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From hospitality to the sustainable chocolate industry

Amsterdam, May 2024

An interview with the Sales and Account Manager for Chocolatemakers – By Julia Kobiolka

For this week's interview, we would like to introduce Julia Schols. After graduating in 2017 and doing her internship at RARE, a culinary events company, she accumulated numerous years of experience within the F&B industry and, during a career change after COVID-19, was drawn towards Chocolatemakers.

What did you do after graduating?

After graduating, I remained at the company where I did my final internship, which is called RARE. It is a food and beverage events agency. So, we did a lot of food festivals or private events, but all based on food. One of the biggest events was Taste ofAmsterdam, which is the biggest restaurant festival in the Netherlands. It is focused on high-end F&B, Michelin-star chefs, and amazing wine tastings. I really, really love that, and apparently, I did a good job in marketing. They offered me a permanent position as a marketing manager. I gladly accepted the job because of the industry we were in, and because of working with people. The company was relatively small, so everybody did a little bit of everything. There, I worked until 2020. Right up till Covid, and when Covid hit, the whole event branch just collapsed. This resulted in various cancelled projects for nine months because of changing rules and regulations. After nine months, I needed a change. I looked around to see if there were other opportunities. A friend of mine came to me and said, "I think I got something for you. Within one week, everything was arranged, and I've been working at Chocolatemakers ever since.

When did you discover your passion for sales and accounting?

At my previous job there was, next to marketing, a large sales aspect. I really liked talking with people and selling the event. Closing a deal just gives you a thrill, and it's more like the in-depth sales than the cold calling sales because nobody really likes that. My position at Chocolatemakers is sales and account manager, with a large focus on in-depth contact and building relationship with the client. I did not have experience in retail sales, but I really discovered that I like that here at Chocolatemakers. It's a whole different ball game to hospitality. It's a lot tougher. That's something I learned, and I'm passionate about it. It's a little bit like the thrill of the chase.

How did you decide to work for a chocolate company?

My friend introduced me to this company I had never heard of and I reckoned there is always room for a talk. When you first walk in, you can smell it. It's just chocolate all around. Everyone was super, super nice. When I came here, I was really relieved. I had nine months of demotivation and not being able to do anything, not really working, and not going further with projects. The team here made me feel comfortable. During the interview, it just clicked, and they said we'll see you next week. I started with just the small things. Getting to know the company, the retail business, brand building and getting to know the chocolate industry because it's very complicated and intense. The whole chocolate-making process is very technical. I just had to learn everything there is about the company, which took about a year, to learn every single aspect.

While working in sales and accounting, what obstacles have you encountered so far?

Retail is very different than the Hospitality industry. It's a lot tougher if you ask me. We learn at Hotelschool that the guest is king. It is very service minded. It's like, whatever you say, and I will serve. However, in retail, it's not really like that. I've really noticed that if I try to do an approach like that, people walk all over you, and you don't get the price that you need or try to sell something for. So, I got a lot tougher here. Working on negotiating and deal prices because that's a little bit more in-depth. You don't really learn that at Hotelschool. It's still polite, but you have to be a tough nut to crack, and I love that.

You worked for many F&B or F&B-related companies; what drew you to this?

I've been in hospitality since I was about 15 years old. I worked in restaurants, which were all family-owned companies, smaller, and not like big corporations. I always went to work with a smile on my face. I always had fun. My colleagues are also friends as well. There has never been a strict work/private life balance. It's intertwined, which I like. Your team are people you go out with when you're younger, and you go for drinks after work. In addition, I was always interested in food. All that translated into me going to Hotelschool. Even my internship at RARE, the food agency, was a coincidence. It was through someone who heard about it and said go check that out. I would go to Michelin-star restaurants for lunch just for a meeting. All these opportunities were great experiences!

Do you see yourself working in the hospitality industry in the future?

