LDC

Our people

5 minutes with… Mik, Head of the Coffee Platform

How my journey with LDC started

I was born in Oslo, Norway, and spent about eighteen years in Sweden and Singapore growing up. After I graduated high school in Singapore and finished my compulsory national service in Finland, I attended Dartmouth College in the US, where I completed a double major in Economics and History.

While at university, a group of LDC recruiters visited the campus. The idea of trading and participating in global trade interested me, although most of my classmates were focused on traditional career paths at the time: investment banking, consultancy… It was the beginning of the internet boom in the late 1990s, so those were popular options for university students.

I decided to go against the grain and join LDC. And if I had the chance to do it all again, I would do it exactly the same: I have no regrets.

First roles and challenges

LDC took me on as a Merchant Trainee in the Cotton division in Memphis (TN), in 1997. During those first few months, I sat between my senior manager, who was an experienced cotton trader, and my assigned mentor, a lady who was formally responsible for coaching me in trading. Her guidance and support were very important this early on in my career, and had a strong impact on my professional development going forward. I went through an onboarding and familiarization program over the first few weeks, but was soon entrusted with my own transactions, buying cotton from farmers, brokers and small traders in the Mississippi Delta. That was my first job.

A few years later, I requested to move closer to my wife-to-be, who lived on the east coast, and was relocated to Wilton (CT) to take up a new challenge in the Energy desk in 2001.

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When international opportunities opened up

Over the following years, I lived in China (where my daughter was born) for five years, and in Singapore (where my son was born) for two and a half years. I value this period as one of the most interesting, challenging, and ultimately, intellectually and commercially rewarding experiences I had at LDC. The Chinese market was just opening up after having been insulated from outside factors since 1949, and LDC was going through a period of immense growth in the region.

But it wasn’t easy. We had to learn early on what the local rules were: in the early stages of doing business, we had to find a middle ground, combining the best of Western contracting terms and Chinese business practices. Eventually, this mindset led us to terms which were better and more practical than we initially thought. In our first year, we understood that we were charting a middle path that allowed for pretty good success in terms of volume growth and commercial results.

Back in America

Then, in 2011, after almost eight years in Asia, I was offered to move back to the US as Head of Region for North America, where the environment was very different to Asia, and that sounded very interesting to me. Soon after I arrived, in early 2012, LDC purchased US-listed “Imperial Sugar Company”, based in Texas and Georgia. This was a very interesting project, not only in terms of the delisting formalities, but also because the transaction increased our regional headcount by more than one third. I learned a lot about tax, legal, contracting and accounting issues, as essential elements to our local operations.

Oceans of opportunities and experiences

Each posting at LDC brought with it a different set of benefits and experiences. I’ve been very fortunate to be given different opportunities in the company, distinct in responsibility, geography, cultural environment and commercial relevance, which means each role was a new job in itself. I am equally lucky that my family was willing and excited to take on new challenges and move to new and interesting places.
Because my experience has been so positive, I try to offer my team the same opportunities I had, and often emphasize the importance of being flexible, and playing a role in defining your career path at LDC.

… One last thing:

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Do you personally like coffee?

I love coffee. As a Finn, it’s deep-rooted in my culture - in fact it was almost a ritual, growing up in my family. There is a strong “socializing” factor about coffee, where I’m from. I’ve been a coffee drinker since my teenage years, and this appreciation of the final product does help when your job is to bring the product to the world and markets. Since being appointed Head of the Coffee Platform two years ago, I’ve acquired a greater appreciation for the differences between product origins, and where certain qualities and characteristics, aspects and flavors come from before reaching your coffee cup.

Any changes brewing in the industry?

One of the key challenges we face is addressing the growing need for traceable and sustainably produced coffee. To tackle this, we work with certification and verification agencies such as 4C, CAFE Practices, the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Fairtrade and Organic, and frequently review our practices across the value chain to identify areas where we can improve. In parallel, we are also experiencing a diminishing local supplier base. Kenya is an interesting example of this. The country produces coffee of very high quality, appreciated globally by those with a taste for good coffee. But the reality is that coffee growing areas in Kenya are threatened by urban sprawl, competition with other agricultural production, and an aging population of farmers. During a site visit in Kenya, one of the local stakeholders told me that the average age for a coffee farmer in their county was 63. Generation succession is an issue, as the younger generation seeks jobs in different professions and cities, sometimes even abroad. It struck me that this reduction in Kenyan supply, which is reflected in the pricing of Kenyan coffee relative to other qualities’, might continue. One hopes the country will find a way to address the issue, or replicate their high quality supply in other areas.

To learn more about the career paths available at LDC, please visit the dedicated section on our website, or follow us on LinkedIn.


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