By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >>

ANDREW BIGGS is arguably the most famous foreigner in Thailand today.

Over the last 25 years, the Australian has hosted national TV and radio shows in Thai and English. His books have been bestsellers and he has a whopping 2.5 million followers on Twitter.

For a former journalist from Queensland that’s an impressive array of achievements. 

Back in the 1980s, he had the chance to go to England to work for another Rupert Murdoch-stable newspaper. Thai Airways had the cheapest flights then, but the catch – and the letdown for him – was the mandatory two-day stopover in Bangkok.

Arriving on Valentine’s Day, 1989, he had no interest in seeing the city. Instead, he had planned on holing up in his hotel room to spend his downtime reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but the capital, with what he called its “air of excitement and a little bit of lawlessness,” along with the genial people, slowly pulled him into their orbit.

Mr Biggs extended that two-day visa for two weeks and then two months, backpacking around much of the country. Every time he called his mother she’d tell him to leave Thailand immediately because it was too dangerous.

In an irony of travel ironies, when he finally arrived in London all of his possessions were stolen out of his friend’s flat within the first two days, including his traveller’s cheques and clothes – whereas nothing in the least negative had befallen him while in Thailand.

Only a month later, after realizing that being a journalist in London would be much the same as in Australia, he was back in Bangkok, convinced that the capital would be a more dramatic catalyst and backdrop for stories. That theory proved to be practical.

During his time at newspaper The Nation, he witnessed some pivotal points in Thai history, like the ‘Black May’ crisis in 1992, when protestors took to the streets around Democracy Monument to voice their discontent with the installation of an unelected military government.

Around then, Andrew Biggs happened to be at work in the editorial offices of The Nation newspaper, when somebody dropped by to say they needed English-language content and videos for a public bus service in Bangkok. On the spot they offered him the job.

Initially hesitant about hosting a TV show – “I have a face that’s perfect for radio,” he said with a wry grin – the Australian turned what could have been a banal segment, English on the Bus, into an often hilarious and culturally insightful showcase for how to teach the language in Thai terms.

The 55-year-old parlayed those appearances into regular slots on Thai TV, hosting news programs and even a game show about learning English that turned him into a household name in Thailand by the late 1990s.

THAI WAY HIGHWAY

No longer a far-flung outpost for backpackers, Thailand has become one of the world’s greatest tourism success stories, notching up more than 30 million arrivals last year.

These are the kinds of now-and-then stories and recollections that he sometimes shares in his weekly column ‘Sanook’ (a Thai word meaning ‘fun’) in the ‘Brunch’ supplement of the Sunday Bangkok Post. It’s an entertaining read that also illuminates many murky aspects of Thai culture and history unbeknown to most foreigners.

In between running his own language school, the Andrew Biggs Academy, serving as a consultant for the Education Ministry of Thailand, working on more books and more academic degrees, the workaholic mocks his brand-name status in the kingdom, saying, “I think most of my Twitter followers just want free English lessons.”

While he still likes returning to his hometown of Brisbane for holidays, the most famous Australian living in Thailand today will not be trading in his celebrity status for a return to the limbo of anonymity in his native land any time soon.

www.andrewbiggs.com/en

LEADING BRAZILLIAN specialty coffee roaster and barista, Danilo de Andrade, has brought his love of coffee and skills to one of Australia’s most revered coffee brands, Di Bella Coffee.

In his new role as the company’s product manager, Mr de Antrade would boost Di Bella Coffee from the outset, based on his reputation for working with the widest variety of flavours “so critical for discerning coffee drinkers” according to Di Bella CEO Darren Dench.

“Danilo de Andrade has a wealth of coffee knowledge and expertise across various coffee roasting platforms and multiple award winning barista competitions – and we are excited to welcome him to our Bowen Hills (Brisbane) headquarters,” Mr Dench said. 

“Danilo is as passionate about the crop to cup process as we are, and this really defines the Di Bella coffee experience.”

