International Category Leader Foodservice at Friesland Campina
UCU: BA, Social Science
After UCU: Erasmus University Rotterdam; LLM, International, European and Comparative Law
Erasmus University Rotterdam; MSc, International Economics and Business.
Was applying for UCU a logical choice for you? Well, to be honest, ….no it wasn’t . I was raised in a small village called Borne in the east of the Netherlands. Most of my classmates went to study nearby, and my parents expected me to do the same. But for me the grass was greener on the other side and I felt the strong need to broaden my horizons. By coincidence I joined a friend who went to an open day at UCU and once on campus I came across people that I had met before during the Model European Parliament competition I participated in while at high school. My first thought was: this is the place for people that want to make something out of their lives: I want to study here!
What subjects did you choose? Before I went to UCU I always had plans to study medicine and I even had a spot to do so. However I first wanted to try what UCU had to offer and since the liberal arts and sciences program offers such a variety of subjects, I became so enthusiastic that I decided to let go of the medicine plan. Eventually I did a Minor in statistics, and a Major in political science, law and economics. For me it was very interesting to learn how to look at certain themes from different angles. At the time I started my studies in 2001, the Bachelor-Master system didn’t yet exist so I took the risk that if I wanted to continue studying after UCU in the Netherlands, I had to start from zero. But fortunately the Bachelor-Master System was introduced the year after.
How would you describe your years at UCU? It was a time of endless exploring. I grew from being a “girl from the province” to someone with an international focus. I went on exchange to Melbourne which was absolutely an eye-opening experience for me. My time at UCU was like a roller coaster: in a short period of time I learnt a lot and soaked up as much knowledge as I could. One of the best features of UCU for me was all the support from other students, professors, and (of course) a tutor. My tutor Patricia Post challenged me to do subjects that I never thought I would do and she gave me a lot of confidence. Also my international law professor Ige Dekker had quite an impact on me. He said: ‘If you are not going to study law after UCU, it would be a real shame!’.
So did you follow his advice after graduating from UCU? Yes I did follow his advice and he helped in a great way by writing a letter of recommendation for me to enter the Law program at Erasmus University. Back then, it took all of my convincing skills to get into the pre-Master program as the admittance committee didn't really know what to think of the UCU bachelor. After I finished my Master in Law, I proceeded with a Master in International Economics and Business. For me the combination of Law and Economics was perfect: not only because of the content, but it also further strengthened my analytical skills and ability to make connections between different areas. This helped me greatly when I was a consultant for McKinsey and it is what I’m actually still doing at Friesland Campina: building bridges by looking at topics from different angles and connecting the dots.
Was studying at Erasmus University purely an intellectual experience for you? Not at all. What I really needed after UCU, was to escape ‘the UCU bubble’. During my studies at UCU I had mainly been focusing on developing myself intellectually. Now it was time for me to also start developing socially and emotionally. So I joined a student association and moved to a student house in Rotterdam. A whole new world opened up to me. At UCU I never really had to go the supermarket as all the food was supplied on campus. Having to go to the shop when you’ve run out of milk or keeping a household account to keep track of where the money goes, were new aspects in my life. Normal stuff everybody should know really! If there had been the option of living off campus in your 3rd year, like I believe there is now, I would have certainly done it and I would recommend it to everybody.
