The son of a market gardener learns at a very early age that work is never done. As a child, René (28) realised that no matter how hard you work, you don’t always earn what you need to keep your head above water. Economies of scale and lack of a countervailing power to protect them against large retailers has resulted in low margins for smaller growers, leading to bankruptcy for many. The tensions caused by this situation could often be felt at the kitchen table, René remembers.
René and his colleague Gijs have just returned from a day with dairy farmers in Woerden (the Netherlands). René: “We visit a farm every year to get a feel for what’s happening at the ‘source’ of FrieslandCampina’s dairy. When you visit one of these farms, you can suddenly find yourself helping to carry calves around. That may sound easy enough, but your average calf can weigh as much as 60 kilos.’ René continues: “The farm belongs to two brothers who complement each other well. One brother is good at giving you an enthusiastic account of what it’s like managing the cows on the farm, while the other brother is more of an administrator and is also active on the member council.”
René has been with FrieslandCampina since 2011. He says that joining the company was a carefully considered decision. “Because of what my family went through, I had a very good idea of how difficult a horticulturalist’s or a farmer’s working life can be, and just how important a good cooperative is. Being strong together, so you’re not powerless in the face of unreasonable pricing and can combine forces to look for ways to add maximum value to your products. Even when I was still studying business administration in Rotterdam, I was already looking for a company that understood these views.”
After René completed a Masters in Finance & Investments, a former colleague suggested him to take a look at FrieslandCampina. This was precisely the time when FrieslandCampina starded its corporate management traineeships – a perfect match for someone who had a good idea of what kind of company he wanted to work for, and was willing to try out various jobs in a relatively short time to see what suited him best. René: “It took me just a few minutes to write my application letter.”
As a pricing manager for Kievit (business group FrieslandCampina Ingredients), René’s now working in exactly the area where he wants to make a difference. Together with sales, he’s responsible for pricing products for Kievit’s customers. By maximising internal profit, he can pay a fair price to the company’s member dairy farmers.
Better living for our farmers
So when asked whether FrieslandCampina still ties in with his vision now that he has been with the company a few years, René responds with a broad grin. After a very definite “yes”, he explains: “Every day, you can see how closely the company and the member dairy farmers work together to achieve the best possible result. That sounds good, of course, but you can actually quantify it. FrieslandCampina publishes an annual list of the milk prices the different cooperatives pay to their members. We achieve a high score every year, which is extremely motivating. And what’s more, such a list also shows that FrieslandCampina is genuinely working to make a real difference in the sector.” And what does his father think of what he’s doing? “He always listens attentively when I tell him what it’s like to work for FrieslandCampina. Best of all, though, he’d like me to come and use what I’ve learned to help his business”, laughs René.