Never say never because it is an industry that I still really like. All my friends who've been atHotelschool as well are now doing something completely different. We all say we kind of miss hospitality, just being behind the bar on Friday night and just working and going out. We really miss some of those aspects. However, it's also crazy hours, but I would say never say never because I really want to do something abroad someday. If that's going to be in a hotel, you never know. At the moment, I'm really, really happy here, sothat's good. At Chocolatemakers there are amazing growing opportunities for me. I can go all the way!

What was the most interesting/surprising thing you discovered about chocolate when working in chocolate production?

The fact that I knew nothing about chocolate. Especially the business and industry behind it, because it's really corrupted, and the conditions are horrible. They take usthrough the tour of everything in the first week, and you get to know the background story, what happens at the farms, and the origins of the people that we work with. In our case, wework directly with the farms, and we do a really good job of preserving the environment there. We pay a lot more than Fairtrade because we want to ensure a living income so that people don't just have a minimum wage but can also invest in the farm or sending their kids to school and covering medical costs. I've also learned about the way the cocoa beans are harvested and processed. I went to Colombia last year to one of the farms we work with, which is completely run by female farmers, and it was amazing. The whole experience was eye opening. It's so different from any other product that you can buy. It's kind of a mysterious product because no one really knows what happens behind the chocolate bar that you buy. A whole new world opened up to me.We're trying to focus on the farmers, climate and biodiversity. So not only what we do with products but also what happens at the farms, we try to cool down thae planet and not heat it up. Many farms exploit their land and at some point it cannot be used anymore, that is what happened now with the harvest in Western Africa. We don't exploit the land; we regenerate it!

What achievements are you most proud of?

What I'm most proud of is the network I've built. Since graduating and while I was atHotelschool, I have kept in touch with a lot of previous relations of the F&B business, teachers and instructors. For instance, lecturers now message me when they need anything chocolate-related. It's really nice that you still have a network of people. If it all goes up in flames, you still have options. I believe this network will only expand and that is something I'm really proud of, and just developing a whole new branch here, theretail branch management. Additionally, I took a course for a year in Category Management, and I'm also proud of expanding my horizons.

What is your biggest failure, and what did you learn from that?

Working a lot of overtime at my events job, often till very late at night, on weekends and often not taking vacation days. People would ask me, "Are you taking care of yourself?" every single day. I loved the work because it brought me a lot of joy and energy as well, but I also noticed that at the moment Covid hit, and I was forced to do nothing, how nice the normal hours and no pressure were. The break was good because I could catch my breath and see what to do next. What I do now is I keep hold of my hours, which is completely different here. I now take all my holiday days, which is very important. You take your weekends and take your time for yourself because it's super dangerous if you don't. I'm keeping track of it now, so I never get to that point again.

What was the most useful lesson/ thing you learnt at HTH?

Certain types of communication. The whole finance, languages, and the business side. Yes, it's important, but it's all relatively basic to when you start working somewhere. I've learned finance from working and practicing during the job. Communicating wassomething I learnt with instructors and fellow students who come from different cultures. Additionally, during my internship, people and guests came from different countries. Sothere were a lot of different and difficult aspects to communication. I think that's something that they do very well because everybody needs good communication skills. You notice that if you meet people who do not have the same kind of education that teaches proper communication skills. This should be a basic and fundamental thing that you learn, and Hotelschool does that very well.

What would be your advice for students graduating in 2024?

If an opportunity scares you, it's probably worth taking. Don't stick with what's convenient. I always like to stay safe. So, I almost didn't take this job because I wasscared because it was so different. It was a completely different industry. What if I can't do it? However, I took it, and it was definitely worth it! I would say take a chance. Just go for it. If it doesn't work out, you know, there's always a solution.

What is your favourite book?

Any book from Karin Slaughter

What was the last movie that you saw?

Downton Abbey

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Night owl

What is your biggest dream in a few words?

Live abroad at some point

Name one thing on your bucket list.

Safari in Kenya on horseback

Name one thing that you like to do in your free time.

Spend money on food and drinks

What is your favourite place to visit?

Africa in general, I'm a huge fan

What is your favourite aspect of living in the Netherlands?

Being close to family and friends