You worked for McKinsey for 4 years; how did you get introduced to them? After graduating in Rotterdam, I found out about the National Think-tank. This is a 3-month program for recent graduates and PhD students in which you work with 20 others, all from different backgrounds, on a case related to a problem affecting Dutch society. We received the assignment to look at issues related to Education in the Netherlands and were asked to write a report and a plan of implementation. Getting the opportunity to analyze a problem and to work with people from so many backgrounds was just my cup of tea. McKinsey supported the National Think Tank with daily coaching and after the project they stimulated me to apply, so I could do these kinds of projects all the time…
What was your time at McKinsey like? It was hard work but I enjoyed it very much. The first two years you work as a fellow after which McKinsey sponsors you to do an MBA at INSEAD for a year. You come back as an associate and continue to work on consulting projects. I wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world; I did projects for such a variety of companies like freight ship transportation companies, train builders and insurance companies in a variety of countries like Kuala Lumpur, Sydney and Houston. Next to the different companies and countries, you also need to develop a variety of functional skills. For example, I’ve done procurement assignments, introduced work efficient (LEAN) tools in teams and guided mergers where you have to find consensus between two parties that are not allowed to talk to each other directly. I liked all types of projects because all were challenging; you don’t only need to be analytical but you also need people skills because in the end you always work with people. Particularly during a merger, people are vulnerable and scared about what the future might hold. But of course working for McKinsey also has a downside: you never stay at a company for a long period of time because as soon as a project is finished you move on to the next client. Some people love this, and at the start of my career this gave me the opportunity to see many companies in a short time and learn a lot. However, after a certain time I noticed that I wanted to stay on after I finished projects to help with implementation challenges and work with the people I met in those projects for a longer time.
Was that the reason you moved to Friesland Campina? Yes it was and so far it has really lived up to my expectations. Currently as the category leader for Foodservice, I’m responsible for products you won’t find in the supermarkets and that consumers will never see directly, only on their plate! My products are for instance the giant cans of whipped cream or desserts, or the 10 kilogram boxes of butters and are being used in restaurants, airline companies and bakeries. I manage a team of 4 category managers and 2 category assistants and together we manage the Foodservice portfolio for 20+ countries. Next to the link between Research and Development and Sales in all the countries we sell in, we determine the strategy of the full portfolio of products and are responsible for the innovation funnel: which products we are launching and which products can be innovated further. I absolutely love this job because it enables me to build bridges between teams and to coach people, while at the same time looking at the overall strategy for the coming years. A next step after this role would be would be a different management position and since FrieslandCampina is such a big international company this can be within Foodservice or a completely different department. As long as I can build something up with a team and use my analytical skills I am happy to go take on a new challenge!
Last time we met was at a UCU open day in November, where you were with a prospective student that you are guiding through the ‘Giving Back’ program. Tell us about it! Giving Back is a great program that aims to create better guidance towards higher education for talented high school students in the Netherlands with a disadvantaged background. Guidance is being offered in a 2 year [it changed this year, now it’s a 1 year] mentor program where a young professional volunteers to coach a promising high school student during the period when they have to choose what they want to do after high school. Parents of these students usually don’t have the background to guide their children because they simply are not aware of all the options. As a mentor you are matched to one high school student, which makes it possible to really build up a good relationship. High school students that want to participate must have good grades, but also have to show that they’re committed by writing motivation letters and doing interviews. The organization Giving Back organizes workshops that high school students have to attend, focusing on talent development and personal growth. Students are also given the opportunity to join company visits, such as to Philips or law firm Allen&Overy, but they also get to meet local politicians at the municipal home. As a mentor you can choose to join these activities, but the main contribution lies in the one-on-one coaching: the mentor introduces the mentee to new activities, networks, and informs the mentee about different subjects you can study after high school. Mentor and mentee can also meet each other on an informal basis, like going to the cinema or having dinner together. My mentee and I have weekly contact via What’sApp and we met up for dinners or attended open days like the one at UCU. She recently got her diploma with flying colors and will apply for UCU in October. It is very rewarding to see her developments over the last 2 years and I highly recommend all UC Alumni in the Netherlands to sign up as a mentor! Find out more about Giving Back
Would this idea of Giving Back also work between UCU Alumni and UCU students and would you be willing to help? Yes, I definitely think it would work. I think Alumni are usually very willing to share their expertise with a student or young Alumnus. A structural coaching agreement might not be necessary as there is already a world of information available on campus and there is a tutor system in place, but if a student would like to know more about master programs that I’ve done or what it is like to work in strategy consulting or at FrieslandCampina, I would be happy to help them. A company visit could also be interesting; it would be great to have a group of students over and to tell them about the work we do at Friesland Campina.