TELL THEIR STORIES
Many people have worked at Avebe in recent years.
Five former employees tell us about their time at Avebe.
TELL THEIR STORIES
Many people have worked at Avebe in recent years. Five former employees tell us about their time at Avebe.
Head of Department of Analysis (Research), Research Manager
Specialities, Business Manager Textiles, Business Unit Manager Specialities, Director Technology and Research
‘I’ve had several jobs at Avebe and there have been special moments in each of them. Those moments are mainly the result of the close cooperation within the teams. I was mainly there to set the direction.
As head of the Analysis department, I was at the forefront of a new way of working. People were given the freedom to organise their own work and make their own arrangements. We also developed a new computer system for this. As research manager at the business unit Specialities in 1993, I made my own position redundant by splitting up the laboratories into business units. In the end, I continued as business manager Textiles. I remember attending my first international board meeting. Just five minutes before the start of the meeting I was asked to make a speech. I remember using the word “shit” in my speech to express the problems between the people in the Netherlands and the offices abroad. Directors thought I was a bit off the wall, but in the end this speech was the beginning of an exchange of knowledge between colleagues in the Netherlands and abroad. At the start of my period as director of Technology and Research, Avebe was engaged in a major reorganisation. In 2003, we met with five managers for a full week to ensure that sixty people from different departments were given a different, good place within the organisation. Transferring people was a difficult moment. Not only for those involved, but also for me.
They were sixteen great years. What I found particularly inspiring was that so much was possible within Avebe, sometimes in the face of opposition. When I stood up for my own ideas, Avebe almost always gave me the opportunity to realise them.’
Corporate Development Director, economics and public affairs
‘As a newly graduated business economist, I was very attracted by the broad range of tasks of the commercial economic position at Avebe.
I’ll never forget my first working day at the head office in Veendam. In the foyer I met my first colleague, who asked me if I had a degree and then said: ‘doar kist wel goud om weez’n’.’ (Groningen dialect for ‘I suppose that doesn’t mean you’re not OK’) Great! The tone was set, and I stood with both feet on the Groningen ground again. I had a great time and experienced unforgettable things that were sometimes vital to the future of Avebe and its members. I spent some of my working hours in The Hague and Brussels. We had to politically defend our leading position in Europe and beyond, at the junction between the farmer, the world market and the European Agricultural Policy. With the market as our starting point and the farmer as our basis, we tried to position ourselves as well as possible, particularly within the EU. We lobbied in Brussels together with our colleagues in the Union des Féculeries Européennes (UFE), which I’ve headed for the last ten years. As well as my economic work, I’ve worked on many large projects. For example, I was involved in the takeover of foreign factories and Koninklijke Scholten-Honig. The merger of fifteen factories into three large locations was also a drastic way of making the industry work more efficiently and cleanly. Another memorable experience was when my colleagues challenged me, “as a thank you for my critical supervision of their projects”, to try it myself as the “building consultant for the new head office”. Fortunately, that ended well: we finished one week within schedule and one percent within the budget. The great thing about my very interesting work was that you didn’t just do it, you did it together and you were very conscious of the importance for the company’s results and for the thousands of farmers and workers involved in the region. Avebe congratulations, and all the best for the future!’
Sales Promotion & Advertising Manager
‘Avebe has always been an innovative and self-developing company. I’ve been able to do and experience a great deal in Avebe’s marketing
There was plenty of competition. We had to distinguish Avebe from our “rivals” and position ourselves as a reliable partner in word and deed. In my time we developed films for the paper industry and the food market, among others. We sent them on videotapes to our potential customers. We also participated in trade fairs. In the beginning we had a small stand at the agricultural fair. I thought there should be a specific fair for food and ingredients. That was more appropriate for Avebe. I came into contact with an exhibition organisation and together with a number of companies, such as Honig, Avebe became one of the first participants in the food fair in Utrecht. This fair eventually grew into the largest European food fair: Food Ingredients Europe.
Another big project I worked on was the development of a system to digitise data. The market increasingly called for product information leaflets, recipes and product data. Avebe was one of the first companies to automate this process, making the data accessible from any location. This was a challenging but enjoyable job. Not least because I had to deal with multiple languages, hundreds of products and local requirements and safety standards. Other milestones I’ve worked on include the 60th anniversary of Avebe and giving the corporate identity a makeover. I’ve enjoyed every day of my work at Avebe.’
‘In total, I have been working at Avebe for over thirty years. They’ve all been very exciting years. Not least since for most of this period I was the only lawyer at the company. I would have liked to have carried on a bit longer, but that wasn’t possible because of health problems.
The most interesting period for me was the time between 1997 and 2007. In those years, I travelled all over the world. Avebe was broadening its horizons at the time and I went to South America and Asia to start up projects. In these countries, the product wasn’t potato starch, but tapioca starch. It was an interesting time, involving many different cultures and fields of law. Avebe eventually decided to stop producing tapioca and everything had to be legally settled. For Avebe this was not a great success, but for me it was a great challenge.
Other challenging projects included the acquisition of the first German plant and the Brinta crisis. The takeover of the factory in Wendland, Germany, was special because we wanted the farmers in Germany to become members of the cooperative in the Netherlands as well. This had never happened before, a cooperative with members from two different countries with the same rights and obligations. But it worked. Then there was the salmonella crisis in the Brinta production in 1995. Brinta was made by Avebe in Foxhol. I started the day at 8 o’clock with a quiet cup of coffee. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang and everything was turned upside down. It took an enormous amount of effort to get this settled. I can tell you about many other interesting assignments, from the legal wrangling on the GM potato to arranging corporate governance among the members. The beauty of Avebe is that it is a company and a cooperative, all at the same time. Members are the suppliers and owners. Avebe has an interesting cooperative legal form, and I’ve always enjoyed working there.’
‘The potato is a great product. There’s so much in it! In 1967 I started at the sales department of Koninklijke Scholten-Honig (KSH). After the takeover of Scholten, I worked for Avebe from 1978 onwards.
The changes and uncertainties caused by the integration of the two organisations and the many restructuring rounds that followed were very difficult. I won’t soon forget one working day: during the integration of KSH and Avebe, sales had to continue and in order to create some structure in the chaos, I had to start working with the sales director. He brought his own secretary with him. At first I saw my fellow secretary as a competitor, but from day one we clicked well and were able to work well together as a team. We worked hard to ensure that the integration ran smoothly. Carin Oosterhuis was a fantastic colleague. After forty years we’re still in regular contact.
Everyone knew where to find the executive secretary. My door was always open to whoever had something to say. I often felt like a Mother Superior when I was asked for advice or information, especially as I grew older and my colleagues became younger. It was also very special to see how close the ties were. It was “our company” and Avebe was close to our heart. You noticed this especially in difficult times.
I particularly liked the international aspect of my work. The highlight was the International sales and business meeting. Each year, I spent three days with the management and business unit managers at a location outside the Netherlands. We discussed the course of events, sales reports and new plans, but above all I was able to maintain contact with the sales office staff. “No person is second rate and no work is second rate”, under this motto I had some great years at Avebe.’