Barry Callebaut 25 year Anniversary Story - Interview Patrick de Maeseneire

We are
family

Story
This year marks the 25th birthday of the Barry Callebaut Family, and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to take a walk down memory lane as we look forward into the future. In this story, we discover how Klaus Jacobs founded Barry Callebaut and laid the foundation for its global presence through an interview with Patrick De Maeseneire, Chairman of Barry Callebaut’s Board of Directors and former CEO (2002 - 2009). 

We Are Family, the 1979 song by Sister Sledge, will make the perfect soundtrack to the Barry Callebaut Family story. The lyrics capture the spirit of family, entrepreneurism and optimism that’s grown the business from a European dream to a global leader in 25 years:

Living life is fun and we've just begun
To get our share of this world's delight
High hopes we have for the future
And our goal is in sight

Barry Callebaut 25 year Anniversary Story - Picture of Patrick de Maeseneire
Patrick De Maeseneire, Chairman of Barry Callebaut

Every significant step in the company’s 25-year existence bears the mark of family, beginning with the Jacobs dynasty in Bremen, Germany and currently extending to over 12,000 individuals across 40 countries around the world, who consider themselves members of the Barry Callebaut Family. At the very centre of this quarter-century milestone is the foresight and relentless passion of Klaus Jacobs (1936-2008), the man who dared to forge international connections around a love for chocolate. After all, who doesn’t like good chocolate?

“Klaus was an entrepreneur, a risk-taker. He wasn’t shy of taking risks,” recounts Patrick De Maeseneire, who’s been chairman of Barry Callebaut’s Board of Directors since December 2016. As the company’s CEO from 2002 to 2009, he’s well acquainted with Klaus Jacobs’ intention to pioneer Barry Callebaut as a leading chocolate outsourcing partner of local and multinational food companies. “It was his idea, and at that time, he was the only one in the B2B chocolate market who had that vision. He anticipated that other companies would no longer produce chocolate themselves because of the complicated, costly value chain and different recipes.” This notion definitely paid off. Today, Barry Callebaut is proudly present in 1 out of 4 of the world’s chocolate and cocoa products through its global brands.

How one man’s vision created a sweet family

Clearly, Klaus Jacobs believed in a deliberate approach to international business. As a young man, he had spent years as an apprentice trader in South America. This experience undoubtedly broadened his perspective and perhaps even sparked his desire to take Barry Callebaut beyond its European birthplace. The creation of Jacobs Holding AG in the mid-1970s and eventual merger with Interfood S.A. of Lausanne, Switzerland in 1982 paved the way for Jacobs Suchard AG. Not only did this mark Klaus’ turning point from family tradesman to European magnate, it gave him a taste of the global coffee and confectionery business. There was no turning back, even when certain acquisitions led to considerable losses. In Patrick’s words, “He was willing to take risks and also ‘pay for mistakes’. If something didn’t work out, he would stop it or take another route like the true entrepreneur he was.” Indeed, Klaus traded his shares in Jacob Suchard AG in 1990 to save it from drowning under debt, leaving him with the Callebaut industrial chocolate company and other businesses. There was no indication then that the Belgian-born chocolatier would join forces with Cacao Barry in France to become Barry Callebaut six years down the line, but the company’s global presence is proof that Klaus saw far into the future even from the very beginning.

Barry Callebaut 25 year Anniversary Story - Picture of Klaus J. Jacobs
Klaus J. Jacobs Founder of Barry Callebaut
Barry Callebaut 25 year Anniversary Story - Klaus Jacobs
Klaus Jacobs went beyond Zurich to see people and to learn about the company.

For someone so focused on accomplishing the extraordinary, it is easy to assume that Klaus saw nothing but the “big picture”. Yet the man Patrick remembers was one who took particular interest in the people and culture of Barry Callebaut. “Klaus always was in favour of small headquarters, so there were only a couple of levels between the CEO and management team and their other colleagues, just to keep that entrepreneurial spirit. Of course, the bigger the company became, the more difficult it was to keep that spirit, but he would always push that kind of family feeling. Klaus was somebody who went beyond Zurich to see people. He did it for a human touch to business, but he also did it to learn about the company. He was also very loyal to people who had been in the company for a long time and always defended them, because he really considered them as family. Klaus would invite them to his home or a restaurant for dinner. He was very close to the people of Barry Callebaut.” Similar stories are told of the ambience he established at Jacob Suchard and Adecco.

