Her special connection with the nature and a true love for her home-valley made her persistent, rebellious, strong. She works with her soul, intense care and diligence hence the results. Mountains are her inspirations and her source of energy and power.
Ruthless conditions that shaped Soča Valley shaped her as well. “If you love your soil a lot, you can live on it and survive on it.”
Her strong sense of community and responsibility are her guidelines when faced with difficult situations. Mentioned guidelines help her to choose the right option in tough conditions. An option that is beneficial for the whole community.
Without any commercial skills, she bravely joined a newly created company Mlekarna Planika that was formed as a result of a bankruptcy of a previous company Kraš Planika in 1995.
They were told that a newly established company will not last even a year. This served as their motivation to keep them going. To prove everybody they were wrong.
Anka Lipušček Miklavič has been successfully heading Mlekarne Planika for years.
Mlekarna Planika is 100% owned by an Agricultural cooperative Tolmin. The company has many activities; from manufacturing unit, store and a coffee bar to the museum. Just recently they also opened their doors to their eco estate Bogata in Bovec where they have livestock.
Known for their cheese Tolminc they keep on enlarging their assortment. Just recently they received an award from Agro biznis, a competition organized by a newspaper Finance, for the best product according to the votes of the readers.
When I mention Agro biznis award and start talking about the other awards company received she modestly nods and says that those awards belong to everybody. To workers, farmers, an agricultural cooperative. “It is the quality work of everybody involved that leads into the overall success of the company,” she adds.
What is the definition of a good leader according to you?
A good leader is a person, who makes sure that a company works well.
If a company works well, this is good for everybody involved. A good leader has to make sure that a company has a vision and that is on the right track. When we started we knew we have to be different than the other Slovene diaries if we wanted to survive.
Sir Tolminc, you are known, for was not available in stores before?
You could get cheese in the valley, but the production of it was so small that you had a hard time finding it. Other diaries did not produce this autochthonous cheese. And this is why we started with it. We were able to engrave this mentality of being different into all our products. What did we do? We just continued the tradition of our ancestors and adjusted the work to the new era. The technology we use is now much more advanced than in past but the basic processes stayed the same. We continued with our tradition and upgraded it. This mindset is important and should be followed also by the changes in political spheres, governments or in any other businesses. If the new director is narrow-minded then for him everything that was done before is automatically bad. You should build upon what is good. You should have your programs… but upgrade the good that is already here.
My father taught me the process of making cheese. My father learned from his father. And this goes from generation to generation. It is tremendously important that we respect our tradition and the knowledge of our ancestors. You should upgrade what is already available. Why would we heat milk to 36 degrees Celsius if we know that 34 degrees Celsius is already good and optimal temperature for production of Tolminc cheese? Let’s move on. Let’s work on something else. And it is important that as a leader you understand this mentality.
A good leader is not the one who thinks only about the needed changes. Communication with your team plays a tremendous role as well.
Ability to talk to our customers is significant for us too. We have to be able to explain to our customers why our milk is better and thus more expensive. Being honest and fair – this has to be evident in every product we produce.
What is the key recipe for the success of the company according to your experiences?
Common sense and realistic goals. I believe that you have to have your feet on the ground. I will never support a two million investment if I know we are capable of having only a one million one.
If you jump from a big height you might get yourself injured or even killed. But if you jump from a smaller ground the odds to have a fatal mistake are smaller; you might only have a small injury but you stay alive.
When you climb the hill you never jump but you make small steady steps to reach the peak.
What message do you want to leave with your work?
I want to keep Planika alive because of everybody that is connected with it. If the story of Planika will keep on living, then Soča valley will be beautiful and this will keep our tourism alive. This will also keep our farms alive.
If I look only at our company… I want Mlekarna Planika to keep on delivering high-quality products to our customers. In between, we also have our employees. I want Planika to offer as many jobs as possible. This is very important for this valley because we are so far from other business centers.
How did nature shape you? What impact did it have on your thinking, management style?
Nature shaped everyone in this valley. People, who visit us say that we are very closed. But once you get into us, you are ours. I agree with that point. Sometimes we can be hard to work with. We are stubborn. This is not an excuse. Nature made us such. This is a fact. When living in this mountains you need to learn how to fight in order to survive.
The mere fact we had to fight for everything had a major influence on our lives. Nothing was granted to us. We live in beautiful nature, that is true, and we love coming back.
You need to keep on fighting in here. This is how people have been living in this valley for centuries. Natural conditions are as they are. It is not easy for the farmers.
I also have my own farm and I can confirm this. You have to put a great effort to get a liter of milk, a kg of meat, or any other product you do business with.
