Jais Valeur

CEO at Danish Crown

When heritage meets performance culture

Danish Crown Case 

The past 30 years have exposed Jais Valeur to almost all major categories in the food industry; from beer through dairy products to meat, as well as a wide range of geographies; from New Zealand through China to rural Denmark. Today, he finds himself in one of the backbones of the Danish farming economy: Danish Crown. As newly appointed CEO, Jais juggles 26,000 employees and 7,600 farmers, almost 100 international production and sales subsidiaries and an annual revenue of EUR 7.8 billion. From his first day as CEO, in early 2016, Jais has maintained a firm focus on creating followership, as he is convinced that this is the way forward in an organisation built on cooperation and long-term commitment.

When heritage meets performance culture

Danish Crown case

The past 30 years have exposed Jais Valeur to almost all major categories in the food industry; from beer through dairy products to meat, as well as a wide range of geographies; from New Zealand through China to rural Denmark. Today, he finds himself in one of the backbones of the Danish farming economy: Danish Crown. As newly appointed CEO, Jais juggles 26,000 employees and 7,600 farmers, almost 100 international production and sales subsidiaries and an annual revenue of EUR 7.8 billion. From his first day as CEO, in early 2016, Jais has maintained a firm focus on creating followership, as he is convinced that this is the way forward in an organisation built on cooperation and long-term commitment.

“We are part of a hyper-volatile environment where our competitors seem to be struggling, whereas we seem to be performing”.

Jais Valeur
CEO at Danish Crown

Jais has deep experience within cooperatively owned companies, having spent 15 years in Arla Foods’ management prior to joining Danish Crown. He has an international background and has lived in several different countries throughout the years. Somewhere along the way, Jais picked up his love for Italian motorcycles. His garage contains one of the faster models, and Jais takes it out for a spin as often as he gets the chance.

Returning from a near-death experience

“I was intrigued by the sheer size and importance of Danish Crown on a national level. Danish Crown is responsible for 4% of all foreign currency flowing into Denmark. So, you could basically argue that you only need 25 companies like Danish Crown to keep the Danish economy running”, Jais says as an initial contemplation on joining the company. “It has turned out to be a very exciting first year – and a lot of hard work. But that didn’t come as a big surprise”. In January 2016, Jais was handed the keys to the CEO office, and 365 days later, he finds himself in the privileged position of being able to look back at his first full year. In the time that has passed, he has managed to gain thorough insight into a new industry, launched a new strategy, created strong followership in the organisation and embarked on a positive growth agenda. Not too bad for the first 365 days in the driver’s seat.

Prior to Jais’ entry, Danish Crown had been through what can be defined as a near-death experience. During the past 10 years, they had been increasingly challenged on their competitiveness and consequently had to terminate 7,000 Danish workplaces. “I think it was the right decision made by the previous management in order to get the company back on track. Despite having been through this rough process, the company was in a good place when I took over as CEO”, Jais explains. With this foundation, how do you turn the mood from cost cutting and job reductions towards creating traction and a positive growth agenda? This was on the top of Jais’ to-do list when taking on the job.

In 1887, 500 farmers from Jutland, Denmark, joined forces to form Denmark’s first cooperative meat company, Horsens Andelssvineslagteri. Today, Danish Crown has about 26,000 employees and is cooperatively owned by 7,600 pig and cattle farmers spread across Denmark.

As the world’s largest pork exporter and Europe’s largest meat processing company, 92% of Danish Crown’s meat is exported to other countries. The meat is primarily exported to the UK, Germany, Japan, Australia, the US, Russia, Sweden and Italy.

The Danish veterinary inspection and legislation are among the strictest in the world, and they cover the entire process from the rearing of the animals on the farms to the inspection of every single animal at the abattoirs.

“In contrary to many other industries, farmers think long-term. They think in terms of generations, not the next quarter or the next year”.

The first 365 days

“What you tend to underestimate when you start a job like this is that you have to deliver change through leaders you don’t actually know. I came out of a company where I knew the leaders. I knew who could perform and who couldn’t. So, coming into an environment where you don’t know who has which capabilities is the challenge that has surprised me the most. It’s essential to create some sort of followership. If you want to be a leader, it’s good to have someone who wants to follow you”, Jais explains with a smile and continues, “if there’s one piece of advice I would like to pass on, then it would be to create followership. Initiating a strategy process with leaders you don’t actually know, that has been hard work”.

Commencing the job, Jais had a three-legged strategy as to how to get settled. First and foremost, he needed to get a thorough grip of the company and industry. As there was no immediate burning platform, Jais had an eight-week transition phase along with his iconic predecessor, who had been in the job for the past (impressive) 28 years. “It’s actually a big deal to enter a job like this, with the complexity of such a big corporation”, Jais says, “I had a very detailed plan for how to prepare myself; how to learn as much as possible about the people and the company without being the real CEO – yet. I worked 24/7 during those weeks, and looking back, it was a wise decision to spend a lot of time on this. In addition, I had a plan for my first 100 days, which listed a number of things that I needed to get started as quickly as possible, to get traction later on. And I stuck to that plan”. On top of the 100-day plan, Jais also had a list of what he wanted to have accomplished by the end of the first year.

