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