Sure, my name is Soeren Raahauge and I am originally from Denmark. I have been living in Belgium since September 2015. Eventually, I decided to move here because my girlfriend lives in Belgium.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like spending time with my girlfriend and friends, working in the garden or going for a run in the countryside.
Lovely! What did you study?
I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Economics and Business Administration, and a Master’s Degree of Science in Supply Chain Management from Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.
Why did you choose these studies?
I have always been interested in management and in the optimization of business processes. Supply Chain Management appealed to me because – at the same time – it has both a high-level perspective as well as a detailed low-level focus.
On a high level, it teaches you how the different parts of the supply chain interact and need to work together to function in an optimal way. On a low level, you learn how to optimize sub-processes in different parts of the supply chain, for example how to optimize production processes via the use of LEAN management tools.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background or working experience?
After finishing high school, I joined the army where I was appointed sergeant of an armed mortar section. This experience sparked my interest in people and process management. I knew I wanted to continue working in a field that enabled me to grow, improve and gain influence.
After my studies at the Copenhagen Business school, I was fortunate to get a Management Trainee position for 2 years in one of Europe’s biggest textile service companies. In this position, I was responsible for 4 different projects in different parts of the supply chain. That’s how I learned a lot about managing projects and delivering results in a relatively short time span.
After the Management Traineeship, I continued as a Distribution and Production Manager, and later as an internal consultant, optimizing the transportation setups for customer deliveries in Denmark.
The last 2,5 years before moving to Belgium, I had the opportunity to work as a Project Manager in an international pharma company based in Denmark. Here, I was responsible for the global distribution setups.
Thanks to this role, I gained a lot of experience in managing international tenders, conducting audits of existing and future business partners, and securing Good Distribution Practice in global supply chains.
After moving to Belgium, I looked for consulting opportunities, and I was approached by one of the recruitment consultants of Pauwels who had seen my CV on the internet.
What was your first impression of Pauwels Consulting?
Very positive. The colleagues are very friendly and knowledgeable at Pauwels. I received offers from other consulting companies as well, but Pauwels was the most professional and efficient in dealing with clients. That’s why I chose to start here.
Did your first impression match the reality of everyday business at Pauwels Consulting?
Yes, I am very happy to work as a Pauwels Consulting consultant.
It’s a continuously growing and financially healthy company that looks after its employees.
Pauwels Consulting organizes great events as well. The yearly new year’s party, for example, always has a specific theme. People dress up and have a great time with good food and great music.
Can you tell us a bit more about your current project?
I’m currently working on a 2-year project for a large pharmaceutical company. The project is a follow-up or extension of a previous project that led to the construction of a new European distribution center in Belgium, the optimization of distribution setups, and the implementation of the same Enterprise Resource Planning system in all West European countries.
My project focuses on doing the same for the East European countries: implementing a new ERP system and optimizing the physical distribution setups in all East European countries.
What’s the goal of your current project?
The goal is to ensure that – eventually – all European countries will be using the same ERP system, and that the impacted countries will have optimized their supply chains accordingly in a compliant manner.
What are the eventual benefits of this project?
Implementing the same ERP-system in all European countries results in more transparency and allows for better control of the European supply chains. Before this project, the different countries involved used different IT-systems.
In the future, all countries will be using the same system. This will enable synergies: standardized processes for order handling, better production planning and better quality management via the improved visibility of the products’ state and location in the supply chain, for example.
Using the same IT-system is a great foundation for a more agile and fast-adapting organization. After all, new concepts can be implemented faster across borders using the same system as opposed to using different systems.
What are your responsibilities during this project?
I am the Workstream Lead for Quality, which means that I am responsible for ensuring good implementation of all quality-related activities in the project.
I also function as a link between the local quality people affected by the project and the project team, making sure that any local risks are met in the proper way from a project perspective, and that all quality-related project objectives are met through the involvement of the local teams.
What are the timelines of this project?
The project started in January 2016 and will end in 2018. At the moment, there’s not yet an official final deadline.
In the morning, I drive to the office at the European Distribution Center. Because my project is international, I have a lot of conference calls to coordinate the next steps of the project waves with the different stakeholders. I think – on average – I have about 4 conference calls a day.
When I am not in a call, I mostly work on the different follow-up tasks agreed upon in the calls, and on tasks related to moving the projects forward in accordance with the different project plans.
Normally, I also travel 3 to 4 days a month to the different countries involved in the project to meet my contacts face to face and discuss the challenges and next steps for the project.
What do you like about this project?
It is an international project, including a lot of different functions and different countries, so I learn a lot from working with people who have different cultural backgrounds and responsibilities. I also get to travel to countries I otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to visit.
What important lessons have you learned in the past months, during this project?
I have learned that you should never underestimate the power of local health authorities. Even though most of the countries impacted by the project are members of the EU – complying to the same guidelines for Good Distribution Practice – these guidelines aren’t always interpreted in the same way in Eastern Europe and Western Europe.
This means that – if local authorities view the laws differently, or have stricter requirements – it can be difficult to implement the project as planned. So basically, you learn to be flexible and to find the solution that best fits the local context.
Could you give an example of a difference in interpretation between Eastern and Western Europe?
Communicating with the Health Authorities in Eastern Europe is more complicated than communicating with those in Western Europe. In my experience, the Health Authorities are more pragmatic in Western Europe. And if you can prove that your future activities are compliant with EU GDP guidelines, they are OK with your operations in their country.
In Eastern Europe, the health authorities are stricter in their interpretations of Good Distribution Practice. It is more difficult to talk freely and have a pragmatic discussion with them, and they prefer companies working under licenses granted by themselves, rather than working under EU licenses issued by Health Authorities from other EU countries.
What would you like to do after this project? What are your ambitions for the future?
I would like to continue working on projects that are related to either quality or the optimization of supply chain processes.
My main ambition for the future is to continue learning new things and getting better at the things I already know. I hope to be able to participate in projects in which I can grow as a person, both professionally and personally.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? An inspiring wisdom, quote or citation perhaps?
When I think about other project managers I have worked with in the past, the ones getting the best long term results are the ones that have an objective, open and pragmatic mindset and a good sense of distinguishing root causes from side issues.
There’s one particular quote I like from former successful football manager of Manchester United Alex Ferguson, who often said to his players:
“Play the game, not the occasion.”
What he means is that players need to keep their focus on the agreed game plan. They shouldn’t be negatively influenced or too impressed by the circumstances surrounding the game they are about to play.
Ferguson’s quote reminds me of the importance of having a plan I can stick to, even if different stakeholders want to influence the outcome of the project in other directions.
If you are not mindful of this aspect of Project Management, and if you are not able to stick to your initial plan, you may end up with a solution that is only good for the minority of the stakeholders, not for the majority.
So – as I see it – the plan you create is key to getting success with projects. And the best advice I can give when creating a new plan for a project is to stay humble and open to the different inputs you receive. After all, the quality of your plan depends on the quality of the input you receive from the different stakeholders. This input forms the basis of your analysis and plan creation.
That’s why people skills are very important. You will receive the best input if the people who are providing it feel that you are genuinely interested in the subject and easily accessible. If you have a good relationship with the different stakeholders involved, they will also contact you again with follow-up information, and – in turn – they will be accessible should you ever need any help in the future.
When I receive the input I need to start my analysis, I try to process it as objectively as possible. This way, I know that my plan will not be biased and that I will be able to stick to it in the future, even if different stakeholders try to change my focus or the outcome of the project.
That’s great advice, Soeren! Thank you very much for this lovely interview. I wish you all the best for the future!