Dr Alfred Haandrikman, IOI Loders Croklaan R&D director gets . . .
RIGHT in the centre of the city of Amersfoort stands a 15th century church tower. In that church tower, stamped next to a big cross on the floor is a sign that says, “This is the centre point of the Netherlands”.
This is the city that IOI Loders Croklaan group research and development (R&D) director Dr Alfred Haandrikman was born in. Although Amersfoort is a city that is growing rapidly, it still boasts of a well-preserved and protected medieval centre.
“It is a beautiful city, with lots of history and character. The centre point in the church was used for map-making in the olden days. It was the zero point in the Netherlands,” Haandrikman tells StarBizWeek.
Penchant for science
Growing up, Haandrikman says he always had a curiosity and interest in both science and nature.
“In secondary school in the Netherlands, you are required to choose which field of study you would want to do. It was either science or, languages and arts,” he says.
The choice was an obvious one for him. Having had an interest and a passion that was nurtured from a young age, he chose to study science. His next choice after secondary school was to go through special education to become a lab technician.
After graduating, he felt it was a natural choice for him to work in a lab.
“It seemed an environment that was suitable,” he says. He started work as a lab technician in the organic chemistry department in a university. “It was a completely new world to me. It was about learning how a university works and how research works to complement it,” he explains.
At that time, the lab Haandrikman was working in had started research on the recombination of DNA. It is the creation of artificial DNA through the process of combining two or more sequences that would not normally occur together.
“It was a very controversial topic back then. However, it sparked my interest in biology,” he recalls.
The biggest turning point of his life, he enthuses, was when he decided to quit his job as a lab technician and study again.
“I went back to university to study biology. The chemistry of life is very incredible. To understand how life works, on a molecular level is an amazing thing,”
His eyes lights up as he expresses his intriguing interest of the remarkable intricacies and workings of life.
“I worked at Eurogenetics while I studied. After which I decided to pursue a PhD in biology. I studied the biology of making cheese and dairy products, and how bacteria can be used to make products via the fermentation process. I found that by influencing the life of bacteria you can influence the kind of products produced. This only increased my interest in life sciences,” he says.
Journey towards oleochemicals
Haandrikman currently acts as group R&D director at IOI Loders Croklaan, which became a unit of IOI Corp Bhd in 2002. He previously was employed at Lipid Nutrition, a company that was part of the Loders Croklaan group, which specialised in the development and marketing of lipids. Loders Croklaan specialises in producing these lipids with health benefits for the end consumer.
Loders Croklaan produces a vegetable fat developed from palm oil called Betapol, which mimics human milk fat in both structure and functionality. Betapol is an ingredient that replaces the fats found in infant formula that is typically taken from various vegetable oils, which has a different structure than human milk fat. In 2011, Lipid Nutrition was divested and the Betapol was then taken over by Loders Croklaan, the mother company. Haandrikman moved with the company to Loders Croklaan where he assumed the role of group R&D director.
“Instead of R&D director of Lipid Nutrition, I now have a coordinated role in the group. My role is to coordinate research between the three regions in Europe, North America, and Asia,” he says.
The IOI Loders Croklaan group has three manufacturing facilities situated in Chicago in the US, Wormeerver in the Netherlands, and Pasir Gudang in Johor.
Elaborating on his role in the company, Haandrikman says: “There are three teams that report to its specific region. I have to make sure that the research and findings are properly coordinated between them. This is the first role in my career that I do not have anyone reporting to me directly.”
He stresses the importance of communication as, “they communicate their research to me, and I have to make sure they are on the right path.
“It is necessary for me to ensure that there is sufficient communication between the regions. It is important to have a global communication with all the lines in the company. You have to be very open and try to communicate well. Communication is key to establishing any relationship, and in getting your point across,” he says.
Having a sincere interest in the subjects he works on drives him to do better.
Haandrikman has a general interest in how food products are able to influence the health of consumers.
