GROWING BUSINESS: CEO John McLean named among QLD's top 25 best and brightest in QWeekend magazine. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
GROWING BUSINESS: CEO John McLean named among QLD's top 25 best and brightest in QWeekend magazine. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail Mike Knott

Taking Bundaberg Brewed Drinks to the world

A TRIAL partnership between Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Pepsi Cola Bottlers in the United States is evidence of the growing reach of Bundaberg's own ginger beer on a global scale.

The partnership kicked off yesterday and resulted in Bundaberg Brewed Drinks being sold in 300 supermarkets in just the Denver area alone.

For Bundaberg Brewed Drinks' CEO John McLean, the role as head of a multi-million dollar company, with staff based in four countries, was hardly the career he imagined growing up as a kid on the Sunshine Coast.

"I was going to be a guidance officer, that was my dream job. I used to watch Mr Gilroy read the newspaper everyday and thought - that's a job. He doesn't have to do much," he said.

But after marrying Rae-Lee Fleming, the daughter and granddaughter of Bundaberg Brewed Drink's founding Fleming family, the couple were asked to join the company.

Mr McLean took six months leave from his environmental education centre principal position to give it a trial.

"I'm still on my six month trial," he joked.

"I started in April of 1994 and over the years I've worked in nearly every department in the business.

"I started out in administration and then did IT and finance, then production manager, and business development, operations management and I've been CEO for the last nine years.

"For me I think it was a really great grounding."

Mr McLean watched and helped grow the company, a feat that last week saw him named among the state's 25 Best and Brightest in the Courier Mail's QWeekend Magazine

"I think when I stated turnover was about $12 million and we probably employed 45 people," he said.

"Now our turnover is about $100 million and we employ about 180 in four different countries."

The demands of such an influential position are not lost on Mr McLean.

"There's many different things that keep me awake at night ....and people is always - it's the one thing that people always say - people are your greatest assets but I worry about people an awful lot," he said.

"You play with people's lives with the decisions you make, sometimes not ones everyone enjoys."

And with export now accounting for 35% of the company's revenue and growing, Mr McLean also handles the challenges of doing businesses internationally.

"For us it's a little bit like a kid in a candy store and you've got an open bank card," he said.

"You could easily get distracted and try and get a little bit here, a little bit there and a little bit everywhere. That hasn't been good.

"In the last five or six years we've really almost hyper-focused.

"Our largest export market next year will be the United States and it is based around one street and we're working from one street out and that's how focussed we are.

"If we get that street right, we can get the suburb right and get the city right.

"There's one street in LA which is a very influential street and as a result we are the largest selling ginger beer in California."

While China may seem another logical market to capitalise on, Mr McLean said they were happy to move slowly if it meant protecting the company.

"China is a very large opportunity of one that we are very cautious of," he said.

"We've watched a lot of big businesses lose a lot of big money in China and we want to maintain 100% family ownership .We can not afford to make big mistakes so we take very, very cautious and slow steps in all markets."

Already producing 140 million bottles a year, who knows just how big this Bundaberg company will get.

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