This area is known for livestock as the conditions for agriculture are not favorable. Fruit farming is possible in some areas, viticulture is impossible.
Throughout the history people have been depending on animal breeding here; cows, sheep and goats in here if I look at the area of Bovška Trenta or Log under Mangart. Awareness that we are all part of a chain is very powerful in here – from farmer to the final consumer, as our products is always evaluated by the final customer. This means we have to be good in all segments if we want to be successful.
Farmer has to be already aware that the quality of his product is dependent on the type of fodder he will use.
Production of milk starts already there. And not in our dairy.
We get only a component and if the component is good we can transform it into a high-quality product. If the component is bad you can not fix it. The product will be bad.
We became used to the fact that we all need each other. Our work is so interrelated, we depend on each other. Our relation is incredible, the relation between our company and our main partners, farmers, who are 100% owners of the company.
Farmers need dairy that pays a good price for their milk. If dairy would not be paying good, dairy would not have enough milk available. The whole concept of Mlekarna Planika would fall in this case as the story of the company is built upon the fact that milk comes exactly from this area and not from anywhere else. If we will not have enough milk we can not continue playing the role we started. Farmers are aware that dairy needs them and also dairy is aware that framers can not be without dairy. This is when the synergy comes into place. Besides that, we have many workers who are employed in the company. The number of employees is quite a big number for this area.
How many people do you employ?
We currently employ 70 people. This is quite a big number for this valley. We do not have big companies here.
Natural conditions prevent multinational companies to enter into this area?
Correct. In 1994 when Kraš forced the company into bankruptcy, this presented a huge problem for us. “What will we do with all the milk?” we were asking ourselves. None of the existing dairies as Ljubljanske Mlekarne and former Agroind in Vipava were interested in collecting milk in such distant places. Also, they were not prepared to adjust their work to severe conditions we were facing in these places in winter (with heavy snow and when roads are not accessible). This was the reason why agricultural cooperative decided to establish Mlekarna Planika as we know today. Their goal was to purchase milk and sell dairy products at best prices possible to the final consumers. In 1995 when this happened we started a new philosophy. In past we transformed almost all milk into dry milk, just a small portion was sold as milk or butter. We ended this story.
When the former company went bankrupt we were left with enormous quantities of dry milk and I am grateful to Gorenjka even nowadays that they saved us. They bought all our stock. I will never forget this. They got very good milk and it covered their production needs…but nevertheless, they indeed saved us.
We decided at that time we have to follow a different philosophy to be successful. This valley is known for its cheese dairy business. When I was a student we often used quote “Cheese and cottage cheese, these are our treasures!” Throughout the history, these two ingredients have helped many families to survive in this region. Even before, when farmers were not formed in different associations or cooperatives, they produced cheese at their homes. We were selling cheese and butter in Italy between both world wars. After 2nd world war, we were selling cheese in Trst, Gorica, Čedad, Videm and this financially helped many families. We decided to start making cheese as this is what we know. We knew we had to stand out from the crowd, be different than other dairies. People believed that the newly established company will last only for a year.
I’ve read about this story in one of your earlier interviews. You like to emphasize this story.
(she smiles) If you would know how many times I remember this… This is engraved deeply in my heart. We were given so little trust. No one believed in us. This was even greater stimulation for us to prove them wrong.
Sometimes I felt we were thrown into a deep pool… and in such situation, you do not have any other option left besides to swim as hard as you can. Otherwise, you drown. We swam and succeeded. But we keep on swimming even today. You experience everything in business. There are some days that are beautiful and some days that you would just like to forget and delete.
Can you explain in detail one of those days? What happened and what was your biggest takeaway from that situation?
I believe sometimes is good to fall or to stumble. This makes you stop. And as you pick yourself up you have the time to think about the reason why you fell in the first place. Was there only a stone in your way? In a business environment, this means that you ask yourself, “If I have had accepted a different business decision, the consequences would not have been so severe,” and then you are more careful when making the next business move. These are fantastic lessons. Just like at home. It is beautiful when everything runs smoothly… but here and then you need a reality check. I have a story to share that is a bit off the topic.
I’ve got married quite some time ago the words I heard there can be applied to any situation. During the ceremony in a church, our priest told us, ”If you will not have even a single quarrel in your marriage this means one of you is a slave of that marriage. You both have different heads and it is impossible you think the same. It is ok to tell each other your opinions and then you make a compromise between them.” The same principle can be applied in the business world as well. I am not always right and my coworkers can not be always right as well. We need to talk and adjust our positions. By talking you can sort many problems at work. I am convinced that despite the technological progress we are social beings. Even now I tell to younger employees in sales and marketing to call a person, to have a personal contact with partners. That email is not enough. Computers are so impersonal. Maybe I am old fashioned but we “older” generation like to see people and meet them in person.
