Melanie Mokken studied International Business at the VU University and did a master in Marketing. She joined Aureus in the first year of her study and did several committees from the Amsterdam Marketing Challenge to the Amsterdam Research Project. In the 13/14th year she was part of the Aureus board as career officer. Melanie is currently working for UTZ, which is a sustainability program for coffee, cocoa, tea and hazelnuts, for which she will move to Australia. Scroll down to read more about her interesting career story!
You have been in a lot of Aureus committees; why did you join Aureus?
I have always been the organizing type, I have always liked participating in events and organizing events. For me it was a great combination of meeting new students at the university and having some nice activities besides my study and I knew that it would be a good way to develop myself. Aureus met all of my expectations, I met a lot of people, made great friends and I really developed myself.
What committee did you like the most and why?
I think if you are talking about committees then in the end the Amsterdam Research Project was a great committee, but you almost cannot call that a committee anymore. It is a different set up than working towards an event for example, it is very broad. You have to completely immerse yourself in the target country, Brazil in our case. Then you start with designing the acquisition scope, and then doing the acquisition yourself. When we got our project, we did the desk research and then went to Brazil for five weeks of field research. We finished with writing our research report. It was a great experience, it’s very insightful to do business in a different country, with a different culture and language. You learn a lot about yourself, as an individual and within a group, and about the people you work with.
Name one thing you have learned from your board year.
I think that it is a good thing to be ambitious and it is important to develop yourself as a student. Working on your career, thinking about where you want to go, being successful, but in the end the most important thing is to stay true to yourself. Don’t do things that you think others expect from you. Don’t pin yourself down on a fixed career path you have determined for yourself; you might miss good things that come along the way. Find the things to do that you like, people to hang out with that you like and choose the turn in a career path that you really like: that gives you this internal drive and motivation and will truly make you happy.
After your board year you started working at UTZ, how did you get into the company?
I was coaching the Masterclass committee and they were planning a masterclass around corporate social responsibility. One of the committee members was the contact person for UTZ at Ahold and we wanted to invite them to provide a case. We visited the office and at the moment we stepped in there, I knew that it was an organization that really matched my interests. Sustainability, working together with developing countries, while maintaining a business perspective: working with well-known brands to support them in their sustainability strategies. And the products coffee, cocoa and tea of course. Who doesn’t love those! Everyone knows they can please me or shut me up with some good chocolate. I kept UTZ in mind, because I needed to write my thesis and I wanted to combine that with an internship. So at the time that I had to write my master thesis, I contacted them saying ‘hey I think you guys are really awesome, do you ever do graduate internships?’ and that is how I came here. That was really based on this gut feeling: I thought this was something I am interested in and would make me happy. I had been looking into Unilever, Heineken and all those places but in the end this is what really appealed to me and I never left.
UTZ is pronounced as ‘oets’ and it is an actual word. Utz means ‘good’, it is an old Mayan language. UTZ was launched in 2002 as Utz Kapeh, which means ‘good coffee’.
Can you tell us some more about UTZ?
UTZ is a not for profit organization: the world’s leading sustainability program and label for sustainable coffee, cocoa, tea and recently hazelnuts products. You might know it as the label that you see on many products in the supermarket. What we do is, we support farmers in the producing countries by training them in good agricultural practices. So they will be able to improve their yields and increase their income while taking care of their families, workers and the environment. At the same time we develop the market: we create awareness around the importance of sustainability and work with companies like Mars, JDE and Nestlé on their sustainable sourcing strategies. UTZ is the largest program worldwide, but may be less well-known as we don’t practice direct consumer communication. This is because we think that it not about the sustainability label, but about the brand: everyone has their favorite products and you don’t want to have to switch because of sustainability issues. Making the right choices is hard enough as it is. Enjoying your favorite products while knowing they are sustainable, just makes them taste better and should be the most mainstream thing in the world. This is a vision I strongly support.
You are currently working for UTZ in Australia/New Zealand, how did you get there?
It was actually since I joined, I have been climbing my way up, but in an organization like this, which is very horizontal, it does not really feel like that. In terms of responsibility I have taken more steps along the way. I started here as an intern, after that I became a trainee. Then I got a job as PR officer, responsible for PR in the Netherlands, France and Germany and now, since last year, I got this new position which is called market development manager for Australia and New Zealand. That means I will be moving to Sydney in June and I’ll be supporting the local companies and brands there with their sustainable sourcing. At the same time I will be developing relationships with national media and other NGO’s to increase awareness about UTZ and sustainability issues.
Are you looking forward to working at the other side of the world?
I’m really excited about it. I have been there last November and I am going there in March and April again. I am planning to move to Sydney in June. I think everything you think about Australia is true: the people are really relaxed, open, friendly and at the same time the companies are really trying to see how they can improve their sustainability practices, get sustainable supply chains. It is a beautiful country, there is so much to see and to do, so it is the perfect combination of everything.