An interview with Helena Karasić, HR Director at Dukat

  • Mirta Alfirev
  • 13. July 2021.
  • 10 min read

 The period of the pandemic, which was also marked by earthquakes in our area, was, and still is, challenging for everyone. What are some key projects and initiatives that marked this period in Dukat?

As the largest dairy and one of the largest food companies in the country, Dukat has played an important role for the country’s stability and consumer safety through regular supply of milk and dairy products, which was especially important during the first lockdown, but also later. Simultaneously with the efficient reorganization of business processes in order to protect the health and well-being of employees and the smooth continuation of business processes at all levels, Dukat has shown a high degree of social responsibility and solidarity by conducting intervention purchase of milk from small dairies and their milk producers, and by donating food throughout the country, especially to those affected by the earthquakes in Zagreb and Banovina. With those donations of milk and dairy products, Dukat confirmed its leading position as the largest food donor in the domestic food industry – Dukat has been holding the title of Best Donor for three years in a row now.

But we didn’t just stop there. In order to provide long-term assistance to the residents of Banovina whose homes were damaged in the earthquake, Dukat launched the project Dukat for Banovina – Milk Drop, a Kindness Waterfall, and from late March to late June this year we are giving up 50 lipas from each sold bottle of Dukat fresh milk. In the two and a half months of the project, we have already provided more than 300 000 HRK kuna for Banovina, which will be added to the initial donation of 500 000 HRK from the beginning of the year.

What would you highlight from internal initiatives and projects in the past period?

Internally, the period since the outbreak of the pandemic has also been very dynamic, and we have developed a number of outstanding programs and activities to protect and support, motivate and reward employees. During the first lockdown, we financially rewarded the most exposed employees, primarily the supply chain, provided free psychological assistance to employees and their families, which became a permanent benefit for our employees, and helped employees whose homes were damaged in earthquakes with more than 500 000 HRK during 2020.

Furthermore, in order to strengthen the sense of commitment and motivation of employees and shift the focus to the future of business in Dukat, we organized an internal innovation competition and awarded the best proposals, and conducted an internal survey of employee engagement and satisfaction that showed a high level of commitment of Dukat employees. In addition, at the end of the year, we traditionally awarded our most successful employees and teams nominated by the employees themselves and awarded a total of 16 individual and 2 team awards, significantly more than the year before.

We paid additional attention to La Log, our affiliated company for transport and logistics, which is the only transport company in Croatia that received a decision from the Civil Protection Headquarters of the Republic of Croatia for quarantine within the company. This way, we have provided our drivers on international routes, during the most difficult business moments for them, with a safe and practical solution that has made this extremely demanding period easier for them and reduced health risks for them and their families.

Quality leadership has always been extremely important for the successful functioning of companies, but in the past period marked by extraordinary situations, good leadership is even more important. How did the managers at Dukat cope in this period, how do they motivate their employees? Has remote employee management proved to be challenging?

Of all the (business) challenges posed by the pandemic, switching some forms of work, management, communication, education, to online form was probably the least challenging for us. I believe this is because for years we have been paying special attention to accessibility and openness as key determinants of one of our three corporate values ​​on which we base our corporate culture and management style. On the other hand, due to the nature of our business as a processing and manufacturing company with three factories, for the vast majority of our employees, working remotely was not even an option. However, I can say that with great efforts, conversion of space and adherence to all prescribed measures, we were able to provide conditions for working from the office at all our locations for most administrative staff too.

In addition to practicing this accessibility, presence and openness in leading their teams, we helped our managers adapt to new working circumstances by organizing training on effective virtual communication and leadership, development programs to strengthen personal and team resilience and by conducting focus workshops for sales staff in the field . The feedback was great, and the focus groups for us represent an already affirmed way of exchanging experiences and ideas with our employees, of whom over 500 have already participated in focus groups in the last three years.

How do you promote the balance of private and business life of your employees?

There are several forms of flexible work in Dukat. The most common is work from home, which has become especially relevant since the spring of 2020, but our employees also have the opportunity to work part-time. Also, the use of unpaid leave is enabled, and mothers are provided with a breastfeeding break. In addition, we promote support to parents by providing a day off to parents whose child is going to kindergarten or school for the first time, while we provide pregnant women with days off to perform prenatal examinations. There is also a one-off bonus for birth of a child.

Our employees have an average of 25 days of annual leave, which is significantly more than prescribed by law, which is especially important for a good balance between business and private obligations.

Dukat is known for its CSR projects. What are some projects from that segment that you are most proud of, and what kind of projects do you have planned for the next period?

I have already mentioned some of the most important socially responsible projects, such as Dukat for Banovina or Dukat as the largest food donor among domestic food companies, and now I would like to single out some current internal projects and activities.

As part of the extensive process of repositioning the employer’s brand during 2020, we redefined key parts of Dukat’s corporate identity, and in this process, we included our employees by researching their satisfaction and engagement, which served as a starting point for planning further activities. In April, we launched Dukat’s career websites, which give candidates, along with an overview of open positions, a complete picture of Dukat as an employer and company, and contain authentic statements and experiences of employees of the largest departments.

We are also proud of the gender diversity of our leadership and management levels where female colleagues occupy the majority, which is, among other things, the result of systematic work on empowering women in managerial positions, so the numbers are growing each year. Furthermore, we launched a special development program for young talents in the industrial teams of our three Croatian factories to support them in the development of managerial skills and further development in Dukat. As only women were among the participants, the program was called “1st Time Managerettes”, and will last for two years and further strengthen the diversity of industrial teams.

You were recently awarded the Employer Partner certificate. What are the greatest strengths of Dukat as an employer, in which assessed areas did you achieve the best results?

In addition to the Excellence During Challenges award gained this fall, the Employer Partner certificate is the second major award to Dukat for quality people management, in particularly demanding business conditions marked by a pandemic. We are proud that this certificate has confirmed our commitment to working with employees and that it ranks us among the best employers in Croatia.

Dukat and related companies in Croatia (KIM Mljekara Karlovac and La Log) achieved the best results in the areas related to the HRM strategy, the quality of the employment process and in the area related to the company’s relationship with employees. The independent certification team thus confirmed that the HRM function at Dukat is indeed a strategic business partner and that it is continuously working on improving its processes.

Our strength is also an optimally designed recruitment process with a focus on attracting good candidates and thoroughly onboarding employees into the company. In addition, we are proud of the programs, surveys and focus groups, through which Dukat employees can give their suggestions for business improvement, wellbeing initiatives that we provide employees such as free psychological counseling, training in team and personal resilience, several forms of flexible work arrangements, the number of days of annual leave that is significantly above the legal minimum, and incentives to play sports and live a healthy life.