It has always been my dream to connect elements and to connect the world. Today, as Brenntag’s Operations Manager for the Netherlands, I’m responsible for the efficient and safe work-flow at four sites.
My team and their safety are of highest interest to me. In Rotterdam harbor, Europe’s gateway to the world, Brenntag runs an important solvent hub from where we deliver large volumes to the big customers but we also connect the smaller customers with the world.
It’s our job to ensure the right product gets delivered safely, to the right customer, in time – whatever the volume, wherever they’re located. And this is what I strive for every day.
Interview about Aafke's Career at Brenntag
“We can only ensure good safety when working together.”
To lead a team of plant managers, transport managers and QHSE managers in four different locations, one thing is essential: communication. Fortunately, that’s just the thing Aafke Dijksma, Operations Manager Netherlands, does so well. In this interview, she explains what fascinates her most about chemical distribution and why she is always on the lookout for safety breaches.
Aafke, you joined Brenntag right after your graduation. How did that happen?
I was searching for a graduation project and Brenntag offered me the opportunity to start implementing and certifying the management system in line with ISO 9001, 18001 and 14001 standards. For me it was a great opportunity to get to know all the processes and colleagues within this short period of time. Normally this process would take one year, but I completed the project in six months. That was the moment when I realized that I was in the right place. My superiors must have had a similar view: after graduation they offered me a job directly.
How did your career develop from that point on?
I started as an Assistant Quality HSE Manager at Brenntag Netherlands in 2000. One year later I became the Environmental Manager. I was responsible for all the permits at the sites, the authority inspections, plus the environmental programs that we had. During the engineering and development of the new site in Rotterdam, I decided I wanted to move into a more operational role and Brenntag offered me the chance to do exactly that. In 2007, I accepted the position of Junior Operations Manager for Brenntag Netherlands. At the same time, the former Operations Manager was about to retire, so the plan was for me to become his successor. He had about 30 years’ experience at Brenntag in a variety of roles and I was lucky to be able to learn a lot from him. When he retired in 2012, I filled the position he left.
17 years is a long time. How do you keep your fascination for Brenntag and chemical distribution?
You see our impact nearly everywhere you look on a daily basis. For instance, when you read the ingredients list of your food products, care & beauty products or medicines, you’ll see chemistry is always inside.
During your career you have surely carried out some challenging projects, haven’t you?
Yes indeed. For instance, I was in the project team for developing the new facility in Rotterdam. At that time, we didn’t only have to manage the move from the old facility to the new one but also the implementation of SAP and the integration of an acquired company. That was a lot of work for all contributors involved, but we managed it well. In times like these, you need to keep calm, focus on the solution, and bring your experienced team together. Otherwise it simply won’t work.
Today, the facility in Rotterdam is your main workplace. What happens there?
A lot. Our facility is directly located at Rotterdam harbor – the biggest port in Europe. We receive around 120,000 tons of goods by ship each year. This includes shipments from the US and other countries but also from neighboring production companies in Rotterdam. Additionally, we receive and dispatch chemicals by truck. We receive around 35,000 tons in bulk truckloads and an additional 25,000 tons in packed goods.
Our trucks supply Brenntag locations in Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland and many other European countries. At the same time, we export a large quantity on a global level. All these things combine to make Rotterdam a very important hub for the rest of Europe – but it’s much more than that. The actual focus of the facility is on bulk breaking, mixing and blending as well as the filling of a wide range of solvents. What surprises many visitors is that we are able to process 180,000 tons of products a year in an area of only 27,000 square meters.
Today you are the Operations Manager for Netherlands, what exactly do you do?
I’m responsible for 150 employees and my most important job is taking care of the supply chain processes in the Netherlands. That means the production at our locations in Rotterdam, Zwijndrecht, Moerdijk, and Amsterdam, but also distribution, import and export logistics, quality, safety, health, and environment. Specifically, this involves transshipping an annual product volume of 500,000 tons for the Netherlands.
Sounds like quite a challenge, what do you like about it?
I enjoy developing and implementing efficient processes in the supply chain such as automating filling processes that simplify and optimize our distribution network. I’m constantly looking to improve efficiency and safety. We have a lot of visitors at our facility in Rotterdam. Most of them are extremely impressed that we are able to handle 180,000 tons of products a year in an area of only 27,000 square meters. I always like to arrange a site tour, to show them around and explain to them what we do at Brenntag.
I really enjoy working and communicating with all the different people here at Brenntag. For example, exchanging experiences and ideas with plant managers, shift leaders and operators. That’s why my door is always open and I listen actively to their thoughts. Like most managers, I have regular meetings which are not only in Rotterdam, but also in Zwijndrecht, Moerdijk, and Amsterdam, which means that I travel a lot between the sites. The focus here is not only on operational questions, but also on other important aspects such as safety, quality and HR.
Speaking of safety, what does it mean to you?
For me “Safety First” is the most important of our six core values. Every colleague who leaves for work in the morning should expect to return home in good health at the end of the working day. That’s not only the responsibility of the plant managers, supervisors and shift leaders, but the responsibility of everybody at Brenntag. Only together can we ensure the highest levels of safety.
What exactly does an Operations Manager have to do with safety?
As an Operations Manager, you have to make sure that our policies are implemented correctly and that starts with making sure everybody clearly understands the rules. We have regular safety meetings regarding new procedures, near miss reports and accident reports. Should an accident occur, we either interview all the people involved or carry out an investigation.
Management involvement is very important, that’s the reason why I periodically organize safety walks. Formally, I have to do this twice a year per plant – sometimes with full protection, so that I can closely see the condition of danger zones. In practice, I’m present at every plant on a regular basis and always look out for safety breaches. After a while you learn to spot them immediately. Most of the accidents and near misses are caused by human behavior, such as distraction, taking shortcuts or routine. A certain routine may help to get a lot of work done more quickly, but it raises the risk of forgetting about safety aspects at the same time. If you want to increase safety, you need to change their safety awareness and behavior. Just recently we achieved an important safety milestone in Rotterdam by passing five years without recording a lost time injury.
How do you ensure that all the facilities you are responsible for are on top of safety and other operational areas?
We are always looking for innovative solutions that both increase safety and reduce work for us, our customers, and our suppliers. For example, we use highly-automated, dedicated filling lines which enable us to fill acids, lyes and solvents into different container sizes – from five liters to 25 tons. That’s not only highly efficient, but also safer for our workers because it reduces their exposure to the products. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
Fact sheet Aafke Dijksma
Born in Vlaardingen, raised in Heenvliet, a small village not far from the Brenntag facility in Rotterdam
Studied Chemical Engineering at HTS Rotterdam
Career at Brenntag:
Aafke joined the chemical distributor Chemproha ChemiePartner BV for her final graduation project shortly before it was acquired by Brenntag. Afterwards she was directly hired and started as an Assistant QHSE Manager in 2000 and just one year later became the Environmental Manager for Brenntag Netherlands. In 2008, she moved to an operational role as Junior Operations Manager, working alongside the former Operations Manager who was an experienced mentor to her. When he retired in 2012, she stepped into his shoes and became Operations Manager at Brenntag Netherlands.
Away from her daily office work, Aafke turns into a sporting ace. She loves to play tennis with her two daughters, does some cardio boxing, and likes to regularly go for a run. Sometimes you can even see the former gymnastic enthusiast walking on her hands through the living room. Besides that, she enjoys long walks on the beach with her husband and having dinner with family and friends.
Past or present famous people to have dinner with?
Present, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee is an essential part of Aafke’s daily routine.