Published: 14th of November, 2017 by David Raphaël Steiner
I am writing to you on the way home from one of the many farmer councils we have in Arla Foods. We are, after all, a little different from most other global FMCG companies out there. As you probably know, Arla Foods is a farmer-owned dairy cooperative, making it a democracy – kind of like the EU. This is where my unit comes into the picture. The Member Relations team makes sure that the farmer agenda is represented in the business and that our more than 12,000 owners get the most out of being a part of Arla. The member organisation is at the core of who we are as a cooperative. It is our foremost mission to be the bridge between the farmers and their company.
As a graduate, you are therefore pushed to reflect on the effect of your decisions to a much broader extent than in a publicly-traded company. The bar for doing business responsibly is set very high, but so is the motivation you get from living such an inspiring mission as ours. When I joined Arla this summer, I had a wish of working ‘as close to the milk and our owners as possible’ – for me it simply seemed to be the key to understanding the character of the company I was about to join. After all, the cooperative structure ‘is the heart and soul of our company’.
Being placed at such a crucial point in the company also means that an F15 graduate gets projects that have an effect across the company. For example, I’m currently working on Arla’s new vision for dairy farming in Sweden. Yes, you read that correctly. My work will directly influence how the Swedish dairy industry will look in the future. This means that I’m helping our Swedish management and our global member organisation drive a strategic priority, with all the expectations and support that go along with it – that’s what I call having an impact!
What is it like to work in Member Relations?
There is one question I often get when I tell people that I work directly with our farmer owners: “How many pairs of rubber boots are in your office?” – only one, actually. But the question gets to the core of my job. I’m learning about the challenges of producing milk and running a farm, on top of how to develop new products and bring them to market. At Arla, engaging with your shareholders isn’t confined to a stuffy general assembly once every blue moon. I get to meet and work with our owners on a continuous basis, on their farms, at our dairies, in different farmer councils and at the democratic assemblies where they debate and vote on the future of our business. You can hardly be more in touch with your owners’ agenda, (or with Arla’s top management for that matter - that’s our Chairman Åke Hantoft, CEO Peder Tuborgh, and yours truly at the Swedish Area Forum conference).
How does Arla’s company structure translate into opportunities for F15s?
The fact that I can go all the way to the source of our raw material, delicious fresh milk, is down to another defining feature of Arla. We own the entire value chain from cow to consumer. This means that as an F15 you could start out working in Member Relations and driving the farmer agenda in Sweden, then move on to a challenging Supply Chain Excellence project at the global headquarters in Denmark, and round off as a Business Development maverick in China – all in two years. You will be hard-pressed to find a place that offers more a cross-functional experience.
What is it like living in Stockholm?
My project is and will be taking me all over Sweden from the vast north, over the scenic west coast, all the way to the Baltic sea islands of Gotland and Öland, and everywhere in between. Not only will I experience a new professional environment, but also explore a whole new country. As a Swiss currently living far from the Alps, I’m especially looking forward to discovering the Swedish winter sports resorts in my off-time and profit from being surrounded by such breath-taking nature.
Some other benefits of a rotation in Sweden include legendary Christmas markets, or living close to what has recently been named ‘the coolest neighbourhood in the world’ – Stockholm’s Södermalm district, and of course the heavenly cinnamon buns made with the finest butter (probably produced from the milk of one of our owners). 😊
So, now it’s my stop and time for me to close my computer.
I hope my post has helped you get a better picture of what makes working for a cooperative so special, and how it motivates me as an F15.
I’ll leave you with a picture of Stockholm on a golden autumn day. Hej då!