On century duty with a quality quartet

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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The four executives pictured in this BLOG represent a collective century-plus of experience in the duty free industry – yet each of them seems to be aging like a great wine, getting better with every year.

Our top picture – both were taken at the Opening Cocktail at TFWA Asia Pacific in Singapore last week – is of King Power Group (Hong Kong) Managing Director Antares Cheng with his Dubai Duty Free counterpart Colm McLoughlin.

The King Power boss has been one of Asia’s most successful travel retail executives over the past two decades, while remaining among the channel’s most modest individuals. Unbeknown to many, he has also contributed hugely – and often spontaneously – to many charitable causes.

These include The Smile Train dinner in Hong Kong last October when he gave a donation of US$27,000. That was enough to fund life-changing operations for 108 children – a number chosen as a reference to the classic Chinese tale ‘108 Heroes’. Antares is one of China’s most acclaimed businessmen, having been named among the ‘World’s Most Outstanding Chinese’ of 2007.

Colm McLouglin entered the business on 1 June 1969, meaning he will celebrate 40 years in travel retail in 2009. In that time he has taken Dubai Duty Free from a start-up in surroundings that could euphemistically be described as basic to one of the world’s great travel retail operations, one expected to generate annual sales of US$1 billion in the near future. Vey near if Colm has his way.

What an extraordinary feat that is and yet this man of influence and power is at his happiest with close friends or family over a pint of Heineken and a cigarette – company where pretence or grandeur never gets a look in.

He too is a great giver, both at a personal and corporate level and it was great to see him (almost literally) bouncing back from his 2007 hip operation to be in fine fettle in Singapore.

And what of these two venerable gentlemen? From a Hong Kong Chinese and an Irishman, we move on to travel retail’s most famous Sri Lankan and Swedish executives. Rakhita Jayawardena, on the left, is one of the true pioneers of the inflight duty free industry, a man who this year celebrates 25 years in the business.

The Sri Lankan entrepreneur – now President of his own company Centaur Travel Retail – began his duty free career in 1983 as General Manager of the then national carrier Air Lanka. He drove the airline to ‘Frontier’ Award-winning heights (twice) and during a later consultancy for South African Airways, spearheaded the radical decision to remove seats to create more space for inflight retailing.

Later he joined the inflight powerhouse IDFS (subsequently sold and renamed) followed by a stint heading Alpha On Board Sales & Services in the UK. Today he runs Centaur, which markets a range of electronics, watches and travel accessories to the channel, as well as being President of inflight concessionaire King Power Traveler. He’s also a past President of the Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association.

But arguably Rakhita’s greatest achievement in his quarter century of travel retail involvement was his driving role (together with Alpha Asia’s Paul Topping) in generating the funding for the Travel Retail Village – the result of an astonishingly successful industry-wide campaign to build a new community for a group of villagers displaced by the 26 December, 2004 tsunami. Land was bought, houses were built, a community was regenerated – what a story that was. The Sri Lankan executive with arguably the industry’s smoothest patter – and singing voice – was crucial to that inspirational tale.

Completing our quality quartet is Lars Johansson, a man of Imagination both literally and figuratively. Today he owns and co-runs Imagination Unlimited International, an independent travel retail agency best known for its glamour brand, Inniskillin Icewine of Canada.

But when Lars set up Imagination in 1998 with his wife Beverly, Inniskillin had anything but glamour status.

Famously, a few cases of this unlikely Canadian ‘stickie’ trialled with his long-time associates at DFS Group led to one of the astonishing industry success stories of all time as Inniskillin grew into a late 20th century brand phenomenon that continues to this day.

Prior to founding Imagination, Lars spent 28 years with Hiram Walker (later Allied Domecq) in duty free – meaning another 40th anniversary is looming. 

Throughout those four decades he has been one of travel retail’s good guys, always willing to offer his advice and time freely (in every sense) to those that sought guidance, always serving each client as they were his only one.

So there you have it – by our reckoning 125-plus years of industry commitment, experience and achievement. And we reckon all four stories – as well as the collective one of this quality quartet – have many, many more chapters yet to be told.

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