Voices From Sonatus: Berend van Wel, Managing Director of FrieslandCampina Vietnam | Vietcetera
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Voices From Sonatus: Berend van Wel, Managing Director of FrieslandCampina Vietnam

Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

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A dairy multinational, Southeast Asia’s leading e-commerce online shopping platform, a number of apparel manufacturers with global reach are just some of the big names making up the first crop of tenants at Sonatus, a new premium office building in District 1. 

Centrally located in the heart of Saigon’s central business district, the soaring tower comprises about 32,000 sqm of office space including retail space on the ground and mezzanine floors. Four floors in this ultra-modern complex are dedicated to WeWork, featuring light-filled lounges, collaborative conference rooms and quiet private offices, while floors 7 to 24 have recently welcomed the first corporate tenants. 


To see what it’s like to work at one of Saigon’s most prestigious addresses, join us as we go behind the scenes of Sonatus. Our first interview is with Berend van Wel, Managing Director At FrieslandCampina Vietnam – one of the world’s largest dairy companies.

In Vietnam, Dutch Lady, Yomost, Friso, Fristi and other FrieslandCampina brands are synonymous with quality and trust. And while consumers can’t get enough of its milk and yogurts, local farmers and factory workers have benefited handsomely as well: FrieslandCampina’s sustainable dairy zones and modern factories contribute to the nation’s food security and create jobs as well as reducing milk imports. 

As FrieslandCampina Vietnam celebrates its first six months at Sonatus (and 25 years operating in Vietnam), Berend van Wel gives us a tour of the company’s new Saigon headquarters.

Berend van Wel, Managing Director At FrieslandCampina Vietnam. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

What is your role at the company?

I am the managing director of FrieslandCampina Vietnam, better known as Dutch Lady Vietnam. FrieslandCampina is one of the biggest dairy companies in the world who supply everything from consumer products, including brands well-known in Vietnam, such as Dutch Lady, Yomost, Friso and Fristi, to high-end medical ingredients to baby and infant milk. 

Unusually for a multinational, FrieslandCampina is owned by dairy farmers, meaning that the guys who make the milk are also the ones who get all the money. 

FrieslandCampina is well-known to Vietnamese consumers through brands such as Dutch Lady, Yomost, Friso and Fristi. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

How has FrieslandCampina been able to maintain its leading position in Vietnam? 

Officially, we’ve been operating in Vietnam for 25 years, but the first contact between our dairy cooperatives in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and businesses here in Vietnam happened over 100 years ago. So one of the reasons we've been so successful is because of our legacy and because over the years, working side by side, we’ve learned a lot about each other. We have a local shareholder and we are very much embedded in the society here.

Another reason for our success is our extensive infrastructure in Vietnam: we have two factories, one in the north, one here in the south. And the team is fantastic! We have an extended sales force with distributors. 

FrieslandCampina's partnership with Vietnamese businesses has lasted for more than 100 years. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

When it comes to consumers, I believe they care about our brands and what value they bring to them personally. And it starts with great quality. We have extremely high standards that apply across our entire organization. And if sometimes they are a bit hard to implement, it only makes us prouder when we get there.

As for the brands, I think Dutch Lady as a core milk brand has always been very important to the people of Vietnam, from the children to the mothers.

How would you describe the team culture at your organization?

At FrieslandCampina we are about winning, it is very much a win-win culture. For that, we need to be in a competitive, fast-moving market. Then we have our three pillars of success. First of all, we are a purpose-driven company, meaning that we prioritize long-term goals and strategic thinking about nutrition and sustainability over immediate gain. The second pillar is being commercially driven. Doing all the necessary things to dominate the market today and tomorrow. Finally, it’s about being pragmatic. Do we make the choices we need to make at the right moment? How do we do it in the simplest way possible?

How big is your Vietnam team at the moment?

Here at our Sonatus office we have several hundred people, but the majority of our employees work at the factories and that's close to a thousand people, plus a similar number out in the field selling Dutch Lady products to customers. 

"The move offered a fantastic opportunity to re-energize our win-win culture while giving the team a new sense of purpose and a feeling of excitement." | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

Given such a large number of people in the office, how do you make sure everyone is happy?

There are two key elements to it. One is coming into the office and feeling at home: feeling safe, having a positive work environment, having friends at work. But it’s also about getting stuff done. Do you really feel that what you do at work is making a difference? We strive to achieve both of those things – create a positive and safe space for our people to work while making sure it’s a challenging environment too. 

For the new graduates out there, what do you think is the best way or the best place to prepare for leadership: on the job, or while studying?

Look, you need both. Because if you don’t study, you don’t have a starting point. But if you’re freshly graduated, I would say get going, don’t wait. The only way you will learn new things is by doing them and by challenging yourself in the process. Find a place that will give you a good push, that will give you the challenge you need to grow, but also make sure it’s somewhere they give you the trust to take on responsibilities and to make mistakes. You only learn when you make mistakes. 

"Find a place that will give you a good push, that will give you the challenge you need to grow." | Source: FrieslandCampina.

How long has the team called Sonatus home and why did you move here?

We moved into Sonatus at the start of 2020, so we’ve been here around six months now. As is often the case with real estate, the most obvious attraction of Sonatus is its prime location. Being centrally located makes a big difference. Secondly, we were given the freedom to create an office space that met all our needs. For us, the move offered a fantastic opportunity to re-energize our win-win culture while giving the team a new sense of purpose and a feeling of excitement. 

What makes working at Sonatus different? Is it the amenities? The management team? Or the location?

The key difference at our Sonatus office is that we are all on the same floor. So our people are much closer together than they were before. Which is a great asset, because in the end, we want to make sure everyone can easily connect with each other, and work and cooperate in a meaningful way. 

Another perk of working at Sonatus is being able to provide a much more flexible set-up than before: a combination of traditional office desks and co-working spaces for people to collaborate. That’s a big change for us, a big enabler of teamwork.

The cafeteria provides an open space for staff to socialize. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

What has the feedback been so far from the team about working at Sonatus?

The feedback, especially at the start, was ecstatic! Coming here to this fantastic new office in District 1, provided a real boost to team morale – you could just feel the new energy in the office. The team has since gotten used to the new way of working, but they are still very appreciative of the people-centric environment and great facilities here. 

And of course the view. I see some of my team members letting their eyes roam sometimes or taking a phone call while watching the world go by. I think that is also a great asset.

FrieslandCampina's location on the 23rd floor of Sonatus has it gifted it a divine view of the city. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera.

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