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Atanas Draganski

Creamery plant manager and chief operating officer, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Inc., 2064 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Bldg. 1, #130, Sebastopol 95472, 707-823-8250, redwoodhill.com, greenvalleylactosefree.com

Age: 43

Residence: Santa Rosa

Professional Background: Started working at Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery in 1997 after coming to the U.S. as a work-exchange student from Bulgaria. After emigrating, I have worked in most areas of the business from milking goats, to department management of cheese, warehouse, and cultured products. In 2004 I was promoted to Creamery Plant Manager and joined the Senior Management Team.

Education: BA in agricultural economics

Staff: 45 in Cultured Products, Cheese, Quality Assurance, Warehouse and Shipping, and Repair and Maintenance departments

Describe the facilities you oversee: The creamery has about 55,000 square feet. We produce Redwood Hill Farm goat milk yogurt, cheese, and kefir; and Green Valley Organics lactose-free real cow dairy yogurt, kefir and sour cream. The company recently took on co-packing for the Cultured Coconut yogurt brand.

The facility has a milk-receiving bay with truck-washing equipment; raw milk storage; separate production areas for yogurt, kefir and cheese; walk-in refrigerators for finished product; storage areas; equipment areas; a mechanical shop; and offices.

Powering the creamery is a 586-kilowatt solar electric system with 2,548 panels on two acres of roof and two electric car chargers.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I was born in 1969 in Bulgaria, which is famous for feta cheese and yogurt. In fact, one of the required cultures for yogurt in the U.S. is Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. It was noticed that extremely long-lived people in Bulgaria were eating yogurt.

As a young child, my dream was to become a professional soccer player. I am happy that I achieved my goal, however, an injury prevented me from playing soccer for over two years. I realized that I needed to look at a different career.

I received my BA in Agricultural Economics and came to Redwood Hill Farm as an exchange student to see how a real business is run, improve my English and see the differences of running a business in the U.S., compared with doing so in Europe. I have enjoyed being here so much. I never went home and was able to obtain permanent residence status.

I life in Santa Rosa with my partner, Zlatina, and our 8-year-old daughter, Alexandra. I now visit Europe each year and always take time to check out what is new in the European market.

What do you see as the role of facilities manager within your organization?: Of course, first and foremost is the production of excellent specialty dairy products, which means overseeing the production teams at the creamery. In addition, I work with our milk producers to insure we have the milk we need.

I also work on development of new products and with suppliers to be sure we get the best ingredients and supplies at the best price.

I also maintain paperwork and records for third-party audits for certifications such as kosher, organic and humane animal treatment, in addition to coordinating our HACCP program, good manufacturing procedures, and standard operating procedures.

Keeping employees trained, motivated, and happy is also an important part of my job. The atmosphere here at Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery is different, in that we have an open-door policy, celebrate each employee’s birthday at employee lunches, offer training where needed and encourage our employees to come forth with good ideas.

What is the achievement you are most proud of? Growing with the business from the beginning as an exchange student who took care of the goats, to working my way through production management, to becoming the creamery plant manager and chief operating officer today.

I'm also proud of coming up with the idea for our lactose-free, real cow dairy products now on the market as Green Valley Organics yogurt, kefir, and sour cream and how they have become a good part of our business today.

What is your biggest challenge today?: With increasing competition in the dairy business (and usually no more space on the store shelf), the challenge is to come up with new and innovative products that will find their niche in the dairy category. Also challenging is keeping the prices of our products affordable with continued increasing costs.

What is the next major project?: We are working on an equipment installation that will enlarge and improve our processing at the creamery and will allow us to develop some new products.

What product or service is helping you do your job more?: The new technologies in communications with machinery are amazing and really help. I am a person that loves trying all of the new computer technologies, software, etc. It is a big help as we grow.

How will your profession change in the next five years?: The trend that I see for the future is customers' wanting to know more about their food and communicating to them about what we do. The next generation is reading more about healthful food, clean ingredients, GMO-free, organic, natural, etc. We have to educate ourselves, our employees and our customers about how important it is to eat and live healthfully.

Most admired business person outside your organization?: I love computers, so I admire either Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Current reading?: I read mostly dairy related magazines and literature. Ninety percent of my reading is online, and Google is one of my favorite places for information.

Stress relievers?: Running is what I do for relaxation. However, I try to not let stress affect me, working on solutions when problems arise. I always tell myself it could have been worse.

Favorite hobbies?: Soccer, tennis and computers

Words that best describe you?: Positive, hard-working and enjoying life