Managing the interests of 7,600 cooperative owners

As a cooperatively owned company, Danish Crown was part of the trendy “sharing economy” way before that term became politically correct. Danish Crown is owned by 7,600 pig and cattle farmers spread across Denmark. The owners deliver the raw material to the company, and share the profit accordingly. “One thing I have learnt from working with farmers over the years is that they are very resilient people. More so than any other group I have known. In contrary to many other industries, farmers think long-term. They think in terms of generations, not the next quarter or the next year”, Jais describes.

Setting the market prices each Thursday, Jais is measured as a CEO on a weekly basis, in terms of whether or not the company is delivering value. Hence, there is a constant balance between short-term metrics and a longer-term perspective. A balance that Jais believes the farmers are handling quite well. “It’s an unusual structure to be cooperatively owned, which is built on personal relationships and the fact that people know each other. I believe I can add even more of a performance culture into the mix, and together with their long-term perspectives, I think that’s a pretty powerful combination”.

“Our consumers and customers don’t love us today. They like to buy our products, but I think we need to take this to the next level of interaction”.

Upgrading to a
four-wheel drive

Creating traction and generating growth were (not very surprisingly) at the top of Jais’ first-year-as-CEO to-do list. Given the size of Danish Crown, Jais and his team have worked both top-down and bottom-up in the processes of setting a new direction, building on the DNA of the company. “From a top-down perspective, I have spent a lot of time on the board and senior management level during this year, which has been brilliant in order for me to build relations and get commitment to the direction, but it has also been a big learning experience for me. We have discussed our portfolio and organisational structure, and we have looked into which success factors are relevant to a company like ours. This has opened up for both internal and external benchmarking”, Jais explains and elaborates, “simultaneously, we have worked bottom-up by having our local business units define their own aspirations and execution plans based on a unit-specific top-down challenge. This has led to clear deliverables, which are owned by the local teams and not by me as the new CEO. It’s been a really strong process, but also a huge undertaking”.

During the strategy process, Jais and his management team have utilised the terminology of a four-wheel drive, referring to the rear wheels as the upstream activities related to the farmers, while the front wheels are a reference to the interactions with the consumers. Going from a company focused on the rear wheels, the objective for the new strategy is to include an enlarged consumer focus to the equation. “The intention of this strategy isn’t to go from a rear-wheel drive to a front-wheel drive, but from a rear-wheel drive to a four-wheel drive. That is the fundamental part of the strategy. We need to get closer to the consumers, deliver more value to them and interact more with them. When we look at the competitive context, we see intense competition on both a European and global scale. We are part of a hyper-volatile environment where our competitors seem to be struggling, whereas we seem to be performing”, Jais explains. He continues: “The local ownership has been vital for our strategy to go live. You can make the world’s best strategy, but if you can’t make people own it and believe it, you can’t make it happen. I believe this process of delegating responsibility to the local management teams has been essential for the initial traction that we are seeing”.

Aiming for love

According to Jais, creating organisational followership is primarily a matter of strong communication. When entering Danish Crown, he found that purpose and direction could be used to energise the organisation. It is Jais’ personal ambition to establish a strong communicative platform for Danish Crown: “We are a production company. You could say that we kill pigs and cows for a living, and if that’s our narrative, it’s not exactly a very noble purpose. I’m working on formulating a fundamentally positive purpose for the company, centred on food. At Danish Crown, we’re all about creating great food and enabling people to prepare a fantastic meal. Creating a purpose and finding a core is very important. But it takes time to incorporate these elements in an organisation like this”.

Speaking of noble, Danish Crown, despite its size and market share, don’t find themselves in the privileged situation of having a large number of dedicated and loyal consumers in neither their own home markets or abroad. This is an area wherein Jais has both high ambitions and sees great potential: “Our consumers and customers don’t love us today. They like to buy our products, but I think we need to take this to the next level of interaction. It has to do with talking much more about world-class meat delivered by the farmers. We need to include our heritage in the narrative, and communicate what we do and how we do it. This is part of an innovation agenda where we really need to step up our game”.

Setting the pace

In terms of surprises in the job, Jais has found rather few. “Within six weeks of the job, I made a note to myself of what I had seen and what I thought needed to be done. I had one note in there mentioning our UK business, and that it might not be as good as we thought. That turned out to be an understatement. Then, on the other hand, I have had many positive surprises”, Jais says and continues, “my ambitions for Danish Crown is to create a company which is loved by our customers, to be number one in Northern Europe as a food company and to be number one on a global scale in the market of casing and ingredients. If one day, I can deliver a company like that to the next CEO, then I will be a very happy man. However, I also believe our owners would be pleased because we would then have a much more resilient and robust company”.