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Almost 20 years since he arrived on US soil, Ernest Gocaj, Director of Tobacco Procurement with General Cigar Co., continues to apply his experience in agricultural economics from his native Albania to innovate one of the most challenging crops.

Before joining the Group 17 years ago, Dutch native Habraken already knew the business. “My grandfather had his own cigar factory in Surabaya, Indonesia and my father also worked in the cigar business,” she says. “So I’m third generation; I knew the business and was always interested in the production process.”

From her humble beginnings working in the packing department, Habraken seized on opportunities to grow within the Group and gained experience in the factory across various departments, while studying in her spare time. “After 12 years, I was responsible for the whole production factory,” she says.

Her latest role, running one of the Group’s key manufacturing facilities in The Netherlands, is a position that entails myriad responsibilities.

“It’s about daily planning and processes, future forecasting, coaching, financial reporting, projects and communicating with the team on a regular basis; it’s very complex,” Habraken says. “My job is to do things better today than we did yesterday – in cost, efficiency, quality, whatever – and just keep getting better.”

According to Habraken, her passion can be summed up in two words: “Team and goal. My passion is to keep a team focused to reach their goal. I like to work with people.”

The complexities involved in being a factory manager have been embraced by Habraken as she prefers to work with a team of diverse-minded and experienced colleagues.

“I like to have a diverse team – in age, gender, background and education,” she says. “I have a bachelor in communication; it’s a broad discipline that is very important in my current job. So, what I lack in technical skills my team more than makes up for.”

Leading a team is challenging but Habraken credits her bottom-up approach for her success: “I don’t like to give tasks to my people and say ‘I’m the boss; do it like this’. I don’t like that way of working. I like to use the knowledge and the performance of the operators of a team to reach goals. They don’t need me to tell them how to make our products; they’ve been doing that for more than 20 years. I have to facilitate them to work efficiently while continuously improving our business. That’s my style.”

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