Interview with Karl Eismann and Thorsten Rodehüser

On the subject: Tiger Continous Improvement & Coronavirus

Thorsten Rodehüser is COO of the Business Unit Private Label and responsible for the own brands business at the DMK Group.

Director Operations Karl Eismann takes care of production at the DMK factories under the management of the Business Unit Private Label.

We have an exciting year behind us in 2020. What is the current position on challenges in the DMK factories? Has the Covid crisis caused problems?

T.R.: The year was exciting, tense, and we learned a lot about what it means to respond to totally new requirements and challenges in a crisis of this kind. Covid has absolutely compelled us to address our agenda for the future even more quickly. Our factories in particular faced a major challenge, because during the “heyday” of the coronavirus uncontrolled panic buying was going on in the retail grocery stores. Our delivery capabilities were severely tested and responding took everything we had. All of a sudden, our customers’ orders doubled and trebled in some merchandise categories. We coped very successfully, and it was genuine teamwork. All the people in the value chain were highly focused and gave of their best – and we pulled it off. That was a fantastic achievement!

The real challenges in that situation are the questions about how I can reconcile the everyday business and the further development of processes, organisations and employees, or rather how I get them synchronised and prioritised. The production capacities’ performance is extremely important in our business, because they’re the only means by which we can maintain or expand our competitiveness in the markets. And that performance has to stand up to tests over and over again. Because consumers and our customers are imposing increasingly demanding requirements on us and our products as well. Questions about the reduction of plastic, new packaging formats, alternatives to dairy products, water and energy savings and many more have to be answered. And, not least, there’s tough competition raging out there. It has increased rather than the reverse because of the coronavirus, and of course we must and will face up to that.

It’s taking a lot out of us all, and I’m very glad to see the commitment and passion with which my colleagues are tackling these issues and implementing the results. That demonstrates and highlights how much diversity and potential our DMK has to offer. We want to bring out this potential even more.


K.E.: Absolutely! In the past year, we achieved a lot by an agile working approach that had to be constantly adapted to new situations. It was an “open-heart” change process, so to speak, and it has fundamentally changed our everyday way of working. The word TEAM has taken on a whole new meaning. We had to re-jig our communication completely. Virtual in many cases, but still highly responsive.

How did you manage to do that?

T.R.: We asked ourselves which fields we wanted to and had to improve in even further and what sustainable approach we would choose. It didn’t take us long to realise that our daily actions and activities ought to be improved step by step. And that applied to the whole company, and therefore, of course, also very much to the factories.

In the year 2020, we then launched the “Tiger Programme”, with the components safety, quality, costs, value added, morale and environment. We are creating the essential transparency in these areas, evaluating the status quo and setting ourselves goals which are monitored regularly. We are creating a dynamic and a basis for our further development this way.


K.E.: Basically, Tiger is about continuous development day by day. To make this possible, we have to enter into dialogue with our employees: from the point where we set goals to the point when we achieve them. Our employees are the most important capital here, because they deliver the small - but also innovative - ideas day by day, whether on the shop floor or in cross-functional projects.

We are all helping to shape DMK's future and vision by this means. That’s what our “Tiger” programme stands for – hungry for continuous improvement so that we can work together on our competitiveness.  And the good thing is – and it absolutely embodies the basic idea of a cooperative – “What one person can't do alone, a lot of people can do together“. -

And how are you implementing this principle in your BU in concrete terms? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

K.E.: Even if we just look at our own BU, we see a very major potential for continuous improvement. We therefore decided on the six modules we mentioned above, which we are using for guidance in our daily work.

I’ll try to explain it to you by an example. In 2020, we launched a cross-functional (or cross-team) project at our factory in Zeven to look at the potentials in a product category. We didn't just look at the production area, but focused on the entire extent of the value chain, from raw material to customer. Whether from Agriculture or Marketing, Products or Sales, Procurement or Quality Management, every department contributed its experience to this project and indicated scope for improvements. The results were astonishing. Using this approach, the team cast off the silo mentality and developed a shared understanding of a shared goal. It inspires me and motivates me to work for this shared cause every day.


T.R.: Zeven is a striking example that demonstrates what can be done when you bring people together. The everyday business dominates events in a lot of functions and departments, and leaves little room for creativity. But we do need these initiatives so that we keep challenging ourselves and questioning the status quo. That’s the only way for us to improve. 

....and it works. People from all kinds of different functions are taking about improvements and making great suggestions. This is an affirmation for us and inspires us to continue on our chosen course.

A fantastic concept. Have you gleaned any one special insight in 2020?

K.E.: As previously mentioned, I was extremely positively surprised by the commitment in the DMK Group. That’s a clear sign that people make the difference. If we continue to demand and encourage this, and if we’re constantly hungry for improvement, Tiger is the right way to go for all of us.


T.R.: I think a lot has already been said about this. For me personally, it was important to see and experience again how we deal with this as a company. Do we really need that? What’s my role and my responsibility in the Tiger programme?

I think EVERYONE at DMK can contribute something to our competitiveness and it is made really tangible by good examples, which we have in a lot of areas by now. Also, one great side-effect was the fact that the cross-functional team had a better understanding of what markets and customers expect of us. We can't do it without a strong customer orientation.

What’s more, it sharpens everyone’s senses about resources and responsible ways to handle them. Whether the issue is the environment, or people, for that matter. I think we’ve found the right answer with Tiger.