Melancholy… and bam, I’m already over it!

The warehouse demolished and the production part which will also disappear within a few weeks…

All in all, I have been active as a director in various companies for 36 years now. During all these years I have tried to represent the interests of shareholders as best I can. Admittedly, I also had to make and/or implement less pleasant decisions. All in the context of revenue growth, profit optimisation, or simply to ensure continuity and preserve jobs.

Meanwhile, the almost 30 years of my career in building chemistry have been behind me for a while. In 2013 I had the opportunity as a consultant to get acquainted with the world of controlled environment in general and cleanrooms in particular. After having been active in building chemistry for so many years, I had the possibility at the age of 58 to get to know a whole new field of work and I am now very enthusiastic about my management tasks at Brecon Cleanroom Systems. For the loyal reader of this blog it is well known that I can write with great enthusiasm about our performance within this market segment. My blogs are also generally very positive and I try to describe things here and there with the necessary touch of humour.

Now, however, I spontaneously wrote an at first glance somewhat melancholic blog because I accidentally saw the old Hoeka business premises on a rainy Saturday morning, on my way home from the soccer field where my two youngest grandsons had played their soccer match.

It was already many years ago that I had driven through the street where Hoeka was located. The company where coatings, plasters and floor finishing products were developed and produced for decades, and where I, as a director, was in charge for fifteen years from 1983. Of course, I knew that the new owners had sold the company again since 2012 and had learned that the factory was no longer active. All the staff were fired in 2017 and 2018 and the buildings were empty and abandoned since last year.

By now the demolition hammer had struck and only part of what until a few years ago was a beautiful and efficient production company was still visible. I have to say that I was very sad to see the once well-maintained building, so completely damaged and stripped of its soul. Half demolished, every building is ugly and repulsive. In this case, however, every former colleague will be saddened by the picture above this article.

Such beautiful times we have been through and such great results this company has delivered in its good years! Many people have spent a large part of their lives in this building. Whether they were production staff, laboratory or office people or colleagues in logistics….. Everyone was committed to the company and we all went for good results. We really worked hard!

And there were good results. Both financially and socially. With our ISO care systems we were one of the first construction chemistry companies active in the Netherlands. It was not by chance that we won the INK Quality Award in 1997. We left the Dutch Railways (NS) and the Dutch Post behind us and were as proud as a peacock that we were allowed to stand on stage for the presentation of this wonderful prize. A lot of publicity and praise were given to us and because of this more and more international recognition and nice turnover growth were achieved. Just think back of my last blog in which I wrote about how you have supporters and sympathizers when you win and shine.

INK Prize made in 1997 by Borek Sipek, the prominent Czech glass artist and architect, who passed away in 2016.

However, it was a large German chemical group, which, much like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” decided to finally sell the healthy group of Relius companies, which included Hoeka, accepting the loss of hundreds of jobs. I too lost my position as CEO and my place on the Board of Directors within the group, and was allowed to leave the place with a golden handshake after 25 years of employment.

8% to 10% profit on turnover and an excellent 15% Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) proved insufficient. It was decided to split everything up into small parts and a beautiful international group of companies, with about 1,500 employees, was partially closed or sold.

Every party that takes over or merges a factory site or activity calls for 1+1 to yield a 3 through synergy, but reality regularly overtakes these fine words and predictions, as has happened so often in takeovers and mergers in the past. Of course not everything in the Relius Group has been lost, but corporate thinking has clearly left its mark. The sad sight of the company buildings in my hometown Deurne gave rise to the somewhat melancholic thoughts this Saturday morning.

In the afternoon, however, I read the newspaper and allow the terrible images of the terrorist who murdered 50 people in New Zealand to have an effect on me. Of course, there is a lot of news about the Brexit strategy to be implemented and how this may all end.

But there is also economic news from the region that attracts my attention. Some positive thinking CEOs from the region have good expectations for 2019, though they make it clear that the top year 2018 will be difficult to match, let alone improve. And a somewhat wait-and-see attitude on the part of Professor Bart Vos of the University of Tilburg, who, based on the purchasing managers index, is slightly less confident about current developments.

 

How happy am I then, to learn about an enthusiastic CEO like Huub van de Vrande, responsible for the now very international Neways group. He is also aware of the unrest caused by a Brexit and is attentive to what a Trump calls and twitters. However, it is Huub who is literally quoted in the article with the words: “We can’t continuously improve, and we have to get used to the occasional slowdown”. That’s what I call a person with a healthy sense of entrepreneurship and a realistic view of business developments.

Of course, the results of a company must be satisfactory. Profit figures must provide shareholders with a good return on capital invested. “Shareholder value should increase. But all stakeholders must be kept satisfied. Our employees too are entitled to rely on working for shareholders with a healthy and normal expectation pattern and a keen eye for realism! One should also be able to accept a somewhat disappointing year….

I will close my blog and start working on a budget calculation for the expansion of a cleanroom in a Neways group building in Echt in Limburg. In 2014, 1150 m² of cleanroom was already built there and now, together with the PP4C partners, we can realise some 225 m² of expansion. It’s great to be able to work for another positive and realistic CEO like this again. My good mood is back and I’m looking forward to it!

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