Cycle with Care
Martin Reimann, regional managing director at Edrington, is the driving force behind an annual cycling trip that raises money for local charities across Asia. He talks to Richard Lord about his love of the sport, the need to support grassroots initiatives
when Martin Reimann decided in 2014 that he needed to get fit, it had a few unintended consequences. One man’s health drive, in fact, has resulted in a massive charity endeavour involving multi-day cycle rides that has to date spanned three years, involved hundreds of people and raised millions of dollars.
Reimann is the Asia Pacific and India regional managing director for Edrington, the Scottish company behind a range of spirits brands including iconic Scotch whiskies such as The Macallan, The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Highland Park. Since the 19th century the company has been owned by the Robertson family. In the 1960s the three Robertson sisters, all of them without heirs, decided to place control of the company in the hands of the new Robertson Trust. The family had long been committed to a range of philanthropic activities, many of them anonymous, and the sisters wanted to ensure that it continued to do so.
As well as company-wide programmes, Edrington also encourages its staff to come up with charitable initiatives of their own. The latest of them had its genesis when Reimann, a former British Royal Marine commando and police officer who has worked for the company since 2002, set out to change his lifestyle.
“It was part of a personal journey for me,” he says. “I’d been an avid cyclist as a child. I was living in Singapore, and when I got back on a bike it was a love affair—i just fell in love with it. There’s a sense of freedom, you can go at your own pace, and there’s a certain elegance to it.”
Then, in 2015, “I decided to cycle from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. I shared my ambition in the office, and people said ‘I’ll do it too,’ so we decided to do it for charity.”
In the end 18 people took part in the 400km, three-day ride, raising SG$60,000 (HK$338,000) for Singapore charity Child at Street 11, which supports children from underprivileged backgrounds. One participant, an employee’s husband who works as an airline pilot, flew into Singapore on work and immediately took another flight to Kuala Lumpur so he could participate— with zero training and severe jet lag!
“We were staggered and taken aback by how much we enjoyed it—not just the cycling, but coming together as a group,” says Reimann. “It’s non-hierarchical: no matter what level you are in the organisation, we’re all the same on a bike. You don’t realise how sore you’re going to be, or how physically tiring it is. All these hardcore liquorindustry people are in bed by 8.30pm! And you eat the world. Every evening after we finish riding, all anyone is interested in is what we’re going to have for dinner.”
The team enjoyed it so much, in fact, that they decided to do it again the following year. This time 65 riders took part in a 500km trip down Taiwan’s west coast from Taipei to Kaohsiung, raising NT$5 million (HK$1.3 million) for the Kaohsiung Autism Foundation. Afterwards Reimann and eight other riders even returned to Taipei via the far more
challenging, but also more scenic, east coast.
This year’s ride promises to be the most challenging yet. From November 14 to 17, about 50 riders will attempt a four-day, 600km trip from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville via Phnom Penh. They will include global CEO Ian Curle (“not a bad cyclist,” according to Reimann), plus Edrington staff from all over Asia, in addition to countries as diverse as the US, Germany, Russia and the Dominican Republic. They hope to raise at least US$100,000 for charity M’lop Tapang, which works with vulnerable children and their families in Sihanoukville. Because the company doesn’t have staff in Cambodia, Reimann went and tested the route himself. His verdict? “It was brutal.” However, he did it in April, when temperatures hovered around 38 degrees—he’s been reassured that conditions will be much better in the fall.
To plan the rides, the company works backwards from the charity, finding a worthy cause to support and then plotting a relevant route. “We’re quite good at making money; giving it away is much harder,” says Reimann. “It’s quite an emotional thing for us. It has to be something we really feel, and something that brings us together. It has to come from the grass roots; that’s where you get the biggest buzz.
“It generates its own momentum. At the end of every ride, because of that connected feeling, even despite all the pain, the biggest question everyone asks is: ‘Where are we going to go next year?’”
a rallying call Martin Reimann, regional managing director for Asia Pacific & India (left), picked up cycling as a hobby, which led to the idea of organising cycling trips to raise money for charities. The initiative is open to Edrington employees from around the world