Personal contact plays a significant role in any business.
Sometimes even the phone call does not suffice and you have to meet in person and adjust the views. This might help you to see the situation from another perspective. I saw a computer for the first time when I was employed at the company for five years already. It was fascinating for me that you could just hit the delete button and everything would disappear. It sounds crazy now but we were raised in a different generation.
Of course. You grew up with typewriters.
Yes! If I look at my mother and myself the technological gap is much smaller than between us and our children. And this gap is visible also in business operations. How you do business. You have to talk to your workers. I admit, in small companies, this is easier. There are some limitations for big companies but nevertheless, every group has it superior. Director can not control everybody and everything on its own. This is why he has managers whom he needs to educate on how to manage their teams. In such way, I believe this approach is possible also in big companies. When I go through production line I stop and ask everybody, ”How are you? How is work going?” This personal touch means a lot. To me and to them. And if a person has a birthday you tell them happy birthday. This is such a small gesture but it can mean a lot. There should not be a strict hierarchy in business and only a rule of the strongest one.
“One person pulls the wagon. But if people at the end do not push, the first one will lose his strength,” is a quote you used in one of your presentations. How do you keep your team motivated?
Our employees are aware they are being properly paid for their work. Mosty locals work in here. Only when milk enters our backyard the whole process begins. The biggest problem today is to sell the product, not to make it. I tell this to our owners when we meet on the supervisory board. I tell them that our farmers, our workers in the factory or in stores, or at our property in Bovec are the ones that make such a good raw material. This enables us to sell our products with greater margin. Cooperation plays a significant part in business and managers play a key role. They need to know how to communicate with their teams.
How did you form your team?
Three people stayed from the former company. The production manager is now a young girl. She is energetic and does not fear anything. Also, the previous manager was good but he went into a pension. She is now fully operative. Everything starts with communication between a company’s team members. When coworkers get along and help each other they feel motivated to return to workplace also next day. Your first co-worker is your friend or not. When you have a bad day, for example, you may offer to your colleague, ”I see you are feeling bad today. Let me help you with that because tomorrow I might be feeling the same as you are feeling now.”
Everything is much easier when working like that. You have to be fair and honest in regards to your first co-worker. And this is the key as this builds the company’s atmosphere. It is important that team members get along.
We have a tradition to organize companies trips twice a year in order to visit other industries in Slovenia. We have visited many companies so far; Delamaris, Pivovarna Union, all biggest Slove dairies, all wine cellars in Slovene littoral. I believe it is useful to for your team to broaden their horizon. To see other practices. We form groups of 20 people who visit companies. With the manufacturing company as we have we can not close the company and organize a day trip for everyone.
I am positive such visits have a tremendous impact on them.
As I can say this for myself. I broaden my horizons in mountains. I come from a little village called Zatolmin located near Tolmin. I see a hill Kozlov rob out of my window that is about 500m high. When I climb on that hill I can see Tolmin with its surroundings. If I go to hill Vodni Vrh that is slightly above 1000m high I’ll see a bit more, but when I go to Krn (over 2000m) I can see a lot. You know how small every problem becomes when you look at them from such hight? They practically become invisible. Higher you go, more you can see and this is how you broaden your horizon.
Is this your moto that keeps you going?
Yes. Only in there (in mountains) I am able to reset completely. Planika is always in my mind… my era is slowly ending, but my successor will have to work with his soul. You have to be the same person in business as you are at home. If you turn off lights at home, then you turn off lights also in the company. You also need to understand you are not more important than your coworkers. You know the saying, “Many of mickle, makes a muckle?” Everything counts. When you feel good in your environment, you function better. How much time do you, in fact, spend at home? We spend most of our time at work. And if you feel good you will react on problems differently. Life brings good and bad experiences, but if you feel good you will be capable to reduce problems and solve them.
Just recently I said this at some other occasion, ”I thank all my team because when you fall it is good to have a hand that offers you a help and helps you to stand up again.” We are all people with good and bad days.
Personal touch plays a vital role in business. And the authenticity and understanding.
Correct. Being authentic is a key in mutual relationships. I can not stand hypocrisy.
