CFI.co Meets the CEO of Asia Plantation Capital: Barry Rawlinson
Barry Rawlinson believes in strong foundations. While his first foray into the world of sustainable plantations and agroforestry wasn’t premeditated, it turned out to be a natural progression from what had gone before, putting levels of experience and areas of expertise to good use. In our existential world, sometimes it’s not a matter of choice. There are occasions when a job chooses you.
Attracted to the concept of what used to be termed an alternative investment, Mr Rawlinson perceived an opportunity to involve himself in an industry that gave back more than it took, improved people’s lives, and yet still produced the kind of financial returns that would keep all but the most avaricious stakeholder happy.
“I met a former business partner in Southeast Asia,” recounted Mr Rawlinson, “and he explained his vision for the company. The business model was intended to be eco-friendly, and one that would help rural communities that often struggle to make ends meet. Some of those communities relied on illegal logging for their livelihoods, and I couldn’t help thinking that there must be a better way of going about things.”
Asia Plantation Capital (APC) has, over the years, become increasingly aware of its responsibilities to the people who work in, and live in and around, the plantations it operates. The company involves itself in infrastructure projects such as roads, schools, and medical facilities, and treats its employees with a degree of respect and understanding that cynics might describe, pejoratively, as new age. Mr Rawlinson, however, is proud of the company’s philosophy, insisting that it is the plantation workers themselves who deserve the most credit.
“Our top management, compliance people, accountants, scientific advisors, and administration staff are all integral to the success of the company,” he said, “but for me, it’s those who are literally on the ground who have enabled us as a company to grow so well from the initial foundations that we laid.”
Despite having been involved in agricultural projects in previous business incarnations, Mr Rawlinson’s involvement in the world of sustainable plantations required the scaling of a steep learning curve. It’s been hard, but also rewarding.
“I had more than thirty years’ experience in top level management, and would always have described my approach as down to earth and common sense,” said Mr Rawlinson. “I’d like to think that these remain as the qualities I bring to my role as CEO at Asia Plantation Capital, but nothing previously can compare to the immense personal satisfaction I have gained leading the company over the past few years.”
Asia Plantation Capital and its parent company the Plantation Capital Group (of which Rawlinson is also CEO) pride themselves on a vertically integrated business model that is fast becoming the envy of the corporate world. They buy land, plant trees and crops, grow them using proprietary technology to facilitate successful husbandry, and harvest in a sustainable manner.
Certain trees – in particular the previously endangered aquilaria species – are then processed, with the rare and valuable agarwood or Oud being distilled in factories and distillation units that the company itself owns and manages. At the end of this remarkable supply chain is a luxurious and exclusive retail product in the form of a perfume house, Fragrance Du Bois, which is already making waves in the ultra-competitive cosmetics and fragrance industry.
At every link in the chain, Mr Rawlinson insists that his credo of holistic sustainability is observed and put into practice. “We’re a business, of course,” he conceded, “but we want very much to leave a legacy. We want our employees and their families to be able to afford to live together, in their own homes, leading fulfilling lives. They need to be in an environment in which they can educate their children, receive medical treatment when required, and enjoy a good standard of living, while not only contributing to the success of the company, but also helping to get our environment back on its feet.”
Asia Plantation Capital and the Plantation Capital Group are dreaming big. Expansion plans are afoot, with investment in place and a concerted effort in mind to change the face of the global bamboo market. At the helm, Barry Rawlinson is both delighted and gratified to be part of a group of companies that’s doing its bit to prove that business and good ethical practices are not mutually exclusive.