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GC Rieber extends sustainability, social efforts – podcast

Audio-GC Rieber extends sustainability, social efforts – podcast

With a new philanthropic endeavour funnelling more funds into social projects and a continued focus on sustainability in the supply chain, GC Rieber is setting a high bar.

ESG is becoming increasingly important across the global nutraceutical supply chain. Companies are looking to partner with organisations that are committed to social change, sustainable practices, and innovation in ingredients. Since its founding in the 1870s, GC Rieber has focused on ways to embed ‘doing good’ into the company’s core business, starting the GC Rieber Foundation in 1929 to support an array of cultural and scientific projects. Further, the company remains family-owned, with Paul-Christian Rieber serving as the fourth generation running the organisation. In this podcast, Rieber speaks to the company’s founding purpose, guiding vision and opportunities to extend its business for good into the future.

Tune in to hear more about:

  • Why companies across the supply chain should partner to ‘create joint futures.’
  • Developing the next generation of leaders to transform business.
  • Increasing the focus on the UN Global Compact and its universal principles.
  • Ways to put sustainability at the heart of business.


Paul-Christian-Rieber_Speaker-image-circled.png Paul-Christian Rieber
CEO, GC Rieber Group and Chairman at GC Rieber VivoMega

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Vitafoods Insights Podcast

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Podcast transcript:

Vitafoods Insights 00:06
Welcome to the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability series podcast. From responsible sourcing to supply chain logistics. This dedicated podcast addresses some of the industry's greatest challenges and champions the stories of sustainability success. Today's host is Heather Granato.

Heather 00:28
Welcome to this Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series Podcast, where we explore different aspects of sustainability across our global nutraceutical community. Joining me today is Paul-Christian Rieber, the CEO of the GC Rieber Group and chairman of GC Rieber VivoMega. He's the fourth generation running the family owned group, which was established in 1879. GC Rieber Group operates in numerous industries including shipping, salt, emergency nutrition, property and marine oils. Further, the company is driven by a desire for economic, human and social development. Starting its foundation in 1929 to support a wide array of cultural and scientific projects, including social welfare, arts, research programmes and outdoor life, Paul-Christian spearheaded the foundation's new philanthropic endeavour, which now gives nearly every second dollar earned by the GC Rieber Group back to the social projects it supports. Paul-Christian, thank you so much for joining me today.

Paul-Christian 01:29
Thank you. I look forward to this. And I'm curious to see how we get it on here.

Heather 01:33
I think there's a lot that we're going to be unpacking. So let's dive in. Your company was founded in 1879, by Gottlieb Christian Rieber. And you're the fourth generation running this business? What does it mean in today's society to remain a family organisation? And how does that translate to the way you work with the hundreds and 1000s of employees and your business partners?

Paul-Christian 01:57
Genuinely, I think there are advantages and disadvantages being a family business. And you sort of have to sort out this and be very conscious of both the advantages and disadvantages. And honestly, I feel maybe the most important characteristic is the long-term nature of a family business, because you sort of have this idea of passing over the business from one generation to the next. And it gives you a very long-term perspective, which to my opinion, also joins nicely in with what should be the interests of society on a broader scale. So, there is an alignment of interests between a family owned business and a society, not to say that other types of ownership could not be long term, but unfortunately, quite a few other types of ownership are rather short term oriented, and then you do not get that type of alignment to my opinion.

Heather 03:00
Right, you know, so you also talk about how your vision is to create joint futures. And this is really referenced commercially, and for the greater good. So, what does that mean to you creating joint futures?

Paul-Christian 03:15
It points a little bit in the same direction, as I just commented on. But let me first say that all businesses, all companies are different. We have different characteristics, different life cycles, different resources. And what is right for us could be wrong for other companies, and vice versa. So my idea is that every company and every family and every ownership has to sort of create its own stake, and its own prescription as to what is good and what is not so good. So, for us, it has been very important to try to communicate this alignment with society and, and that probably comes all the way from my ancestors, four and five generations back when they lived in very difficult circumstances in the southern part of Germany. And they sort of saw that every individual and every company had to sort of work together as a team to try to survive, basically. I mean, I've tried to sort of interpret this into a modern world, and think that it is a prerequisite for us to be creative, to constantly develop. This is the word creating. And then we have to do this jointly, together with all stakeholders, and we are talking about futures in plural. There is not only one future, we have to look at all the dimensions of future. So, this is sort of the decoding of this vision we have.

