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August 29 2015

Canada

Jim Gulkin’s Siam Canadian Group

 

Jim Gulkin epitomizes the global businessman.  He’s a Canadian, but his company, which specializes in farmed shrimp, has always been headquartered in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.  It’s called Siam Canadian Group.  “Siam is the old name for Thailand,” he explains, “and Canadian is me.”  He has created a frozen seafood-trading empire, with eight offices in six Asian countries.

 

When Gulkin founded Siam Canadian in 1987, he was a high-school graduate without a business degree or any first-hand knowledge of running a business—or of seafood.  He had spent much of the mid-1970s backpacking throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East, making him comfortable with different cultures.  He then joined the oil industry, first as a roughneck in Alberta, then as a technician with Schlumberger, Ltd., based largely in Indonesia, but with frequent trips to nearby countries.  In his travels, Gulkin discovered something that spawned the idea for Siam Canadian: Besides being a nice place to live, Thailand was also a rising food exporter.

 

Gulkin made contacts among Thai food processors and with importers in different parts of the world, including Canada.  He started exporting canned products from Thailand, such as pineapple and tuna.  He then took a cue from the fact that the country was becoming a major producer of farmed giant tiger shrimp.  As he gained more contacts among Thai processors and importers abroad, his business started to take off, earning either a middleman’s markup or getting a commission.  By 2014, Siam Canadian’s gross sales had risen to $320 million, making the privately held company very profitable.  “At the beginning, it was very difficult because nobody was really taking me seriously,” he said.  But things connected: “It was the right time, right place, and I started to grow the business from there.”

 

It hasn’t been easy, though.  Farmed shrimp is a complex business, buffeted by factors such as weather, market fluctuations and disease.  It has also attracted vocal criticism because of its environmental impact.  The World Wildlife Fund has taken issue with how shrimp farms can destroy ecosystems, as organic waste and chemicals seep into groundwater and coastal estuaries.  In 2011, the influential Natural Resources Defense Council called shrimp “meals of mass destruction.”

 

Gulkin says the criticisms are good because they encourage better, cleaner farming techniques.  But he stands by farming as the best way to feed a hungry planet.  “I think people have to look at the big picture: There aren’t enough fish in the oceans,” he says.  “People don’t want to eat only meat; they want to eat seafood because it is healthier.  They want to have an alternative.  If the only alternative is to eat wild-caught shrimp or whatever, that’s going to be a problem.”

 

The industry has been changing dramatically over the past three decades, pushing Gulkin to adapt.  Giant tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) have largely given way to Western white shrimp (P. vannamei), a faster-growing variety that is more uniform and can be farmed more densely.  More importantly, other countries have challenged Thailand’s pre-eminent status as a global shrimp producer.

 

But as the shrimp industry has grown more competitive, Gulkin has responded by expanding beyond his home base in Thailand, opening offices in Vietnam, China, India, Indonesia and Myanmar.  These countries are not always easy places to do business, especially as a foreigner.  Thailand, Gulkin says, was always relatively progressive in its attitude toward international trade and the importance of confidence and trust.  Other countries have been more challenging, particularly Myanmar, but most had one thing in common: They were export-oriented.  “So they’re always pretty friendly to somebody who wants to come in and help them sell their products,” he says.  “There weren’t any real barriers.”

 

The expansion has given the company a global reach, trading with importers in more than 70 countries, with a heavy emphasis on Europe and North America; the United States has become the world’s largest shrimp consumer.

 

Gulkin is not done yet.  He sees more expansion ahead, with sales rising beyond $500 million over the next five to seven years, as Siam Canadian gets more involved in importing and distribution.

 

Video: For a short video about Siam Canadian, its employees and Jim Gulkin, Click Here, and then scroll down the page until you see the picture of Gulkin on the left side of the page.

 

Information: Jim Gulkin, Siam Canadian Foods Co., Ltd., 9th Fl., Suite 283/44 Home Place Office Building, 283 Thong Lor 13, Sukhumvit 55, Klongton-Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 Thailand (phone  +66-2-185-3311, fax: +66-2-185-3317, email nfo@siamcanadian.com, webpage http://www.siamcanadian.com).

 

Source: Seafood.com (an online, subscription-based, fisheries news service).  Editor and Publisher, John Sackton (phone 1-781-861-1441, email jsackton@seafood.com).  Ambitious Canadian Jim Gulkin Has Built a Thriving Shrimp Business as Siam Canadian Group.  Ken Coons (kencoons@seafood.com).  July 14, 2015.

 

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