I say what I think. I will try not to be too rough with my words but I will express my opinion. I can not stand someone talking behind my back. I also say this my team; that it is better we talk in person about problems than behind our backs. At the end of the day, you find out everything. Every problem can be solved more easily when two people work on it rather when you are tackling it alone. The same principle applies at home. Two heads can not think the same way and it is ok to make a compromise between different options, views.
Who is right or wrong is not important. To reach an understanding and compromise is the key.
Life is full of compromises, let it be at home or in business. It is important to be able to accept everybody as it is.
Are there any other values you represent in your work? Which are they?
If I look at business in very strict terms… we have to be serious at what we do. Babies and elderly people eat our food. We have to understand this. This is why it is very important that every product leaving our dairy is of high quality, healthy, good and safe. And this is why you have to be serious at your work.
You have to be serious also in regards to the way you think and build relationships. You have to show respect and seriousness in regards to your team workers and to management. Also, you have to be honest. If there is a problem you have to speak up about it. If a milk gets sour you have to tell this and not allow milk to enter the production. This is why it is crucial we are able to talk to each other. This part is not fully evident yet… but it is important to have an understanding that you work firstly for yourself, for your worker, for your whole team, company, and a valley. One works for all, and all for one. We are different from a company that manufactures screws for example. Not only 70 people depend on this company, the whole valley is dependent on it. Farmers that produce milk have to make sure they have their fodder for animals. This means they have to mow the lawn and this is what makes this valley of Soča so beautiful. We make sure that our maintains are alive and that the local tourism is alive as well. This is a huge circle and we all meet at some point. We have to build on this. I often say, “There is so little of us. If we will not help each other others will eat us. If we will not be able to cooperate, communicate and if we will stop being jealous of each other. We need to be happy for the success of the other. If someone makes it is better for everyone.” It is so good when other companies in this valley are doing well as this increases purchasing power of their people. We feel it in our store as people buy more.
Life is a cycle you say. When did you come to this conclusion? What event in your life helped you to form this wisdom?
Planika lives in me and it would be hard for me to be without it. They say that the chain must not get broken. The chain of all people that are included in it. But this is not only in business terms. This is life. If farmers would be paid poorly, their product would be bad and the consumer at the end unsatisfied. This is an ongoing cycle.
When you enter into this ring, you have to make sure you push it in a positive direction.
That you are not going backward. Sometimes it is good to take a step or two back and monitor what you have to repair or change. We have to be able to learn from our mistakes as everything can come back. I am sure that good is paid off with good. And the bad is paid with bad.
You started as a commercial manager when you were invited to join newly established Planika. You entered without any qualifications.
This is true (she smiles). I came without any knowledge. It was terrible.
How did this experience, the lack of skills in this area, helped you?
My first employment was as an agricultural sales promoter in the area of Bovška Trenta and I had a great time.
I like to remember those times because they were fantastic. People living in Trenta are even more closed then we, but once they get to know you, they allow you to become one of them. They accept you. I will never forget a farewell party they organized for me when I got a job in Tolmin. This will stay with me forever.
It is funny how human nature works. We tend to forget all the bad things so that only beautiful memories stay with us. If we would live and hold all the bad memories we will probably not get far. You have to be clear on that. You have to understand this.
Then I accepted employment in Tolmin at the administrative unit in the field of agriculture. I was offered a position in Planika as a head of sales and I accepted it.
Being a good listener is important as well.
This is my natural talent. I finished Biotechnical faculty, department of animal science and I did not know much about the economy. Yet the common sense helped me a lot. You are forced to learn and to become better and better if you want to stay alive. And this pressure gets bigger and it makes you grow.
I believe no faculty would be able to give me the knowledge that this job gave me, as you learn from your own mistakes. If you negotiated a deal poorly, this will cost a company this and this and this makes you become better next time if you want it to be better for everyone.
Do you have any mentor nowadays? Who is it?
We agricultural workers are a bit special. We are different than others. This is the way we are.
How do you differentiate from others?
I am included in Chamber of agricultural and food enterprises and if not before we meet in advisory boards in Ljubljana. Every person here is a good person.
We all know that we work in the industry that does not allow any mistakes. If you make just a little mistake, it is mortal for these types of the companies whereas other companies might not even feel any consequences.
There is an informal association of 10 companies in this region called Po Primorsko.
So you meet on a friendly, nonofficial basis?
Companies included in this informal association are Agrarija Koper, Vina Koper, Vina Kras, Kras Sežana, Pivka perutninarstvo, Delamaris, Mlinotest, Klet Goriška Brda, Kmetijska Zadruga Tolmin, Kmetijska Zadruga Idrija and us. Everybody from the seaside to Triglav is here.
We have so many things in common.
