Interview with Herrmann Köster

On the subject: Corona task force

Hermann Köster is the Head of Supply Chain Management with the DMK Group. As manager of the supply chains of Germany's largest dairy cooperative, he is also responsible for central crisis management. Köster therefore took on the leadership of the Coronavirus TaskForce and has manoeuvred the crisis team through the pandemic since then.

In early 2020, nobody would have believed that a pandemic could transform our world so quickly. How has DMK coped with the sudden change?

We reacted fast right at the start of the Covid pandemic and formed our own Coronavirus TaskForce. In the first lockdown in March 2020, it was mainly concerned with taking the actions required to protect employees and thereby ensure secure supplies to the population at large. Together with our farmers, we therefore initiated measures at short notice so that the milk could still be collected from the farms under Covid conditions.

In addition to the introduction of tighter hygiene measures, they also included a clear Code of Conduct and a sweeping ban on visits and travel. We reduced meetings to an absolute minimum. The teleworking that was introduced spontaneously in parallel for administrative tasks worked very well, and a lot of our colleagues have been working from home as far as possible since then so as to avoid unnecessary contacts.

We had to align our product flows flexibly with these market changes. While demand was significantly lower in food service, it increased enormously on the retail grocery side. To be able to respond quickly to these market developments, we still hold daily consultations with the Management Team and the heads of the business units. That way, we’re very close to the market and decide on essential modifications every day.

We’ll all remember that first wave for a long time to come. But what happened next for you?

During the first wave, we gained a lot of experience in handling the pandemic – precisely because so many things were uncertain at the beginning and the situation changed constantly and quickly. That helped us with later decisions, and we tried to act with foresight and a sense of proportion. So even before the second lockdown, we reviewed our hygiene measures again in the light of the latest developments in all areas and reinforced them further where necessary. In parallel, we continued to focus on protecting the supply chains so as to be able to continue supplying foods to our customers reliably.

At that time, the very different measures in the Federal regions and the dynamic infection pattern presented us with major challenges. We wanted to set standard rules for our DMK sites without losing flexibility. Another challenge was the fact that we have sites in different regions. Here, too, customised measures had to be worked out for individual regions, while still providing everyone in the company with the same information. In the end, however, we found a way to make that possible and communicate transparently with our staff, our farmers and shareholders, and also the service providers and suppliers who work for us.

In retrospect, I can say that despite all the dynamic the crisis has brough, it’s worked very well so far. Meanwhile, many of the measures and rules of conduct implemented in the spring of 2020 are firmly anchored with everyone. The weekly self-tests we supply to all employees have also been very well accepted.

Why do you think that is?

Above all, we have the people in the DMK Group to thank for the success of our measures. They supported the Coronavirus TaskForce’s decisions right from the start and championed their implementation. Their solidarity was of crucial importance and my thanks goes to all employees who have acted in the spirit of the community right up till now. It is thanks to them that we’ve got through the crisis so well so far. I’m therefore certain that we will master these times together until normality finally returns.

One last question in conclusion: what was the most important insight you gained in 2020?

I’m very glad about all the things we were able to make possible this year, simply by having the courage to stand up to the crisis. That was a really great insight. It's good to know all the things we can master together and that we embody the sentence “We are DMK” on a daily basis. That and our detailed preparation for different scenarios make me feel really quite positive, despite the continuing pandemic.