Team Rynkeby documentary shown on national television in Denmark in the autumn 2016.
TR Press UK - 17-11-2017
Dirksen: “We must never compromise on the project’s fundamental values”
Team Rynkeby’s success is largely due to the project’s three fundamental values. And we must never compromise on those values, says Team Rynkeby Foundation’s soon-to-be outgoing Chairman of the Board.
In his wildest imagination, Rynkeby Foods’ CEO Jørgen Dirksen hadn’t known what he was about to say ‘yes’ to when, on an icy-cold January day in 2002, he met with employees Knud Vilstrup and Torben Møller-Larsen, who after the company’s annual Christmas party had come up with the idea that it might be fun to cycle to Paris to see the end of the Tour de France.
Now they were standing in Jørgen Dirksen’s office with a plan to start a corporate bike team based at Rynkeby Foods, and to that end, they were asking for a sponsorship and some juice for the trip.
“I was probably a bit sceptical at first, but I was also impressed with their commitment. So it wasn’t too long before I accepted a sponsorship of DKK 1500 per participant, cycling wear and all the juice they could drink during the trip,” says Dirksen.
“And the rest is history,” smiles the Rynkeby CEO, who after 17 years heading Scandinavia’s largest juice company has decided to step down in order to devote himself to board work in the food industry.
Jørgen Dirksen’s farewell to Rynkeby Foods means that he, in accordance with Team Rynkeby Foundation bylaws, is stepping down as Chairman of Team Rynkeby Foundation’s Board and leaving the post to Rynkeby Foods’ new CEO, Peter Frank Andersen, who takes on his new role starting on 1 December 2017.
The children make an impression
And it will be sad for the Rynkeby CEO to bid goodbye to the project, which he himself helped to activate with the project’s first sponsorship – a project that he has been deeply involved in ever since.
“Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my time at Rynkeby have been together with Team Rynkeby. And that’s probably just how so many other Team Rynkeby participants feel.
This project does something quite special to you. I’ve made some friends and become close to some people that I otherwise wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for the fact that we were on bikes together for so many hours, shivering with cold together in some bus shelter in Northern Germany, or telling tall tales at the tailgate. You really get to know one another that way,” says Dirksen.
In addition to his deep involvement as Chairman of Team Rynkeby Foundation, Jørgen Dirksen has also completed the Tour de Paris nine times on a bike, just as he has been present in Paris in connection with the arrival every year with the exception of the debut tour in 2002. That’s why he’s also become close with some of the children, young people and families that Team Rynkeby raises funds for.
“Meeting these children and families who have lived with cancer has really made a huge impression on me. It’s not even possible to imagine what they go through. And I am still amazed at the smiles, the willingness and the joy we encounter among the children and their families when we show up. So it really makes you feel as though you’re making a difference,” he says.
Loyal captains and steering committees
While Jørgen Dirksen has led Team Rynkeby Foundation, the charity cycling team has raised no less than DKK 274 million for critically ill children in seven different countries – a result that he ascribes mainly to the volunteers, he says.
“We’ve created these results because there have been thousands of enthusiasts who, since the start of Team Rynkeby, have taken up the project’s fundamental concept that we must do something good for ourselves while doing something good for others – as part of belonging to a social community,” says Dirksen.
“In addition, we have been favoured by some very, very loyal team captains and steering committees, which over the years have given many, many hours of their lives to this project. That has brought an amazing continuity to the project, and this means that we have been able to develop the project in line with its original idea and fundamental values,” says Jørgen Dirksen, who in the project’s infancy was deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of the project.
“In the beginning we had a division of labour where Knud Vilstrup ran the project and I provided support. We developed the project in a direction which we thought was fun, and that we found meaningful. And maybe it was a little haphazard and amateurish in the beginning, but it didn’t matter, because we all knew each other, and the whole thing was anchored around Rynkeby Foods,” he continues.
After five years in which Team Rynkeby lived a quiet and very local existence on Funen, in 2008 Jørgen Dirksen gave the go-ahead for establishing more Team Rynkeby teams all over Denmark. That year, four teams cycled to Paris.
“There were some Team Rynkeby participants who thought they would like to start their own local Team Rynkeby teams. At that point we began to understand the project’s potential. We’d simply tapped into a wave in which recreational cycling was undergoing tremendous growth in Denmark, and where there was suddenly great interest in Team Rynkeby,” says Dirksen.
The expansion from one to four teams was in many ways a turning point for Team Rynkeby. It meant that the project changed from the very familiar recreation and charity project which Team Rynkeby had been to suddenly having to function as an actual organization.
“We had a foot in both camps, between the familiar and the requirements to act more professionally, and it created some challenges for us, including with the cycle and cycling wear orders. During this time a great deal was asked of the then-central steering committee, which made a huge effort in the development of the project. But the project really only took on structure when Carl Erik Dalbøge (CEO of Team Rynkeby Foundation, ed.) joined the project in 2009, says Jørgen Dirksen and continues:
“At that time, Mikkel Tholstrup Dahlqvist (Communications Manager, ed.) and Asger Jørgensen (Team Rynkeby News, ed.) also joined us, and they ensured a clear common thread from the somewhat random beginning in 2002 to the present day, where we involve thousands of participants and sponsors and have created the Nordic region’s most high-profile recreation and charity project – without compromising on our original fundamental values,” he says.
Values are what is most important
And the project’s fundamental values are at the heart of the continued development of Team Rynkeby, believes Dirksen.
“We may well reach a saturation point with our original Tour de Paris, but Team Rynkeby as a brand is so well-established that the project can carry a great many things – the Team Rynkeby School Run is a great example of a new activity that is beautifully positioned under the Team Rynkeby brand.
“But in the development of the project, we must never abandon the project’s fundamental values that are about doing something good for ourselves while doing something good for others as part of a social community. These are the values that have made Team Rynkeby so strong and enabled so many people and sponsors to buy into the project,” says Dirksen, who also calls on the new Chairman to be aware of the arm’s length principle that has always existed between Rynkeby Foods and Team Rynkeby.
“With my hand on my heart, I can say that we have never run Team Rynkeby with a commercial aim. Team Rynkeby has lived a life of its own, but it has obviously provided a great deal of goodwill and visibility to the Rynkeby brand. But I hope that going forward Team Rynkeby will continue to be run primarily for the benefit of the participants and the children,” says Jørgen Dirksen.
Jørgen Dirksen will leave Rynkeby Foods and Team Rynkeby Foundation on 30 November 2017.