He explains: “It is very interesting to come to a company such as IOI Loders Croklaan where it has its own natural products and resources like palm oil and palm kernel oil. They are products nature has provided, and we can work with them to add value to products.”
Beauty in natural oils
He sees the beauty in sustainable ingredients such as palm oil.
“You can grow them again and again. It's a different kind of chemistry than the chemistry of mineral oils. Natural resources with the likes of palm oil are infinite, and that make them very nice ingredients to work with,” he says.
He opines that the natural industry will continue to grow as society moves to become more organic and less artificial. As science develops, there will be more chances for more natural ingredients to be introduced into society.
Haandrikman married his wife in 1980. “It was quite a while ago,” he laughs. Together, he and his wife have two daughters and a son. He met his wife while they were studying to be lab technicians. She works at a lab in a hospital in the Netherlands.
All his three children are either working or studying in the field of science.
Science in the family
“My 25-year old daughter is a nurse in a hospital in Amersfoort. My second daughter, who is 22, is currently studying in a medical school in Amsterdam. To complete it all, my 19-year old son just left home to purse his studies in food technology,” he says fondly.
A close-knit family is one that has fun with each other. Parents of such a unit often have difficulty when their children leave “the nest”.
“My son recently left for university. I feel sad because we always have a good time when everyone is home. We laugh a lot and enjoy our time together. But it's different now that they've all left home,” he expresses.
While he says it is hard to let go, an “empty nest” is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Two weeks ago, my wife and I were in Italy holidaying for a whole week. We can do whatever we want without having to compromise like when the kids were around,” he smiles.
What is important to him is for his children to be happy and for them to be able to make their own decisions in life.
“I try to help them as much as possible in deciding the education and career path they think they could be happy with,” he says.
Choosing an education and a career path that one enjoys is crucial. He feels that if a person chooses something they enjoy, he or she will really excel in it.
“If they do something I choose for them, which they aren't happy with, I don't think it's going to work out,” he says in regards to his children.
“You have to have a good time in whatever you do because life is too short not to have fun,” he laughs.
Chef at home
When asked what would have been his second career choice, Haandrikman wonders rhetorically: “Perhaps a cook?”
His passion for cooking goes beyond just conjuring something edible to fill the stomachs at home.
“When I'm home in time to do the cooking, I'll do it. If my wife starts first, I often take over when I get home,” he says.
He compares cooking to carrying out experiments in a lab. “It is so similar. Doing an experiment is like cooking, not the other way around. When I do an experiment in the lab, I always have a tendency to stir the chemicals just like I do when I cook,” he laughs.
Italian cuisine is one Haandrikman loves and seems to have mastered.
“I like using spices, and getting the flavour out of natural ingredients. You cannot cover up your mistakes by adding extra spices. You have to do it right the first time,” he says.
He feels that cooking for more people is a lot more fun. “The more, the better,” he says.
Besides cooking, Haandrikman likes photography and reading literature. “My compact camera is always with me. I carry it wherever I go,” he says.
He admits that the real professional photographer in the family is his wife. “Oh, she lugs that huge professional DSLR camera around!” he exclaims.
Another item that can be found in his carry bag is his iPad.
He proudly says: “I love using it. Keeping up with technology is fun. I have to be honest, I bought it a year ago and kept it in the packaging on the table for a while because I wanted to show off to my children that I had bought one. My son then comes and shoves me aside and says, Let me take care of it.' So till this day, I don't know what he has done with it. It works anyway,” he laughs.
BORN: Aug 28, 1957 in Amersfoort, Netherlands
PERSONAL: Married with three children
HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: PhD in Biology
CAREER: IOI Loders Croklaan R&D director
NOTEWORTHY: Quitting his job, as a lab technician was a big turning point
FAVOURITE FOOD: Chinese food
FAVOURTIE PLACE: Home in the Netherlands
HOBBIES: Cooking, literature, photography
VALUES: To provide his children with the circumstances to make them happy
INSPIRATION: People who make use of opportunities, or circumstances that provide them with opportunities.