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Meet René: An Arla career journey through Europe

Meet René: An Arla career journey through Europe René Fredgaard | Director of Engineering & Technology | Aarhus, Denmark

René is a true inspiration of what a career journey at Arla can look like. He has been with us for 30 years but has never stayed in the same role for more than four. René has implemented a brand-new technology for fresh milk in the UK, managed one of the biggest dairies in Denmark, set up our International Supply Chain organization and led our massive Milk Powder Tower project in Germany. Just to highlight a few of his achievements. Now, he is back in Denmark as Director of Engineering & Technology at our headquarters in Aarhus.

René not only has a curious mindset when it comes to his work life. He loves to travel to all parts of the world, such as Nepal, Tanzania, and Mauritius. Together with his wife, René usually plans a big trip every second year.

Becoming a dairy expert

René started his career in Arla as a Dairy Technician Trainee in 1992. He worked at three different dairies in Denmark to learn about different types of products, such as cheese, milk and milk powder. Later, René got the opportunity to become part of a special project at our dairy in Hatfield Peverel in the UK.

“We implemented a brand-new technology for fresh milk with extended shelf life, now known as Arla Cravendale, so it could be consumed long after the normal 10 days,” René explains and elaborates:

“This had never been done before in Europe, and I didn’t know much about it, but I thought: If they believe I can, then I probably can.”

Site Director of Buko Cream Cheese & Lurpak dairies

After living in the UK for four years, Réne and his family returned to Denmark, where he became Site Director at our Buko Cream Cheese Dairy and later Senior Site Director at our Lurpak Dairy.

“I was surprised by the difference in culture on two dairies so geographically close to each other. We would try to align the two sites to have the same culture, but I quickly realized that the Buko Dairy was not ready. We needed to build our own culture first, which was both challenging and fun to be a part of,” René says.

“The Lurpak Dairy site was a very traditional site, and this was where I had been a trainee, a team leader, a production manager and now I was the Site Director. So, I was managing people who used to be my manager and who had worked at the site for 20-40 years. I had a huge respect for that, and we were working closely together to set the scene and make changes.”

Moving to International Supply Chain

From the Lurpak Dairy, René moved to a role with responsibility for all butter sites and later to our International Supply Chain organization. He explains:

“In 2010, international production did not exist. This function was merely a support function and not aligned with the European Supply Chain at all. The sites around the world are partially owned by somebody else – so basically, I structured how we could create more efficient production and project execution on the sites without having direct reporting lines.”

“I started to build the department by visiting all the sites to gain knowledge and implement a structure of how we were working together. For example, I invited the managers from different countries and cultures to join meetings together, where we worked on common challenges.”

Taking lead on Arla’s single largest investment

In 2018, René moved to Pronsfeld in Germany to take lead on a massive project: The Milk Powder Tower – which is Arla’s single largest investment in a dairy.

“Pronsfeld is the largest production site in Arla and we increased it 30% in capacity by implementing the biggest milk dryer in Europe. The site already had a dryer that could produce 43,000 tonnes of milk powder per year – but the new one can do 90,000 tonnes per year,” Réne explains and adds:

“The project included implementing everything from new milk intake to milk processing, milk drying, water handling, electricity supply and even wastewater treatment.” After finishing the Pronsfeld Project, René returned to Denmark as Director of Engineering & Technology, which is a new department that he is building from our headquarters in Aarhus, Denmark.

“I don't have the in-depth technical skills of an engineer, but I’m using my project managing and networking skills to ask a lot of questions to understand what colleagues are expecting and see what problems we should solve. This knowledge helps me make decisions for our long-term goals as well as hire people for our new organization.”

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