Safisana’s latest signing is 61-year-old Berend Golterman with over 30 years of experience in mass production and productivity management. In his role as Operations and Technology Manager at Safisana, it will be his mission to make the Safisana plant in Ashaiman top efficient, both operationally and financially, and optimize the Safisana model for scaling and replication.
In your former job at a large American manufacturing company of industrial packaging, you were responsible for setting up over 20 new factories or factory transformations. What was your first impression of the Safisana plant and team in Ghana?
“What was immediately obvious when I first met the team in Ghana is that I was going to work with a young, enthusiastic and dynamic organisation, composed of very knowledgeable people. We have a very good and dedicated team, this is one of the greatest strengths of Safisana. As for the plant itself, I could immediately see two things. One was that the layout of the operation was very well thought out. And secondly, as a fast-growing business, the plant would benefit from more structure and systems. So one of the first things I started working on together with the team is so-called value stream mapping. Very simple on a whiteboard, we started to map out and visualize all the processes and material flows on site, within and between the different process area levels, from waste intake to digesting, to composting and bagging and storage.”
And what were the outcomes of this team exercise?
“Mapping helps us to see the inefficiencies and the source of these inefficiencies in our entire value stream. Or on a positive note: it highlights the opportunities for improvement. In the case of Ghana, those opportunities lay in the reduction of the transport of materials from one site to the other for instance, and in reducing stock levels.
The good thing about this map is that it provides a common language for all teams to talk about our manufacturing process. It forms the basis for an implementation plan. The input from the team and the suggestions on how to improve specific processes were just amazing. You know, at Safisana, the team always means everybody, it’s never only the management. There is so much respect for everybody, from the office staff to the operational teams on site. At the end of the working week, we often have a bite and a drink together. That’s the kind of stuff I strongly believe in.”
You are very passionate about lean manufacturing, what is it and how does it affect the daily operations in Ghana?
“Lean manufacturing is a methodology that focuses on minimizing inefficiencies within manufacturing systems while simultaneously maximizing productivity. Some of the benefits of lean manufacturing can include reduced lead times, reduced operating costs and improved product quality.
The tools and methods for lean manufacturing are well-developed, and you can apply them to any industrial process, no matter the product. My role will be to create processes and implement structured approaches for improved housekeeping. You make sure that everything you need for the industrial process is always on site and that everybody knows where to find it. Simply put, you don’t want to find yourself out of gloves when the team is supposed to receive a load of waste. Lean manufacturing also means implementing structured approaches to problem-solving, so that problem-solving is not only the boss’, but everybody’s job. In a nutshell, it’s bringing a systematic approach to things.”
Monitoring and Evaluation is a big part of Safisana’s strategy to measure its impact on people’s health and the environment, how does data help you to make operations run more smoothly?
“It helps me answer questions about the efficiency of my operations. This is very important data. I’ll give you an example. One of the teams in the Ashaiman plant is responsible for the production of fertilizer. Having good data means that I can isolate the costs for this team and know what’s involved in the production of one bag of fertilizer. I can tell how this particular department is performing and how productivity evolves over time and try to improve it forever, all industries have to improve forever. So, in terms of evaluation, I will make sure that all the detailed financial data is available and well-used.”
It’s no coincidence that you are hired at this stage. What does your work bring for the expansion of the Safisana business model?
“Safisana is still young and the team is relatively small, but the plan is to multiply in Ghana and other countries. As we expand and grow, the company needs to have solid operational systems and structures. The team at the Ashaiman plant knows exactly what they are doing, but if we want to replicate our model, we need to capture this knowledge and standardise it into processes that others can follow, to ensure employee safety, quality of end products, environmental standards and so forth. That’s why we are working on building a Technology Knowledge Base, and more importantly on the implementation of it.”
Where do you see challenges in your work?
“I think this relates to the previous question, if you build systems and processes, you have to make sure they are implemented, otherwise you are wasting your time. 20% is getting processes on paper, and 80% is keeping them alive. For that, I am working a lot on-site with the team to ensure procedures are feasible, well-understood, executed, etc. Success very much depends on doing this at the right speed so that the organisation can cope. This also means learning from mistakes and sharing this knowledge.”
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Capability building is part of Safisana’s holistic approach. To build sustainable solutions you need local operations to be fully managed by the local teams. What type of leadership do you bring to the table?
“My approach is to lead by example and be hands-on. I’m there, present, in Ashaiman to do the housekeeping with the team. And at the end of the day, we celebrate and say “Job well done”. I was lucky to receive some leadership training from Thayer a couple of years ago, which taught me a lot, most notably that good leaders listen carefully. The answer to a problem usually lies with the person who owns the problem, meaning the person directly involved in the task. You just need to find a way to get it out. As managers, you are usually trained and have this immediate desire to provide a solution. But what I learned is that you should move back a little and ask questions instead.”
You gave up your plans for early retirement, to join Safisana, what happened?
“From the moment I learned about Safisana, I just loved the whole idea of reducing waste while producing energy and fertilizer, it’s just fantastic! I come from a completely different field, which is industrial packaging, so I had limited knowledge of the circular sanitation economy, but I really liked what I saw during my first visit and wanted to get involved in doing something positive for the world and with my experience in operational excellence and efficiency, Safisana just appeared to me like the perfect fit.”