Interview: Hannah Cappleman, Customer Services Manager at Muntons plc, Stowmarket

Hannah Cappleman

Muntons plc

Can you summarise the company for the reader?

Muntons is a malt manufacturer in Stowmarket. We produce malt and malted ingredients for the food and drink industry and have been in business for over 90 years now. Muntons has 315 employees globally, supplying 76 countries in six continents and exporting around half of its production.

What is your role in the company?

I am the Customer Services Manager. I started at Muntons as an International Sales Support Assistant in 2012. One of the reasons I got the job at the time was being able to speak a second language, in my case German. After only a few months, my role changed slightly and I took on a Customer Services administration role. I have been managing the Customer Services team since 2016.  

What is your pathway into your current role?

I grew up in Germany, the daughter of a German mother and an English father. When I was 16, I left secondary school and started an apprenticeship as an office administrator in a small family-run department store. I left Germany in 2011 to become an au-pair in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Although I had studied English at school, I felt I needed to improve my language skills and my college education at the time didn’t offer the possibility to take English classes. By the time my au-pair year came to an end, I had fallen in love with England and decided to stay and apply for jobs. This is when my career at Muntons started.

What is the company’s connection to Germany?

Germany is a very important market for us. We have one main distributor in Germany supplying smaller companies with our malt ingredients. This distributor is based in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Azelis GmbH, who provide a range of food ingredients and pharmaceutical products to customers not only within Germany but also globally. In addition, we have important trade shows in Nürnberg, München and Frankfurt that we regularly attend.

How important is it to know their language?

When I meet customers at trade shows and I speak German to them, they are always positively surprised. Even if it is just small talk - greetings, talking about the weather or the food - before we switch back to English for business, it establishes this nice relationship with your customers. After all, they are the ones you would like to sell your products to. Being able to exchange a few sentences in their native tongue brightens the conversation and shows good will.

Is it useful to speak German even if so many Germans speak good English?

Yes, definitely. English is a world language but not all of our German customers are very confident speaking it. Therefore, if you address them in their mother tongue, it makes them feel more comfortable and the situation suddenly becomes more relaxed.

Is it difficult to find graduate students with language skills?

Since I have taken on the management and recruitment role for my team, I have actually never come across any employee or applicant who speaks German. When we advertise and recruit graduates, we make it clear that speaking another language is beneficial in the application process and may give one candidate advantage over another. As a global company, we appreciate all languages, not just German.  

What are your thoughts about the attitude towards learning German in this country?

To many people here in Britain German can be a very harsh-sounding language and one that is very difficult to learn. But it is definitely worth the effort. Just remember that in Europe, not only the Dutch speak German but also the Austrians, the Swiss, a lot of Belgians and for many people in Eastern Europe it is the first foreign language. So even if you don’t speak their native language you can communicate in German.

What would be your message to young people and schools in the East Anglia?

Don’t be afraid to learn another language and always be open to new experiences. It is important to speak different languages. As mentioned before, English is a world language but speaking another language will take you that little bit further in life. Schools should make it more attractive to young people to learn a new language by offering short language courses rather than a language as a subject. Maybe it could be offered as an after-school club or as an optional module with vocational elements. This would lift the pressure off some students who struggle with GCSE or A-Level language classes.