For the Arctic communities of Greenland, the world’s largest island, seafood is not just a product: it’s a lifestyle, a lifeblood and a lifeline.
Getting to grips with this has been the biggest learning for new Royal Greenland CEO Susanne Arfelt Rajamand. Beyond its cultural significance and its status as a global seafood supplier, it is also Greenland’s largest employer, with 1,390 of the company’s 2,286-strong global workforce located on the island.
For Arfelt Rajamand, who relocated from Singapore in early 2023 to assume the helm, the cultural climate wasn’t the only thing that she had to adjust to. “The first thing I had to adapt to was the weather – after 15 years in Asia, where it was 30 degrees every day, Greenland in February was a fair bit colder,” she tells The CEO Magazine.
After spending a decade-and-a-half immersed in Asian culture, the adjustment was double-barreled. As well as rediscovering her Danish roots, she had to navigate the differences between the Greenlandic and Danish ways of life. But her experience, especially 14 years with food and consumer goods giant Unilever, allowed her to understand how ingrained food is in national identity.
“The cultural piece has obviously been a big thing, which leads us to the whole story of seafood. I’ve been working in food for a big part of my career, but seafood – specifically in a Royal Greenland context – is so different. We never know what’s in the net when we pull it out in the morning. That requires a unique agility and responsiveness.”
While you can’t change the weather or the tides (two huge influences on life and business in Greenland), Arfelt Rajamand is learning many lessons, especially around how to work with suppliers in changing conditions.
“If you are working with people who expect everything to happen exactly when it should, it can create a lot of tension. Everybody in Greenland knows that nature decides the speed of life,” she explains.
“But when it comes to international relationships, it can be different. We have to manage these relationships through stock, communication and education, so if we are unable to deliver a product because of infrastructure challenges, then there’s some understanding of it.”
Fishermen are perhaps Royal Greenland’s most important partners, so improving equipment, conditions and processes to give them the best chance of the best catch has also been enlightening for Arfelt Rajamand.
She gives the example of the methods they are using to catch Nutaaq cod, a fish she describes as “the most beautiful cod in the world”.
With the help of a net manufacturer, Royal Greenland has equipped fishermen with larger net cages that can remain in the sea, rather than being pulled onto the boat. This method is less physically demanding for the fishermen and more effective.
The net cages give Royal Greenland the possibility of selecting the cod and for them to then be transported alive to the factory, resulting in a higher quality product.
Additionally, the whole trawler fleet has been revamped to be more fuel-efficient.
This example illustrates how significant it is to maintain sustainable practices across the industry, Arfelt Rajamand reflects. “When you’re in wild-caught seafood, you can’t just think one year to the next,” she says. “You have to think about the imprints that you make on the resource for 10 years, for 50 years, for 100 years ahead.”
Not only does sustainability take up one-third of Royal Greenland’s annual report, but the company is now looking to elevate it into senior leadership. The upcoming retirement of Royal Greenland’s Sales and Marketing Director is prompting a leadership shake-up, with the recruitment of Executive Vice Presidents of Marketing and Sustainability, Global Sales, and People and Communication as their replacement.
“Those three roles are going to really shape the business for the future, basically thinking about who we are in Greenland in a slightly different way than we’ve done in the past. It’s recognizing that the people of Greenland are a very significant source of our power,” Arfelt Rajamand explains.
“Being such a significant player for a country gives a totally different shift to things. If we make a decision around putting up a facility, it can influence a whole town. It will create jobs, it will create activity, it will improve the schools because suddenly there’s an injection into that economy.
“If we do not deliver, it will have an impact on whether or not families can put food on the table in all of Greenland,” she continues.
“That is what makes Royal Greenland such an exciting place to be, because it truly matters.”