Q&A with Johan Bülow


Kit Rosenkrans Stelmach: How would you feel if your daughter did not want to join the company management or wish to be a part of the firm in the future?
»I would never force my daughter to take over the business. I would be happy and proud if she was proficient and passionate about the company. I hope that down the road, I will still have qualified and competent people to lead the company with the same passion as me when I am not around anymore. Of course, I would be happy and proud if my daughter wanted to take over the business in the very far future.«

Tina Louise Frydenlund: Which challenges do you have reaching unconventional markets without the same liquorice tradition as we have (here in Denmark, red.)?
»We still face challenges in markets with no knowledge of liquorice, and I think to some extent these challenges will always exist. We are blessed with a product that can be used as a spice as well as a sweet. This means we are able to compliment the liquorice taste in our sweet selection by using chocolate, and with the food line, we try to teach people how liquorice can be used in cooking. However, it is a big challenge, of course it is. On the other hand, that is what motivates me. It is important to have a positive attitude. For example, instead of thinking ‘Spanish people are not used to eating liquorice’ – we took up the challenge and managed to close a deal with El Corte Inglés - one of the most luxurious food stores in Spain. We were able to do so because we have something different; we have a unique flavour, which they find interesting. If you look at one of our customers - Harvey Nichols a large department store in London: thousands of chocolate brands are eager to get into the store, but our products are already there because we are different - we bring something new to the table. Therefore, I try to look at the challenge as an advantage and work within its parameters, giving us an advantage here and now. In time, we will get to know people and discover what they like. Maybe even develop products directly targeted at the different markets.«

Tanja Egebjerg Mortensen Did you develop the products in the beginning and are you still involved in the development process?
»In most cases, the idea starts with me – not necessarily, but in most cases. An idea can also arise somewhere else within the business or come from outside, and if we find it interesting and fun we try to work with it. Although I no longer lead the development process personally, I always have an opinion about the product. Whether it should be crunchy, soft, or hard, whether it should be sour or sweet, which flavours suit each other, how it all fits with the labels, etc. Basically, I am the brain-master on the products, but I do not develop the products myself. I have some very talented people to help me, for example Tage who also develops products with Marc and Morten and Josephine our graphic designer. I try to control the melting pot of different ideas that arise from different areas in the company.«

Katrine Frisgaard Gunnersen: It is amazing how much you have achieved in such short time. How do you juggle work and family? Do you every feel that you miss seeing your daughter grow up?
»It is easy for me to say that I now ‘only’ work 50-60 hours a week. If you are used to working 120 hours a week, with the stress and everything that it entails, you have to learn to spend your time wisely. I do not believe that is it possible to spend less than 80-90 hours a week on a good idea if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur. If the “good idea” is something you really want, if you feel passionate about it – then you practically do it in your sleep. I did so for five years until everything said ‘you need to stop, this is not a viable option’. The funny thing is, when you set some guidelines for yourself and you get better and better at what you do, you can suddenly achieve the same amount of work in 50 – 60 hours as you could in 120 hours. It is actually possible, if you are capable of going home, turning off your computer and taking time off during weekends – spending time with your family and making sure that there is a sensible balance.

For me stress came as a revelation. My doctor asked me to draw a circle showing how important my business was. I drew a large circle. Then the doctor asked me to draw a circle showing how important my family was. I drew the biggest circle I could, obviously! Any normal human being would - at least if they have a family. The doctor then asked me to look at the two sheets of paper while he asked: ‘how much time do you spend on the two things?’ Then I realised that there was a huge distortion of interests. I think that many entrepreneurs, self-employed, CEO’s, or people who work long hours, should try this test. I know it’s very simple, but sometimes you just need to see things in black and white before you accept the reality of your situation. Nowadays I remember to spend time with my family. I have made a promise to myself not to become the kind of CEO that makes more money that he can spend in a lifetime, comes home at the age of 60 – and is alone. That cannot happen. It is the biggest threat on my SWOT analysis – that my family life becomes dysfunctional. If this happens it affects every aspect of your daily life; you stop being creative, you are unable to lead, you cannot do anything, really. Therefore, it is essential that my family life thrives. Having said that, to succeed you need to be willing to take risks and dare to spend three-four years on gut-wrenching hard work – otherwise you will never succeed.«

Mette Barslund Feld Madsen: What is your favorite liquorice?
»I am very fond of our own NO.5 and always have been. I like the powerful taste and I enjoy the fact that just a few bites is enough. Regarding the chocolate-liquorice-universe, I really enjoy our EASTER liquorice. I like the minty taste, the crunchy texture and the fact that it has an extra something. Therefore, these are my two favorites.«

Susanne Wolder Roel Andersen: I am allergic to gluten and think it is lovely that some of the liquorice-products are gluten free. Are you allergic – or where did you get the idea?
»No, I am not allergic to gluten. When developing new products, many ideas are placed on the table and then we discuss what is realistic for us to produce and live up to. Many different types of flour can be used to boil liquorice. The advantage of rice flour is that its starch is neutral in flavour. It may sound silly, but you can compare it to making a salad dressing; many people prefer to use grape seed oil, as it has a neutral flavour. That makes it easier to taste the chili and liquorice or whatever you prefer. Essentially, that is also the idea with rice flour – plus the added bonus that it is gluten free. We chose a very expensive rice flour instead of a cheap wheat flour in order to make the different tastes stand out more.«

Karina Luther: When you started boiling liquorice in your mother’s kitchen, did you really imagine that things would go this well? That you would in fact be the “King of Liquorice?”
»Yes! People tell me that I am crazy when I say this, but I am good at believing in myself. I have always believed that it would be great. Of course, I still get amazed by the fact that things are as great as they are, but I have always believed in it – always. I have also pursued it.«

Niel Henriksen: How do you feel about your label being copied and that some consumers mistake the copy-brand with yours?
»I could get angry and contact my lawyers, as it is obvious where the inspiration comes from. We probably created the most copied food packaging in Demark. However, the important thing is that people think that our products are the best. If people are willing to pay extra to buy our products, we just have to make sure that we are the best. In some way, it acknowledges the success of our products, and reminds us that we always have to be the best. I think our products are the best, so I do not have a problem with other people copying us.«