For K+S on four different continents
Gerrit Goedecke has already been to four different continents for K+S. It wasn't planned and he didn't only have positive experiences, but he wouldn't want to miss the time.
In April 2006, Gerrit Goedecke's career at K+S began in the former Central Logistics department in Kassel. He had previously studied Business Administration at the Nordakademie University of Applied Sciences in Schleswig-Holstein and gathered several years of professional experience in wholesale, supplemented by an MBA course in Barcelona. “Even though it was important for me to join an internationally operating company, I didn't necessarily plan to work abroad,” says the 45-year-old looking back. When he assumed a position in Corporate Development in 2007, his career took off. He works on various projects to expand K+S's raw materials base. Only a year earlier, K+S had acquired the South American company SPL, advancing into new dimensions as a producer in the salt business.
First stop abroad: Argentina
In the potash business, too, opportunities for expansion in this region were pursued at the time. One of these opportunities was a project in which K+S acquired the rights in a potash deposit in Argentina. The project area was in the Argentinian province of Neuquén, in the west of the country. Goedecke was responsible for driving the project forward and investigating the feasibility of developing a new production site for potash fertilizers for K+S. In 2008, he moved into an office in Buenos Aires, in the premises of the former subsidiary fertiva, which at that time was distributing nitrogen fertilizers for K+S in South America.
“At first, relocating from Kassel to Buenos Aires was a major step for me. Despite my studies in Barcelona, my Spanish skills weren't very good, and in everyday life you don't get very far with English in Argentina,” Goedecke recalls. He was initially on his own there. On top of that, there were the cultural differences in business life. “I quickly realized that I shouldn't address things directly, as is common in Germany; that's really not an option in Argentina. Instead, you have to communicate more indirectly while patiently building and maintaining business relationships.”
After a few years, it became apparent that the Gaucho project was not economically viable for K+S. Goedecke therefore left Argentina in 2012. “Nevertheless, it was a very exciting time, full of lessons learned. Looking back, I gained a lot of experience for my future professional life during this time.”
Next stop: USA
He then assumed a new position in the USA, in Chicago, in the former Salt Business Unit, in which all global salt activities of K+S were centrally managed. His role here was to further develop the salt strategy and identify promising new greenfield projects around the world. “My family and I liked Chicago very much. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the time I was surprised by the cultural differences. Although you grow up in Germany with a certain closeness to America, it's a different story to actually live and work there," says Goedecke.
Family as a success factor
For expats to find happiness, their families must be willing to follow along and discover new things as well. Fortunately, this is true for the Goedecke family. His wife Rona has Argentine-Swiss roots, and the two met while studying in Barcelona. Their children Zoe (13) and Dag (10) have already seen more of the world at a young age than others have in their entire lives. At home, the Goedeckes speak English, but the kids also know a little German and Spanish. “Any move to a new country is difficult and a big step for everyone in the family. I'm working a lot and the family has to get by on their own at home first and set everything up!”
Off to Australia
In 2015, the opportunity opened up for K+S to acquire a license for a solar salt project in Western Australia. At that time, the Salt business unit was looking for growth opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region as part of the "Salt 2020 Strategy". With Ashburton Salt, as the project was later named, sea salt is to be produced and supplied to the chemical industry in Asia. Goedecke also sees this as a new personal opportunity. He prevails in an internal selection process and becomes Managing Director of K+S Salt Australia in Perth in the southwestern region of Australia. He is responsible for pushing ahead with the Ashburton Salt project, whose area is another two hours' flight north of Perth on the coast. "First, I had to find an office in Perth. Then a suitable local agency and consultants who assisted me in making political contacts and advancing the permitting process."
Positive start in Australia
On May 25, 2016, the project launch was announced to the public in a press release and several media meetings in Perth with the board member Mark Roberts and Gerrit Goedecke. “Our project was well received at the time. Australia is rich in raw materials and the inhabitants are basically well disposed towards mining. At Ashburton Salt, they immediately recognized the opportunities for new jobs and value creation in a very sparsely populated region," says Goedecke, describing the situation at the beginning.
A little later, the K+S team on site expands: Tobias Thönelt, at that time still employed at the Neuhof-Ellers plant in Germany, also relocates to Perth contributing geological expertise and years of experience in the field of environment and permits, which is indispensable for the further course of the project. "With Tobias, the project has picked up speed once again. We perfectly complement each other: he, the geologist, and I, the businessman."
Ashburton Salt, however, has never been a sure-fire success. The project area, where the huge evaporation ponds and the plant will later be located, is situated on the coast near the Gulf of Exmouth. This is rich in wildlife and plants, as well as a popular vacation spot for tourists from Germany and abroad. From the very beginning, Goedecke has had to be very sensitive to environmental issues and always provide transparent information to the local community. “We visit residents in the greater Onslow/Exmouth area every two to three months and provide them with updates on the project progress. Although this costs money and, above all, time, it is very well received locally and builds trust. A project like this needs the support of residents, and that was clear to us from the start."
Through its own project website, the public is also always informed transparently about the progress. The permit procedures are also progressing due to the equally good relationship with authorities and local politics. “We are currently on the home stretch: By the end of this year, we expect the environmental and mining law permits as well as the result of the feasibility study. Then a decision can be made on how to proceed.”
When Gerrit is not working, then ...
... he volunteers with his family in Perth as chairman of the Board of the International School of Western Australia, which his two children attend. He is jointly responsible for the strategy and financial resources of the non-profit organization with 60 employees.
“In the meantime, we have made many friends in Perth. It is much easier to socialize here than in Chicago or Buenos Aires. With the dominance of the extractive industry, there are many people from all over the world who meet here. As a city, Perth is very isolated.” The first question then, he says, is always “Where are you from?”. The nearest major city is 4 hours away by plane. “That brings the residents closer together to a certain extent.”
He hardly has time for hobbies. “My main job in my free time is to drive my children to their leisure and school activities,” he says with a broad grin on his face. Due to his many stays abroad, Goedecke is now interested in wines. He has already been portrayed on this culinary hobby by the famous West Australian wine journalist Ray Jordan of the newspaper "The West Australian". For relaxation, he does sports, reads, and enjoys the sunsets on the beach.
The future remains open
It’s still written in the stars what the future holds for him: “Frankly speaking, I don't have a plan yet. All my career steps have been rather unplanned. They have mostly opened up spontaneously as opportunities,” says Goedecke.
Goedecke keeps in touch with the K+S headquarters by visiting Kassel once or twice a year. This, he says, is very important for maintaining his network within the company and keeping up to date. “As an expat, especially in Australia, you are very far away. You have to make an effort not to be forgotten."
Goedecke is taking a relaxed view of the fact that K+S is currently scaling back its international expansion a bit in the wake of the sale of the Americas operating unit. “I am firmly convinced that we will grow again in the mid-term.”