We think alike. Also, we run our businesses with similar mindsets. We all care that companies we run perform well. Many times, when we have a problem, we call each other and ask for an advice. It is easier to make a decision after talking to someone who presents you with his view and when the views match. And it is also good to hear a different opinion as this make you think about different options and then it may lead also to accepting the different decision.
You are mentoring one another in this group basically.
We are friends and we help each other.
But in regards to this valley, we also meet with other directors of the companies of this valley and coordinate our work. Everything is so interconnected. A woman may be employed at our company but her husband works for a company of another director. It is good that you cooperate with other companies and get along well.
What are other ways of local cooperation?
Planika is an integral part of this valley. Every year we organize a gathering of all our former employees, pensioners, even the ones who used to work for Kraš Planika. They say, ”Let’s go to our “mlekarnica”. I find this so touching.
Planika is a part of this landscape and as long we are here we will nurture these bonds. These people can take the credit that we are still here. Without them, we would not be where we are although this company went through a rough period in past. We have a job because of them.
We also cooperate with local schools.
You give a small gift to all children entering the 1st grade of the elementary school on their first day.
You can not believe how touching is to see the sparkles in their eyes when they receive cheese Tolminc. At this opportunity, we also have a small speech were we remind them of the importance of eating healthy and well as this will help them to carry their heavy school bags. Mums turn to me and say their children have kept the cheese ticket for their memory after they ate the cheese. This costs nothing. But it makes a huge impact. We are not aware enough about the importance of food. Food education and upbringing start already in kindergarten. It is so important that a child eats healthy food so that he gets used to these flavors.
If you love your soil a lot you can live on it and survive on it. We are all part of everything. This is why an education is important from kindergarten onwards. Pople will go but they will return if we direct them well. If a student leaves his home he will not return if he does not see a value in coming back. If you do not motivate him enough to return.
We all swim in one river and sometimes you need to come to shore to gain new strength. To rest for a bit. And then you return to the river with higher strengths. This is valid for everybody who lives and the ones who might return as well.
With a busy schedule as you have you have to be able to stop. How do you grow personally and in business?
I go to mountains. I like to be on my own to clear my thoughts sometimes.
This gives me such power. The valley and this landscape. I loved going to mountains already as a kid. I like to read encouraging words as well (there is a calendar on her desk full of positive encouraging thoughts). Good friends are also important. I meet with them or talk to them once I need them. A person dear to me asked me once “Anka do you know what is the main difference between male and female director?” Man can see the forest, but they do not see forest undergrowth.”
Care for all.
From the seed onwards. This is what women are born with. And this is why women give birth. We know how to endure differently.
Who had the biggest impact on your life and why?
My father. I was very attached to him. I also love my mum with all my heart.
My father was a farmer all his life. He was calm and educated. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 61. Stroke. When he died I felt as I was flying. My mother was in a complete shock as one day he left home healthy and returned in a coffin.
We needed quite some time to get over this sad experience.
What was the key philosophy you got from him?
If you have a strong will, regardless of all the obstacles you may encounter in your life, you will reach your goal.
They say I look alike his mother who had a very difficult life but was able to enlarge her farm although she was taking care of her kids on her own. They say people followed her. That she had such energy. I believe my father was raised in that spirit and he passed it on to me.
He was also very fair. One of the biggest values of Mlekarna Planika is also fairness. If you will call me in the middle of the night my answers to any question would be the same as now during the day. I do not have anything to hide. If you are fair to yourself, your coworkers, owner, customers, your children, and husband, to your full circle, this will get back to you. Sooner or later. And we get to my previous point again.
Which book is currently on your nightstand?
I do not know the exact title. It is a fantasy book, a drama. In Tolmin library they suggest me books “that are good to make you go to sleep” and the ones that “make you think”. I read in the evening or at night when I can not sleep. You know how many problems can not be solved during the night. But then in the morning everything changes and I say to myself, “See. It is not at all like you thought during the night.” Books help me to distract my thoughts.
I like to read poems as well.
Do you like to read poems of Simon Gregorčič?
I know many of his songs by heart. He was a prophet as he foresaw what will be happening.
Not a single event organized by Planika passes by without us not reading at least one of his poems.
Sometimes I take a walk here on the mountain and watch the sunset. As the sun sets behind Krn, and the sky is glowing, you can see all those little lights in the valley. I can see seaside from our mountain as it is so high. I can see Friuli form here and everything is bright as in Christmas crib. When you have a moment for yourself and when I hear the bell… this is a poetry for my heart. If Gregorčič would hear that… He must have heard this as he wrote such beautiful poetry.