I've always wanted something more
We had a chat with Christer Engström about the career that started largely due to coincidence and made it through the chefs profession to being a driver and then further on to the mill in Strängnäs, where Christer is currently the Production Planner.
Tell us about your career at Lantmännen
Like so many other things in life, it’s been largely due to coincidence. I worked as a cook at the Swedish Armed Forces Batallion P10, which was close to the mill. When the regiment was disbanded, a friend who worked at the mill suggested that I should apply since they had vacancies.
"I had previously done an internship at the mill and felt that I would never go back – it was way too noisy, dusty and just a tough environment in general. Everyone who lives in Strängnäs has worked at either Astra or the ice cream company Hemglass. Strängnäs Valskvarn has been very anonymous, but I ended up there after all."
The original plan was to work in the packaging department, but instead I became a driver. With the Swedish Armed Forces, I had the opportunity to get a truck license, so I was already able to drive – and when a colleague retired, I took his place and eventually stayed full-time – for 12 years. At that time, the mill was a family business, so my main occupation was driving a bulk truck, but I also got to help with all sorts of other things. When the transport manager retired, I became a manager – more specifically for transports and orders. I had that position until Lantmännen bought the mill.
A few years before Lantmännen came into the picture, my life was a bit turbulent on a private level as my partner and I separated, and it became difficult to combine life in the bulk truck and the every-other-week life with my daughter. There was an idea that I would start working at the lab where I started my internship, but instead I took a position as a mill driver and team leader. The mill driver runs the mill and places the grain onto the rollers. You could say that the mill driver makes the actual flour. Today we are staffed around the clock, but back then we were unmanned at night, and everything was quite messy in the beginning.
"The production manager suffered from burnout, and I took his place on an interim basis. But once it was clear he wasn’t coming back, the role became mine permanently. I haven't really had any particular drive to become a leader or manager. But I do know the mill and I have always been interested in our line of work."
The production manager position is a demanding one, with a lot of managerial responsibility and administrative tasks. I've hardly taken a vacation since 2014. I wouldn’t want to go through deploying the mill after Lantmännen’s acquisition again anytime soon. Nowadays, my work is much more focused on health and safety. My current role is as production planner, and it feels great to have the opportunity to do something new again. As we are a small facility, everyone is close to each other and I still help in the mill when needed, even though my role now is more focused on office and strategy work.
Tell us about your current role. What is the most fun and challenging parts?To be completely honest, I haven’t entirely grown into my role yet, some parts will be removed and others will be added. I'm still in a bit of a transition phase. But my current position is less about production and more about administration and strategy. The main reason I’ve stayed with the company is probably because I like taking on new things.
"Lantmännen is a large company and there are endless opportunities - you can take training in a new area or move forward in other ways. When exciting opportunities arise, I go for it!"
It's a bit like being an athlete – will I be able to handle this job, and will I do it well? I may put too much pressure on myself at times, but I always want to do a good job. The hard part is not to stress yourself out too much, but to take one thing at a time and finish the job. I still find it exciting to come to work each day. And if something breaks down, I know a lot about the mill.
What have Lantmännen's values of openness, holistic view and drive meant to you during your career?
A lot. I work according to them, always with a holistic view to be able to see new possibilities and to be open to personal change. As a leader, I try to be as open as possible, and I really don’t like hush-hush and hypocrisy. I like the straightforward approach and always have the Lantmännen values in the back of my mind.
What do you want to learn more about? What's next?
Right now, I am where I am. I want to learn my new role, which is more financially involved than previous jobs. On the production side, it's all about producing kilograms, so it's exciting to now work closer together with controllers and focus more on the profit side.
What drives you to develop yourself?
Curiosity, a desire to learn more and more. I need more than just grabbing my coffee and do my specific task or job the way I’ve always done it. Some people are happy with that, and I don’t mean to criticize them, but I've always wanted something more. I want to see how much I can handle. I'm constantly learning and understanding more and more as new pieces to the puzzle fall into place. I really don't like being bored; something needs to happen. I guess I'm a bit of a restless soul. Of course, you’re always nervous taking on a new position, but if I've made up my mind and I'm convinced, it usually goes pretty smoothly.
What are your best tips for others who want to make a career at Lantmännen?
An operator asked me the other day if I see a future for him in Lantmännen. I said "absolutely,” but you need to show a strong interest in what you are doing and have the desire to learn. Be curious and familiarize yourself with the business. Not only your specific tasks or area, but for the entire operation. The more you know, the easier it is to understand what others are talking about and working with, and the easier it will be for you to do a good job where you are.
Why have you chosen to stay at Lantmännen for such a long time?
Well, I think Lantmännen is a good employer. A safe and secure workplace and a Group that offers endless opportunities. Also, it’s a place where I can make a difference.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Almost all my free time is spent at my other job, a private gym in Strängnäs where I lead five classes a week – spinning, balance and body pump. The gym is where I relax. I've thought about becoming a personal trainer, but that probably involves too much psychology for me. But I like to lead and encourage others and to promote health.
Now my daughter has turned 18, so I’ve cut down on child and youth activities with the scouts, but earlier I spent a lot of time there too. It all started with my daughter's interest in the scouts. I've never really liked the woods and being outdoors, but my interest grew over the years, and it became a nice way to relax while spending time with my daughter. For a period, I was the vice president of the scout troop and responsible for the field kitchen.
I never finished high school since I started working for the Swedish Armed Forces at the age of 17. The only time I’ve been unemployed was when the regiment disbanded. At the time, I was studying to become a chef. As a child, I was quite overweight and during the chefs training I weighed as much as 200 kgs. Movies and food were my life, and exercising was just a non-starter.
"But then I got diabetes, and something needed to change. I walked and walked and came down to 100 kgs."
But after the separation with my daughter's mother, there was a lot of nightlife and beers and I started to gain weight again. I reached a point where I decided that "this doesn’t work anymore". I stopped partying and started exercising instead. I worked up the courage to join the gym and then became a trainer myself. I got an offer to start working as a group leader at the gym and took it. Since then, my diabetes has been completely under control!
Yeah, I don't really know where that drive came from! I have this voice saying “I’m just going to make it” inside of me, and it simply drives me somehow. I want to lead a good life and be able to keep doing the things I enjoy. Especially for, and together with, my daughter.
Current role: Production Planner Strängnäs Valskvarn
Years with Lantmännen: 9 years. I had worked at Valskvarnen since 2000 but came” with the purchase” when Lantmännen acquired the mill in 2014. The basic concept is the same, but it was a big change. We became a larger company with more customers and larger volumes, and the CEO was no longer just "upstairs". Health and safety issues have also become a focused area that in the earlier days was more laissez-faire.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A policeman or truck driver! So, I actually ended up making it.
What are you most proud of in your life? Of course, my daughter. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have any children but once our daughter was born it just felt fantastic. I am also proud that I gave my daughter a healthy and present father. That I dared to go through a personal change with my overweight and my partying. Since I'm actually quite shy, I'm also proud that I dare to lead both my team at work and classes at the gym.
Which of Lantmännen's products is your favorite? AXA oatmeal! Since I was diagnosed with diabetes in January 2000, I have eaten oatmeal for breakfast every day. From time to time, I have tried other brands, but nothing compares to AXA. And I only buy Kungsörnen. I would never buy anything else. I am loyal. START! is also good, but I view that more as candy that I only eat occasionally.