New year, new project! One of our core values is our employees, which is why we have created the "I am KRONUS" project, during which we will publish interviews with our employees to talk about the importance of their work and to get to know them better.

We first invited Kristīne Rāte, LEAN project manager, who has been working at KRONUS for a short time but has already made significant improvements in the production processes. She is very enthusiastic about her job duties. We also found out how varied Kristīne’s hobbies and activities are in her free time. If you want to know more, read the conversation below!

What do you associate KRONUS with?


With pallets, with the smell of wood. I hadn’t heard much about the company before. I certainly didn’t know that KRONUS is the biggest pallet edging company in the world. The dimensions definitely surprised me.


How long has your work experience been overall? What was your first paid job?


I have been working since I was 14 years old. My first job was picking strawberries at school, but I had a more serious job at Somdaris, where I glued bags alongside my studies


How did your career at KRONUS start? What was the selection process like?


Before working at KRONUS, I also worked with LEAN implementation, but in the Eco Baltija Group companies. In my case, I cannot answer directly about the selection process because I was not looking for a job at the time, but I was approached by a KRONUS recruiter. This also makes me think that I must be smart and capable of something if I was already being sought after and approached. I agreed to come and talk and decided in favour of KRONUS!


What do you think are the biggest advantages of working for KRONUS?


KRONUS is a big and stable company, with lovely colleagues around. The fact that the company is focused on development is definitely a big plus. The whole company is thinking about how to make processes more successful and efficient. We are not just working for today, it is a big plus that we are thinking about what will happen tomorrow. Development is also very important in my daily life, I am always learning and thinking about how to do things better. LEAN goes hand in hand with work and everyday life at all times!

Kristīne Rāte 2

How do you spend your free time? At KRONUS we have heard about various records set specifically in winter swimming. How long have you been doing this hobby / extreme sport?

I am very active in my grandmotherly status. Winter swimming is probably my biggest hobby, but I also like knitting, going to the theatre with my girlfriends, going to the cinema. I like fishing very much, we go fishing very often, both in winter and in summer.


In 2010 I started my own winter swimming club “Seals from Ragana”, which means that I have had my own club for 12 years, but I started swimming a bit earlier. But the very beginning of swimming definitely goes back to my childhood, when my mum used to swim with us from early spring to late autumn, but not in the winter time when there was ice.


What made you decide to take this up? What is that special feeling you get from winter swimming?


For me, the cold water gives me energy, gives me strength, it’s also a great way to spend the weekends with my friends. It’s a sport and it’s a competition. We are not ones who sit with gloves on, we really swim, we also take part in competitions. For winter swimmers, the competition is the same as for pool swimmers – in open water, with lanes and time controls, in different swimming styles. It’s a sport!


 Is it something you manage to do every day? What are the records you have achieved so far?


At the moment there is ice outside, my ice-hole is 2.5 m, it is very difficult to cut and maintain an ice-hole like that. In freezing temperatures it freezes in one day with a 7 cm thick layer of ice and not all my friends, the winter swimmers, want to go swimming every day, but to maintain the ice-hole and keep it from freezing it has to be cut and cleaned every day. Of course, if I clean it every day, I also get in the water every evening. So far, I think it’s a personal best to beat the record I’ve set in previous competitions. I’ve competed in various winter festivals, the World Winter Swimming Championships and various national open winter swimming championships. At the moment, the World Cup is divided into four events. We have already been to Tallinn for one event and we are going to Skellefteå in February for the fourth event. We can’t go to all the events, purely for financial reasons, because the costs are quite high – the same for entry fees, hotels, travel money.


We will definitely wait for the addition of this sport to the Winter Olympics. At the moment, is it all covered from own funds?


For the time being, we are only recognised as a national sport. Winter swimming is not recognised as a sport by the big associations. But this is likely to change – in recent years the general public has become more active and sporty. Thus, winter swimming has become very popular! And, yes, it’s all sponsored from our own funds, the family budget, so to speak. My club is also a non-profit organization.

Do you also feel an improvement in your health since you have been an active winter swimmer?

I don’t want to say it out loud, but I’ve had one sick leave in 10 years, and it wasn’t because I had a cold or anything like that. That is also the biggest plus for this, immunity is being strengthened! Even if you don’t swim, we always encourage you to come along, because your body will thank you even for a day outdoors. Everyone has to make a decision about undressing and going into the water, because not everyone should do it. Our bodies are different and as human beings we are different. There is a lot to say about winter swimming in general, about equipment, about safety, about how to make and maintain ice-holes. Since I am the club manager and my contacts are public, I have been getting calls lately from strangers asking “Where on your end is a cut-out ice-hole?”, but I would say that is rather unfair. Take an axe and a saw and make it. If you come to my ice-hole, which is maintained every day, do not throw ice chunks around because I cannot walk around the perimeter the next day, the ice chunks are very slippery. Little things like that have to be taught to new swimmers, they just don’t know, because everybody wants to come to a ready-made ice-hole. But it’s a lot of work to maintain the ice-hole, so winter swimmers definitely need an axe, a saw, a net to get the bits out. It may be fun and challenging to fool around in the ice blocks, but you can’t swim in that mess, you need water. It takes about 40 minutes in total to prepare the ice-hole before you can go swimming in it.

