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Remembering a Lively Red Bull

Posted by on March 22, 2012 at 11:06 pm

The Red Bull energy drink founder, Chaleo Yoovidhya, died last week in Bangkok at the age of 89. Chaleo was worth $5 billion according to Bloomberg, which made him the third richest man in Thailand.

Chaleo was born to a poor Chinese immigrant family in northern Thailand in 1923, and was a duck farmer early in his career before importing antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, as reported by Time.

In 1962, Chaleo developed a highly caffeinated, sugary, non-carbonated drink, which he named Krating Daeng, meaning “red bull” in Thai. He targeted working class Thai consumers in an effort to build “the brand to convey strength and power.”

Red Bull soon became very popular in Thailand as the sleep-deprived began purchasing the high energy drink on a regular basis, including farmers, truck and taxi drivers, and factory workers.

Then in 1982, an Austrian toothpaste salesman, Deitrich Mateschitz, was traveling in Thailand and tried Chaleo’s drink and found that it cured his jet lag. Two years later, Mateschitz approached Chaleo and suggested that he carbonate the beverage and market it worldwide. The two men formed a 49-49 partnership with two percent of the company owned by his son.

And the rest is Red Bull history as they say.

Red Bull’s success spawned an entire high-caffeine energy industry. Over the years, numerous competitors have tried to emulate the Austrian-based Red Bull energy drink king, but none has quite measured up. Last year, Red Bull sold 4.6 billion cans – up 11 percent from the previous year. The Austrian-based company employs 8,000 worldwide.

Chaleo’s business empire included a pharmaceutical company, a hospital chain, a winery in Thailand and two international soccer teams: the New York Red Bulls and the Red Bulls Salzburg in Austria.

Throughout his career Chaleo was always friendly and kept a low-profile, preferring to let Mateschitz serve as the company’s more showy executive. His son Sarawut described his father as “lively and happy,” content with his work, and someone who “valued honesty and credibility.”

These ingredients are as important to one’s success as they are for building a global brand-leading energy drink. We all would be wise to follow the lead of this Thai business entrepreneur. And that’s no bull.