By Kate Madley

It’s been almost thirty years since Molson Coors boss Peter Swinburn left Wales to pursue a career in international markets.

Peter’s early career was spent selling Bass beer to local pubs in Cardiff.  Since then he has worked in London and overseas and is now based in Denver leading one of the world’s largest beer companies as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Born in Aberdare, Peter attended Hirwaun Junior Boys and later Aberdare Boys Grammar School before moving to Cardiff to finish his secondary education at Howardian High School. Peter then went on to study Economics at Uwist, graduating with an honours degree in 1974.

As part of our Welsh International Business Achievers series, Wales World Wide discusses with Peter how best to support and develop exports and his close connections with Wales.

When and why did you leave Wales?

I left Wales in 1983, I was living in Swansea at the time and we moved to London for work.

What countries have you worked in since leaving Wales and in what roles?

I have worked in just about every country in the world in terms of selling, but I have only actually lived in the UK and the United States. I have sold and done business right across Asia – China, India and Vietnam. I have also worked in South America, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

If you were to give advice to a Welsh business looking to take their first steps into international exports, what are your three key tips for success

I don’t think it makes a difference if you’re a Welsh company or not, my advice would still be the same

1.      Always be led by your customer or your consumer

2.      Success doesn’t come easily, you need to be tenacious

3.      You need to be able to course correct as you go along your export journey

What are you doing now and how did this venture come about?

Currently I am the President and Chief Executive Officer of Molson Coors.

This venture came about through a number of different positions within the company. In 2002, Coors brought the residue of the Bass business and at the time I was Sales Director for Bass. After the acquisition, I was asked to run and develop the Coors international business which saw me relocate to the US in 2003.

In 2005 the business merged with Molson to form the now Molson Coors Brewing Company. After this merger, I returned to the UK to head up Europe and Asia which I did for almost two years.

My next role saw me return the states to run the American business which was working towards a joint venture with Miller. As a reward for running the successful merger I was then appointed CEO of the business worldwide. I have been in this position for four and a half years now, but not without a few stops along the way!

Where do you think are the biggest opportunities for business (sector or countries)?

The biggest opportunities are always in the biggest markets and they are either Europe or America, I don’t think that’s changed.

I think the most interesting and exciting markets at the moment are around South East Asia. Indonesia has a massive population and countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are very young with vibrant populations, I believe these countries are growing very quickly in terms of economic clout.

What do you think are the most common mistakes made by businesses when looking to trade internationally?

It’s the same mistake every time; none of us ever take enough time to learn the culture of our target export markets. By this, I don’t mean what labels you put on bottles or cans but the nuances. That’s why it is so important to have local nationals running your business for you because they understand how things work in ways that we can’t understand.

Even though I have been away from Wales for thirty years I still feel at home whenever I visit, I still understand the humour, the way things work, its part of a DNA which I think is almost impossible to learn unless you are a national.

What environment do you think a business needs to export?

Businesses need to target countries that are open for business. If you look at the difference between China and India, China is actually more accessible and this is because India is province driven. You need to be able to move capital in and out of a country quite easily for the right environment to export.

It is also important to consider your own country when exporting. There needs to be minimum bureaucracy and red tape. By definition, it is easier to export if there is more freedom in terms of trade between countries.

Is your growth strategy different depending on what country/continent you export to?

Our strategies are always different, it’s essential to listen to your customers and consumers. The brands we might launch in a new venture will differ depending on what consumer research we get back. Even at that basic level, our strategy would be different.

It’s important to recognise that some markets are bigger and more complex than others, therefore you accept there’s a slower burn but hopefully a higher return in the long run. Countries are different and consumers are different.

When do you think Wales is at its best? What are the biggest differences between Wales and the markets you operate in?

For me, I see Wales at its best when there is a real belief in itself, when it is outward looking. You can take whatever analogy you like with this, if it’s the Welsh rugby team or a Welsh entrepreneur, Wales shines when it picks out the characteristics that really make the country unique and that is also when it is most successful.

Wales all too often can present itself as small minded and introspective and that is when it does not do itself justice.

Do you envisage coming back to Wales? How do you view Wales after all these years abroad?

I still have connections in Wales. My daughter lives in Miskin with her husband and my granddaughter and we have a house in Solva. We are back and forth to Wales quite often.

By definition if you leave your home country there’s always an element of nostalgia, as long as that nostalgia is positive and not maudlin. I love coming back to Wales, to see my friends, it’s where I grew up and it’s where my heart is.

What is your motto in life?

You should try everything once in life.

What is your favourite Welsh export (person or product)?

Dylan Thomas

Who do you consider as a Welsh International Business Achiever?

To my mind it’s got to be Terry Matthews – you’ve got to admire anyone who can build their own Ryder Cup golf course.