Mr de Andrade developed his love of coffee in his home town of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the world’s largest producer of coffee, and then travelled the globe to develop his skills as a roaster and barista before arriving in Australia.

“Danilo has developed a strong following of devoted coffee lovers here in Australia and he will be bringing this unique skillset to our entire coffee industry supply chain,” Mr Dench said.

“Danilo’s experience and expertise is exceptional and he has finessed his knowledge and skills by working across the entire coffee process – working as a roaster, buying and sourcing green beans, working as a quality control manager, and even training others on the unique attributes and flavours that a single bean can contain.”

Mr Dench said having someone who really understood how to respect and work with the wide variety of flavours was critical for discerning coffee drinkers.

“Danilo is able to understand and leverage the flavour nuances so that blend profiles reflect differing taste profiles,” he said. “Coffee is similar to wine in this respect and the variety of tasting notes, the complexities of spices and the robustness or velvetiness of flavours need to sing together in real harmony.”

Mr Dench said Mr de Antrade would continue the journey of Di Bella Coffee by creating unique coffee blends that loyal customers can savour.

“My coffee philosophy is to retain the integrity of the bean’s origin and unlock the flavours and nuances that the growers want to amplify and that Di Bella consumers truly enjoy,” Mr de Antrade said.

Mr Dench said Di Bella Coffee was now Australia’s leading specialty coffee roaster and supports ethical and sustainable producers. He said these relationships provided access to the world’s finest coffees and were an important part of delivering the “ultimate coffee experience”. Di Bella Coffee is part of Retail Food Group.

https://dibellacoffee.com/

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RUFUS & COCO can lay claim to being Australia’s most awarded pet care brand and the business turns 10 years of age this month. It has been an amazing journey for founder and CEO Anneke van den Broek who, amazingly at just six years of age, began her entrepreneurial journey breeding mice and selling them to her local pet shop for 40c each.

This entrepreneurial spirit – and an unwavering belief that she could achieve anything she set her mind to – helped when it came time to leave a high-flying corporate career with companies such as David Jones and Blackmores behind to launch her per care business. 

After all, she was taking on the likes of Mars and Nestlé who, at that time, dominated the pet care market.

“At the age of five, my father sat me at the edge of our large pool at home and told me to tell myself five times loudly, ‘I can do anything I want to if I try,’ until I was yelling it,” Ms van den Broek said. “That day I swam for the first time to the end of pool and back unaided.”

With that same passion and determination, she has taken Rufus & Coco from a startup to a globally successful brand, in stores across nine countries and stocked locally in Coles, Woolworths and select IGA supermarkets, pet specialty stores and online.

Rufus & Coco is marking the 10-year milestone with the launch of its new grooming range into 1,459 pet stores across North America.

However, success certainly did not come easily for Ms van den Broek.

Prior to launching Rufus & Coco, she began her career in the cut-throat fashion industry and by age 23 was single-handedly running 300 David Jones fashion shows across Australia each year.

Executive management roles soon followed and by age 29, Ms van den Broek had secured the position of marketing director of Blackmores, leading a large, cross-functional team.

It was during her travels to attend health trade shows around the globe, that Ms van den Broek recognised a growing need for natural alternatives in pet care. Having owned more than 40 pets in her life, she had struggled to find such products herself.

“The natural health and supplements industry was booming, yet there weren’t many all-natural supplement and grooming options for pets,” Ms van den Broek said.

Recognising a gap in the market along with the sweeping global trend towards pet humanization, she set about developing quality best-of-breed products that would make a genuine difference in the lives of pets and their owners.

“Like many entrepreneurs, I had a handful of ideas I wanted to bring to life and had to really hone in on what I was most passionate about,” Ms van den Broek said.

“I grew up with rabbits, turtles, mice, cats – pets were already such a huge part of my life.