Heather 04:52
I like that. I like the way that you unpack that into different aspects that really do connect together. One area where you're approved by the local county for VivoMega to be an apprenticeship company. And you bring in students from local high schools in two different areas industrial mechanic, and chemistry and process. Help me understand, like, what's the value of partnering with local communities to offer these types of opportunities? How can that help us develop the next generation?

Paul-Christian 05:22
We have used these types of apprenticeships in many of our businesses in the shipping industry, and the real estate operation, and also in the VivoMega, marine oil, Omega-3 business. We believe that once the county or the municipality establishes an offer like that, or a service like that, it is sort of our responsibility also to respond to that and to sort of take part in it, to give these young people an opportunity to sort of practice what they learned at school in a real business, because it's very different from being a school girl or a school boy, to be in an operational business like ours. But also, to be a little bit selfish, these girls and boys, they actually create the competence platform for our company in the future. So, to us, this is a win-win situation, where the school is established by the society. And we are recruiting or forming men and women from this group.

Heather 06:33
We actually have a global fellow programme at Informa as well and have been fortunate with Vitafoods, to have a couple of those fellows working with us, but I can see how that adds benefit, you're really helping bring people into a very unique industry, building that next generation.

Paul-Christian 06:50
Yes. And it's also very rewarding, because these people they're brave, they are modern, and they bring into the company new thoughts and challenges that they need to sort of develop.

Heather 07:02
We all need to be thinking differently, I think, about business certainly. You know, when we think about kind of business transformation even, that means how do we cultivate the next generation of business? You've got this growth strategy that I'd like to hear more about. And the way that you look at the value proposition and sustainability strategy of the partners that might participate.

Paul-Christian 07:26
Actually, all group of companies today is the product of four generations of constantly trial and failure. We have transformed our business from one type of value chain, one type of products and services, and into a totally different types of services and products. For instance, the Marine oil business, the Omega-3 business we today operate, is the result of many generations of fisheries, where we have a large fleet of fishing vessels, and we caught the fish ourselves. And we also had meal factories and fish oil factories, and now we are into this. So, this is just one type of development or value chain that we have developed. As you may know, we have 10 business principles in our business. And one of them tells us that we shall be constantly trying and failing, and we shall sort of hold on to the best and let go with the worst. And also, we have this saying that we shall leave society in a better stage to the next generation than when we took over. And I think these two rules of life, they ignited this initiative that we call grow it, where we are trying to sort of make it a little bit more methodical and systematic approach to our innovation processes, in order to create the business for tomorrow. We also have challenges for the employees. We know we are having our third competition, where dozens and dozens of employees participate with their business ideas where they are challenging or existing businesses, and extreme extent they can sort of disrupt one our value chains with something better.

Heather 09:19
Now you mentioned the universal principles and this idea of what you're committed to and how that really ties in with the UN Global Compact. And you added this new rule for living, which I love that you have Rules for Living for your company, for your organisation, that is this natural resources shall be left to our descendants in at least as good a condition as when we took over. Give me some more around these rules for living and your commitment to those universal principles.

Paul-Christian 09:47
Thank you. These 10 Rules are quite general in their nature, but they're almost like the kind of rules of the Bible because they are a joint reference point, they are a guidance if we are committed to dilemmas, which we do all the time. And they are sort of learning points from many, many years of trial and failure. And I can sort of read from them all the different problems that my predecessors have had. So, we used them quite actively as a guidance, as mindstorms, as a tuning on business. In one way or the other, it is also a type of a contract with society, that it is part of our licence to live, so to speak, that we shall pay back to society, that we shall contribute, and be a good partner with the greater society. So, I think this also is very meaningful for our employees, for our partners, for customers, for suppliers. Every now and then we run into dilemmas, and we are in challenge with our rules. And we have to sort of be conscious about that.

Heather 10:56
You do have a great emphasis on sustainability. So maybe we can look at one aspect of your business as an example. So, the VivoMega omega-3 business has some very interesting sustainability work that you've done around those omega-3 concentrates, and how are you taking responsibility to ensure that there are sustainable fisheries?

Paul-Christian 11:17
Again, we have to look very holistic, long term on this, we have to look at the whole value chain we operate in, we have to procure the best raw materials, crude oil material from fisheries that are certified by NGOs, like, for instance, the Marine Trust, or whatever. And we have to sort of be able to also document this towards our customers, or employees, to authorities, etc. Again, we have to look at the value chain as a whole in earlier days, we're more limited looking at over part in the value chain, but we definitely have to take responsibility for the whole operation. We are just a part of.

