Childhood & Early Life
Chaleo Yoovidhya was born on August 17, 1923, in Phichit, Thailand, to Seng and Thongyoo Saelee. He was the third of the five children in the family. He hailed from a financially weak background.
His exact year of birth is not known. It is widely believed that he was born sometime between 1922 and 1932. While most of the sources claim his year of birth to be around 1923, many local sources claim that he was born in 1932.
His parents were of Chinese descent, and it is believed that his father was originally from Hainan, China. He arrived in Thailand to tackle the financial troubles he was facing back in China.
Chaleo grew up in a small village. His parents were fruit traders. They also raised ducks for a living. Due to his family’s weak financial condition and the lack of good educational institutions in his locality, Chaleo had very little formal education. He dropped out of school early and began working with his parents.
However, as he grew up, he began aspiring for a better life for himself. He moved to Bangkok, the national capital, and began working as a pharmaceutical salesman at a chemist shop run by his elder brother.
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He worked there until the early 1960s. By then, he had saved enough money to start his own pharmaceutical company. He soon began ‘TC Pharmaceuticals.’ Although the business was not huge, he made enough profits to lead a decent life.
He noticed that a large group of Thai people who worked late nights, such as truck-drivers, consumed Japanese energy drinks in large amounts to stay awake during the long hours of work. He thus decided to develop his own brand of energy drinks and began working on it immediately.
By the early 1970s, he had the formula ready. The berry-flavored drink had ingredients such as caffeine, glucuronolactone, and taurine. It was hugely marketed in Thailand in the 1970s. The logo on it had two bulls locking horns with each other. Chaleo, however, claimed that a stroke of "divine inspiration" had inspired the idea for the drink.
The drink, which was named ‘Krathing Daeng’ initially, became popular locally. Within a few years, it became the best-selling energy drink after the Japanese drink ‘Lipovitan-D.’ One major reason for the drink’s success was its unorthodox marketing strategy, which targeted the labor class over the rich Thais.
However, its international demand soared only after an Austrian salesman named Dietrich Mateschitz tasted it while on a work trip to Thailand. He realized that the drink had completely cured his jet lag. He became interested in the drink and looked for the manufacturer. Soon, he reached Chaleo’s office.
Dietrich proposed a business deal with Chaleo to sell the drink outside Thailand, in the Western countries. Chaleo agreed.
The ingredients of the drink were altered to suit the Western consumers. It was slightly more carbonated and was neatly packed in silver cans. The new name, ‘Red Bull,’ originated from the boar-like animal that is native to Southeast Asia.
A keen marketing strategy was established, and the drink was launched in the Western markets in the mid-1980s. It quickly grabbed the attention of a massive chunk of population, especially the youngsters. The arrangement was that Dietrich would take care of the marketing and branding while Chaleo would be known as the one who provided the original formula.
The success of the drink was mainly attributed to the low-cost “word of mouth” concept. Parties were thrown with unusual themes, where the drink was distributed for free. It was also promoted as a sports drink, which largely attracted the youth.
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Both Chaleo and Dietrich put in $500,000 into the brand, with each holding a partnership of 49 percent. The remaining 2 percent of the shares were owned by Chaleo’s son, Chalerm.
‘Red Bull’ became a great success story, and it still remains the largest-selling energy drink in the world. By the end of 2019, the drink was sold in 171 countries. Soon, 20 variants of the product were released. Its headquarters are now located in Austria.
Chaleo, however, never left Thailand but continued to own ‘TC Pharmaceuticals,’ where ‘Red Bull’ had originated. ‘Red Bull,’ meanwhile, has been converted into a brand of its own, with a majority of its stakes still being owned by the Yoovidhya family.
The company owned by Chaleo also manufactures several other energy drinks in Thailand. He partly owned ‘Piyavate Hospital,’ one of the biggest private hospitals in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Yoovidhya family also happens to be one of the sole importers of ‘Ferrari’ vehicles in Thailand.
Chaleo, despite being one of the most successful businessmen from Thailand, kept a low profile almost all his life. Even after coming into the limelight, he never gave a single interview for 30 years.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Chaleo Yoovidhya was married to Noklek Sodsri, but the marriage ended in a divorce. He had five children from his first wife.
He then married Bhavana Langdhara and remained married to her until his death. They had six children together.
Chaleo passed away on March 17, 2012, in Bangkok, Thailand. He was the third-richest man in Thailand at the time of his death.