“I remember drawing up a business plan on a napkin while holidaying in Bali and Rufus & Coco was born. It was a longer and tougher journey to success than I could have imagined but any time someone doubted me it made me doggedly determined to succeed.

“I began operating like a big business from the outset with a strategic mentality, implementing one, three and five-year plans that laid the foundations for growth.

“I learnt quickly that when you don’t have the big dollars behind you, it’s harder to get the same doors to open. This is why we are still with many of our earliest suppliers and partners who took a chance on supporting us from the start.”

Rufus & Coco has so far received seven product awards recognizing innovation and product excellence.

“With each success we’ve had, our goalposts have shifted,” Ms van den Broek said.

“I honestly believe Rufus & Coco can achieve anything we set out to. With a focus on innovation and creating products that truly solve customer problems, we plan to continue our international expansion and support of pets and their owners, locally and abroad.”

Rufus & Coco has so far won seven Australian Business Awards for product excellence and innovation, and won the 2016 Telstra Business Awards in the NSW Micro Business category.

It has certainly been a roaring journey for that little girl who started out selling 40c mice. And innovative Anneke van den Broek promises a lot more to come.

www.rufusandcoco.com.au

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BRISBANE-BASED Entrepreneur Dean Foley has taken out the Early Career Professional Award at the Indigenous STEM Awards.

Mr Foley is a Kamilaroi man and founder of Barayamal, a 100-percent Indigenous owned and managed charity that assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs through coding programs for young people, mentoring and workshops. 

He will receive $20,000 to support his work as Indigenous STEM Education ambassadors in 2018.

Caboolture School Student and aspiring neuromorphic engineer Kayla Pattel won the Secondary Student Award. She has participated in the Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS), Health Science Camp, Spark Engineering Camp, QUT Robotics Open Day and SPARQ-Ed Dynamic Tumour Heterogeneity in Melanoma Camp at the University of Queensland. Ms Pattel has also worked as a summer student for Boeing Defence.

Funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation and delivered by CSIRO, the awards recognise the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, teachers and scientists, to inspire more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies and careers.

www.csiro.au

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CPA AUSTRALIA has confirmed former Efic leader Andrew Hunter will be the accountants’ organisation’s new chief executive officer, starting on April 3.

CPA Australia president and chairman, Peter Wilson said Mr Hunter was chosen by the board from an excellent short list of four men and four women selected from Australia and overseas. 

“The new board has been working to appoint the right person to take CPA Australia forward and we believe Andrew will do an outstanding job for our members and this organisation,” Mr Wilson said.

“Andrew is a proven CEO with international experience who has demonstrated he can drive change, understand stakeholder needs, and bring out the best in organisations.”   

Mr Hunter was most recently managing director and CEO of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic), where he developed and implemented a new strategy that refocused the organisation on its core purpose and dramatically improved relationships with all stakeholders.

Prior to his role at Efic, Mr Hunter held several senior positions with Macquarie Group including head of Macquarie Capital Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Mr Hunter said he was excited about taking on the role.

“CPA Australia is a great organisation and I’m looking forward to meeting and working with all the staff, as well as the division and branch councils,” Mr Hunter said.

“Delivering value and service to members will be a priority and I will be talking with members to get an understanding of their perspectives on CPA Australia’s future direction.”

Mr Hunter’s annual base remuneration will be $650,000 with an at-risk incentive component of one third of his base remuneration. Mr Hunter’s contract includes a mutual notice period of six months.

Mr Wilson thanked Adam Awty who has been interim CEO since June 2017.

“Adam took up the interim CEO role during the most tumultuous period in CPA Australia's history and the new board thanks him for his efforts to keep the organisation moving ahead over this time,” Mr Hunter said.

“After 18 years with CPA Australia, Adam will be leaving the organisation to pursue other career opportunities.  Adam’s former chief operating officer commercial role has been made redundant and he will receive a redundancy payment in accordance with the organisation’s policies of $843,446.  His last day will be April 2.”

www.cpaaustralia.com.au

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