That said, Klaus Jacobs was not easily influenced. Patrick remembers he was very tough to work with because he absolutely knew what he wanted. “Klaus was somebody you could have a good argument with, but he had very, very strong opinions.” With a chuckle, he recollects how shortly after joining Barry Callebaut - and on his birthday no less - Klaus addressed him by the company’s failing share price, saying, “115. I’m not happy.” Asked what his target was, Patrick replied, “230”. Indeed, there was far less pressure on him when his team met and exceeded this. “As soon as the share price was above the level he wanted it to be, he gave us a little bit more freedom but he closely followed the company. He left everyday leadership to the team, but he knew what was going on.”

A noble legacy lives on

Beyond personal ambition and stock market performance, Klaus Jacobs applied a comparable level of purpose to establishing the Jacobs Foundation. He sincerely believed in youth development and backed his conviction with his wealth by donating half of his wealth to Jacobs Holding in the early ‘90s, with the aim of creating a reliable income stream for the foundation. “Klaus was the honorary chairman of the Scouts, and I remember he visited its general assembly in Belgium when I worked at Adecco. He was a true believer in youth development and in supporting the youth,” Patrick explains. “The task and objective of the Jacobs Foundation is to support youngsters who do not have access to good education. Klaus’ view was that everybody has a right to good education, that if everybody has good education it would be a different world. There would be more democracy, more development and the world would be a better place. That was his view, and it was very important to him that his foundation supported education on a global scale.” Today, the Jacobs Foundation brings this dream to life through the Jacobs University in Bremen and across the world in West Africa, mainly in Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana. Since 2009, the annual Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize has also awarded outstanding scientific contributions that improve learning, development and living conditions of children and youth, from research on risk-taking behaviour of young people to promoting brain learning with action video games. Patrick affirms that “the ‘why’ of the Foundation is all about education; he believed that everybody had the right to a decent education. I’m sure he would be proud today also of what the Foundation is still accomplishing.”

Barry Callebaut 25 year Anniversary Story - Jacobs Foundation supports youngsters
The task and objective of the Jacobs Foundation is to support youngsters who do not have access to good education
Barry Callebaut 25 year Anniversary Story - Winners of the 2019 Chairman's Award
Patrick De Maeseneire with the winners of the 2019 Chairman's Award, initiated by Klaus Jacobs

What else would Klaus Jacobs be proud of when it comes to the BC Family? Patrick thinks the company’s global expansion and continuous pursuit of innovation and entrepreneurship would make the list. “If you go back 20 years, even to the time I started work here, it was very much a European company. After the merger with Cacao Barry, the company became more international with impressive stakes in Africa, Asia and North America. Even considering cocoa traceability and sustainability today, we would not have the factories and the people on the ground all over the world if the merger had not happened. In 2002, we had 17 factories in total and today, we have over 60 production facilities globally. Looking at all the innovation of the last couple of years, like our Ruby chocolate, and the successful execution of the company’s other pillars as its core strategy, I truly believe that this continuity has helped a lot to bring the company where it is today. A strategy or a vision without execution is hallucination, I say, and I think we have to be grateful for the 12,000 people who execute that strategy every day.”

The Barry Callebaut Family has remained committed to being the “heart and engine” of the world’s chocolate industry even in the face of a global pandemic. “To keep that engine going in the midst of COVID, when the world stopped overnight and everybody was working from home, yet those in our 60+ factories continued to go to work, and I can only be full of admiration for the people who took the risks to do this. I think that alone illustrates the spirit of the company. How much more grateful can you be for this?”

Indeed, the Barry Callebaut spirit is one of persistent passion, entrepreneurship, and loyalty.

“If there is one thing Klaus would ask us not to forget, it would be to continue to move fast; to take risks, make bold decisions and if we made any mistakes, go back and start all over again. That was who he was. I think there is still tremendous opportunity in the chocolate business. If you bring chocolate to anybody in the world, people always smile. How much prouder can anyone be to make a product that makes people happy, that makes people smile?” There can be no sweeter history or future than this.

Nana Kofi Acquah

Nana Kofi Acquah

Believing in the power of stories to change the world, Nana Kofi writes and photographs for businesses and organizations that are serious about growth. He lives in a tiny fishing village on the hem of Accra with his wife, 3 kids and 2 boerboels.

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