Heather 12:03
Well, I think that goes back into this idea of joint futures and how you create them collectively. I was really impressed when I got this note about the GC Rieber Foundation, increasing its ownership in the group to nearly 50%. So nearly half of the company's annual earnings going back into society through different programmes. So why is that close to your heart that you really champion this? And what does that mean to your company and your community?

Paul-Christian 12:29
Well, again, when I went to business school, 40 years ago, we learned that purpose of business was to maximise profits. That's it. Happy enough, today, they learn more about corporate social responsibility, and ESG is the new focus. And this is sort of being included and more modern type of business setting. My predecessors, they sort of lived this type of learning already 100 years ago, and they then established these foundations, that was meant to sort of give back to society to social, cultural, and scientific purposes. And honestly, it also gives a good feeling to race in the morning to go to work. When you know that half the dollars you earn already come back to in some way or the other to society. And even employees in our company and and people that are applying for new jobs, they're underlying this as one of the reasons they are interested in this company because they feel they're taking part in a greater journey than only creating private wealth. So, it gives a lot of positive energy.

Heather 13:45
Positive karma going out into the universe, I think, yes. There were a couple of initiatives that I'd love to hear more about: Helgetun, which is this new senior housing project, and Helgeseter, which was established by your family in 1954, to support children with special needs. Could you talk to me a little bit about those initiatives particularly?

Paul-Christian 14:07
These foundations, they, of course, engage in a number of projects, and some of them are rather one-night stands, one limited project, whereas others go on for years and years. And this project you mentioned Helgeseter is really one of the core projects in our foundations. Helgeseter was established by my great grandparents back in the 1950s as a home and school for children with special needs. And actually, these children have lived in this institution, the whole of their lives. So now they are adults and still live there. And they have new needs, and they have activities. It has become sort of part of all home. However, these days these kinds of institutions are primarily supported by the authorities and by municipality. So, we had to look at how could we develop this project even further? They had a big piece of land up there, and my father and my cousin, who is really still experimental, my dad is close to 97 now, they wanted to experiment with a new way of living for senior people. So, they built a number of apartments, just nearby this institution for the children, where they are now experimented in with new ways of living for senior people living together, having activities together, and sort of creating small societies by themselves. And this has now become very popular. So, there are long lines of people wanting to come there. And they are already planning their next project to extend these types of living. So, it's very rewarding.

Heather 15:54
Yes, connecting people is so very important. And I think we've really seen the challenges of being disconnected through the pandemic, and what that does to your health, physical, emotional, you know, everything comes to bear.

Paul-Christian 16:08
Exactly. That's it.

Heather 16:09
As we're wrapping up, why is it important for businesses in our broader community to commit to sustainability in all of its forms? And how would you challenge other organisations who are listening to this podcast? What challenge might you put to them?

Paul-Christian 16:25
As I said, we are all different and all businesses are different. So, I don't think I should come with any recipe or recommendation for any others. I think all of us have to sort of be the best practical example, we could be in our different businesses. For us, it has been a good milestone to have this long-term view, because we think that that connects better to the interests of society, than if we had a very short-term view. We are also trying to be very open and sharing our experiences as we do know it, because businesses, we run into dilemmas. Every day, we have dilemmas where we could end up with decisions going one way or the other way. But by using our collective experience, also amongst competitors, to sort of open up share our thoughts, share or dilemmas, I think we can come further than if all of us just sit in our own camp. So.

Heather 17:26
Yes. Well, it's all about creating joint futures. I think.

Paul-Christian 17:30
That's a good summary.

Heather 17:32
Well, thank you again for joining me, Paul-Christian, it has been absolutely fascinating and inspiring to talk with you. So, thank you again.

Paul-Christian 17:38
Thank you, all the best.

Heather 17:40
And to our listening audience. You can also find more about GC Rieber at So, thanks for joining me for this Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series Podcast.

Vitafoods Insights 17:53
Thank you for tuning in. And don't forget to check the show notes that will allow you to link to the information discussed in today's podcast, as well as any sponsorship opportunities. The Vitafoods Insights Sustainability series podcast happens monthly, so be sure to stay tuned, subscribe, and even suggest the series to a friend.

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