk all the way to the bar, check what’s on tap, see what’s in bottles, ask the barman for recommendation or tips. Here people would sit down at the table and see what bucket or beer tower promotion is on. Yet there are many people in Malaysia who are great storytellers and appreciate great stories about products and brands. Beer is more complex than wine and has so many of these stories. We just need to help to facilitate the transmission.
Do you have a favourite brew style?
I, of course, love the Czech pilsner, nicely bitter, with full body delivered by the double or triple decoction process and the buttery diacetyl. Next to it, I also enjoy stout very much, especially our own Guinness.
Have you picked up anything interesting in Malaysia?
Food. I became one of you! I haven’t eaten so much chilli and been talking about food so often in all of my life. With that, I had to intensify my boxing classes to be able to fit into my shirts.
What about your job excites you the most?
The creative element for sure. As I said, I love to create and build things. Running a full portfolio in such a diverse culture means you will never get bored and not a single day is the same. There are no routines, just surprises. And the opportunity to try to solve them, with a bunch of talented people from my own team and the agencies we work with is what gives me energy.
We’ve discovered that beer is not your only passion. You have an amazingly keen eye for the lens (Instagram: @jiri_photography). What is it about photography that you find so alluring?
I am from a family of musicians but didn’t really inherit any of the musical talents. I do though, enjoy the visual and aesthetical aspects of the world. They inspire me, fill me with positive energy, as well as allow me to express myself.
Is there a preferred style/genre of photography?
I love portraits. In real life, I try to help people around me to understand and embrace who they really are. When I travel I love to capture the rich colour patterns of expression, the genuine feelings of people and their reaction to me being present.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the lens.
The most memorable moments are usually from travel photography. When strangers who you don’t know will become friends to share that special moment. In Myanmar, I came across a father and a daughter who were goatherders on one of the fields. I kindly gestured if I could take photos and be with them for a bit. They invited me after a while to sit in the shade with them and share some of the local food.
At which point do your passions for building brands and photography cross?
They cross when putting a brief together for a new project. Having the inspiration from various photographs in terms of content, style and expression helps to form a certain picture in your head and therefore allows a better expression of your thoughts towards creatives, as well as inspiring them with visual stimuli.
Twelve months on from today, you’re celebrating a fantastic year, what would you be toasting to?
This year we embarked on the project of elevating beer culture in Malaysia, with shaping the content of The Great Brew Fest towards more appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into beer and cider. We also brewed the testing trial of a limited edition Tiger Amber Lager. We received great feedback from bar owners, bartenders, and consumers. This gives us a lot of confidence. So in 12 months, I wish we would be toasting to another Great Brew Fest with a new limited edition brew on a much bigger scale.