This is all very interesting, I am sure that after reading the interview some KRONUS colleagues will also be interested in this activity. Returning to the subject of professional development, you mentioned that you are a LEAN project manager. What exactly is LEAN?

LEAN is certainly not a method for which you can write a definition and implement it tomorrow. LEAN is more a way of thinking, a way of moving a company. A direction towards improving efficiency. Introducing something new. LEAN originated in Japan more than 100 years ago, where it was introduced in the Toyota manufacturing facility. But because LEAN methods are so plentiful and highly appreciated, they are also being introduced in European companies. Of course, we do not take a completely copied method, we adapt it to our company. A lot has changed over time, all kinds of innovations and new technologies are being developed. LEAN methods can certainly be used by any company because, as I said, all the processes are adaptable. In my own experience, I have also helped to implement this in both manufacturing facilities and offices. In my practice, there are also cases like this!

What is your daily work routine like?

The day usually starts with an Asaichi meeting on one of the production floors, because it is one thing to implement Asaichi, but it is very important to audit and maintain it. Make adjustments, improvements and keep track of how the employees participate and act in these meetings. Whether all the data is presented correctly, what they are doing with the data and why we need the data in the first place. After this meeting there is also a little audit, I go round and look at how the workplaces are kept in order in terms of handing over shifts according to the 5S visual standards. This is very important so that no tools get lost and each thing has its own place, then it is easy to pick up and easy to put away. I then train the employees in different LEAN methods. I plan the next methods that will be introduced. Definitely 5S and Asaichi are at the heart of LEAN, which brings order and precision. As of January we also introduced SMED and Kaizen, which are already a bit more sophisticated. Over time, these methods will also spread to all the sites – so I will also follow up to make sure it all goes smoothly and properly.

How are our employees reacting to these changes and the new methods?

I haven’t experienced any backlash in person, everyone is very supportive. Even to direct questions about how they feel about LEAN being implemented in the company. The methods are recognised as good, but of course I know what is being said behind my back, that I am coming and teaching them how to do their job. That’s not the case, I’m trying to teach them to see losses, to eliminate them from the workplace – that’s my job! I don’t teach anyone to saw, I teach them to put the saw where it belongs. What I also tell the employees in training is that no matter what we call it, mankind has always worked towards improvement. Everyone has his own order at home, but you have to take into account that the company is not our private space, it is the company’s order, and especially if several employees change in one workplace, you have to respect that order so that the next person who comes after you knows that he will find the tool he needs in that particular place.

The time period you are working at KRONUS is rather short, but have you seen any improvements yet? And what are the further development plans for LEAN in the company?

I would say improvements can definitely be seen. There are people who remember methods from previous attempts to introduce LEAN in the company. But there are definitely improvements, I can see that myself, but the biggest appreciation is when I meet employees who thank me for it. As I said, we will be adding more methods – two methods next year. Then we will see how it goes. The main thing is to keep and maintain everything that has been put in place. After that, we will assess the way forward. We cannot talk about an end point, because LEAN has to be maintained continuously. I really liked what the chairperson of the Board, Igors, said in one meeting when we talked about projects, targets and deadlines. The conversation was about LEAN implementation, it was understood that the person to do the job had been found and it was necessary to agree on the deadlines for the tasks. When asked what the deadline was for the implementation of LEAN, Igors answered: “Well, 100 years or even longer. LEAN will never end.”

Why did you choose to develop your career in LEAN processes in the first place?

I guess you could say I was in the right place at the right time. When my previous company decided to start implementing LEAN, I had a different role at the time. I don’t know why, of all the employees, I was the one who was chosen. Of course, I was afraid of everything strange and unfamiliar, but if management believes I can do it, then I definitely can! I realised that it was a very good decision for me because it is what I like to do on a daily basis. The biggest challenge was to start delivering training, because public speaking was definitely not my strong area.


Do LEAN processes need control all the time?


Yes, control is unfortunately necessary for humans. Because if you let it run its course, at some point it will stop and not continue. There is a good example – if we call a gardener and he cleans up the garden for us, it is not as if the garden will stay like that all times. It has to be maintained and tended!


Do you feel support and interest from the management?


It’s a big plus for KRONUS that the managers believe that LEAN helps and improves the work. They get involved and motivate employees. They make everyone believe that it helps. This again helps me a lot because without support, it is very difficult! I really like that I can make my own plans, I am allowed to choose the methods and the pace at which we implement them. All the training that I have the opportunity to do. My daily routine is so diverse and varied. Definitely, I also really appreciate the Adizes methodology that we work with. It certainly does not go against LEAN at any point. Both aim at development and efficiency. It’s like a double force for us as a company!


To conclude this conversation, one last question – What is your motto in life?


Do it with quality the first time! Either do it well or don’t bother with it at all. At home, the family laughed already in the beginning that LEAN was about to be introduced in the barn too. But it’s very convenient, you can walk in and pick whatever you need, you don’t have to look around for it. At home, it’s not like in manufacturing facilities, but there are boxes with labels where everything is, so you can find it easily the first time. I really like the fact that after the training the employees have told me that they have implemented the 5S method in their garages. They have also sent pictures of the before and after. It is very impressive, which also makes me think that my work is not useless, because it is not forced at home, but still the employee has taken it into account, believed in the programme and implemented it at home.