What does Koen Heikens do in the Next Level Innovation team?

Department: Next Level Innovation

"It’s great to be able to contribute to relevant projects so quickly"

Koen Heikens, 36 years old, started as a Senior Project Manager within the Next Level Innovation (NLI) team at ForFarmers a little over a year ago. “I have been pleasantly surprised by how welcome I’ve been made to feel, and definitely still feel, when meeting my (new) colleagues. They are all truly passionate about their work and our industry and they are interested in you as a person. I have never really experienced that to this extent before", Koen admits spontaneously. "It certainly also feels great to be able to effectively contribute to projects which are so relevant to our organisation within such a short period of time.” This raised the question: what do you do as a project manager in the NLI team? And what kind of background do you need for this?

What did you do before joining ForFarmers?

Afbeelding: Working-at-1

“I actually worked in consumer electronics before, a completely different sector! I was mainly involved with the service side of things. I managed the Western European service network for Philips TV and I guided the integration of two of the companies from this network in my last job before starting at ForFarmers. The experience I gained during that time is certainly proving to be very useful now. Particularly where project management and process optimisation are concerned, being that ‘spider in the web’ between the various different links in the chain, from the manufacturer right through to the consumer.”

Afbeelding: Koen Heikens_in-line

Why did you decide to join ForFarmers?

Afbeelding: Working-at-2

“I was looking for a job within an international company which would allow me to be closely involved with the entire process from purchasing, through to production and ultimately sales too. Another important factor was that I instantly felt the culture within ForFarmers was very down to earth and that people here are definitely very passionate about realising their objectives.”

And what do you do exactly?

Afbeelding: Working-at-3

“I am a Senior Project Manager within the Next Level Innovation team. This role gives me the honour to contribute to a number of fantastic projects, within which we are trying to apply new technologies to our production processes. This should ultimately lead to the further optimisation or reinforcement of our market position.”

So explain what’s so Next Level about NLI?

Afbeelding: Working-at-4

“It’s the NLI team’s responsibility to contribute to projects which are a little more difficult to get off the ground, possibly because it requires several different departments’ involvement with these projects, or because these may need very specific knowledge, which is only available within ForFarmers to a limited extent. This could include data science, to name just one. The criteria for projects our team gets to work on is that a minimum of 2 to 3 departments must be involved and that these are so-called ‘calculated bets’. The latter means that, if you want your company to stand out from its competitors, you will occasionally need to invest time in projects or ideas which will also include a risk of these projects or ideas not succeeding. Plus these projects will generally also include a major data component. Fortunately the NLI team includes colleagues who are very enthusiastic about this particular topic, which means we can always benefit from the very latest and current in-house knowledge.”

How can our customers identify the projects you and your team are involved with?

Afbeelding: Working-at-5

“A few of the projects I manage are linked to our production. The common thread in these projects is always that we want to supply feed which is of a constant quality, both from a nutritional and a physical perspective. Our customer wants a constant product, with every order boasting the exact same expected quality, despite the fact that the raw materials, the recipes and the production process are subject to continuous variations. So that’s definitely one way the customer can recognise our involvement. An example of another project is on the market side of things. This involves us working on a digital data chain for poultry. This should help our advisors and customers to recognise patterns at an early stage. The objective is for us to be able to effectively manage the process of ultimately supplying our customers in a more qualitative and/or efficient manner.”

Interesting, but what does your specific role involve?

Afbeelding: Working-at-6

“I am mainly a spider in the web. I make sure the different stakeholders in a project are all working together smoothly. This can sometimes involve having to chase people, having to slow people down a little, sometimes you need to be critical and at other times you need to do your best to provide appropriate stimulation. Plenty of time on the phone, but I’m often also working on proposals, analyses and monitoring progress. Evaluating, learning, sharing knowledge. In other words, a very extensive role and it literally goes right through the entire company. That certainly also makes everything great fun and very varied.”

What does For the Future of Farming mean to you?

Afbeelding: Working-at-7

“Good question… I think we, as an organisation, need to constructively contribute to the climate challenge we are currently facing as a society, without losing sight of the fact that the agricultural sector has an absolutely essential role as a food producer and must be allowed to continue to fulfil this role in the future too.”