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Monthly Career Insider

From dishwasher to dairy innovator - the road to enzyme and culture development

09-Feb-2012

Related topics: Science

In the second installment of the new FoodNavigator series - Monthly Career Insider - we talk to the VP of dairy innovation at Chr. Hansen.

Title: Vice President, Innovation Dairy, Chr. Hansen

Name: Anne Skriver

Age: 47

Job description?

I’m heading up Chr. Hansen’s dairy activities, where we develop cultures and enzymes for a global market and apply them in milk products. We are also supporting sales and customers all over the world with our technical expertise.

In my area, we are around 65 people divided into five departments, dealing mainly with cheese and fermented milk. Four departments are located in Denmark and one in France – which allows me to travel and give me an insight into another working culture.

What do you actually do?

I see my own job split into three different activities. The first is related to competences. I need to make sure that we have the right skills in my area to meet customers' expectations and also to support future projects in the organisation. It is very important to me that our technical competences are world class – in practice it is a lot about working with partners and universities and also developing people into experts/specialists.

The second part is to drive and secure the resources of our dairy innovation pipeline. This work I do is in close collaboration with my department managers, our marketing department and our project managers.

The third part is technical support to customers. I need to ensure it is both of high quality and that we meet the assigned deadlines.

How did you get in?

Actually, I started at Chr. Hansen in the summer of 1989 as a student to help with the dish washing, etc. in the lab. Afterwards I did my master’s degree in collaboration with Chr. Hansen and when I graduated, I was offered a job with the company working with genetic characterisation of strains.

During this work it became clear to me that I wanted to undertake a PhD, which I did at Copenhagen University. During my PhD I worked with texture and rheology of dairy products – a subject that I still follow closely and which has my deepest interest.

Consequently, I was also hired again in 1995 by Chr. Hansen to develop and implement texture methods of dairy products. Since 1995 my career progression has been rapid: Chemist in an analytical lab, section manager for sensory and texture analysis, head of a fermented milk department and, since 2007, VP for Dairy Innovation.

Best bits about your job?

The absolute best aspects of my job relate to seeing things progress - whether it is team members who are growing and developing themselves or being part of a group that has succeeded with a new product or a process.

I’m very people oriented and I love to talk to people- both my own employees and my colleagues all over the world. But I especially enjoy visiting customers – this is where I see why we are doing what we are doing and get and understanding of their problems. After a customer visit I’m usually extra energised.

Worst bits?

Overall I’m very very happy with what I do. Nevertheless, I’m not a detail person and too many details, especially on the administrative parts, can drain all my energy. On the other hand, I am learning how to overcome this and it is working quit well. Another area is working alone – I don’t appreciate that. But this is not a real problem as it happens quite seldom.

What skills do you use most?

In the past I mostly used my technical skills – I do that less and less now. But a technical background in my current role helps a lot. I mostly use my managerial and communication skills. In an innovation organisation it is also necessary to think out of the box and to have the ability to “look through” all the noise and analyse what is the most important part. Finally, I think my passion for what I’m doing is a skill that is constantly used and creates a lot of value.

Career highlight so far?

I have several personal highlights in my career, where my learning curve has been extremely steep. But I think what I am most proud of is what I (together with a lot of other people) have built up in the area of texture in fermented milk.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to work in production and technical?

First of all, a technical education will make your life much easier in these kind of organisations. Furthermore, it is extremely important to be open-minded in what you do. Try as many things as possible to broaden your horizons.

It is important to find out what you are passionate about – not only the specialist area you want to work in, but also the process and way of working. Knowing yourself and your passion will make your working life much more fun with passion an asset for any organisation.