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Interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans (CEO FAAC Benelux)
Interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans (CEO FAAC Benelux)
Interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans (CEO FAAC Benelux)
Interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans (CEO FAAC Benelux)
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Interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans (CEO FAAC Benelux)

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An interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans on the FAAC-group Newsletter.

An interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans on the FAAC-group Newsletter.

Published in: Career, Travel, Business
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  • 1. FAAC Inside N° 0002/2009 Pagina 6 In this article Erik Kooijmans, Manager in charge of FAAC Benelux, tells us about his international career in the FAAC group starting from his entry in 1992 An international career The Editor interviews Erik Kooijmans one Friday in Bruges We meet Erik Kooijmans in his office in Bruges, in the FAAC Benelux office, ex-Vanhalme nv. sales office - Italy; the company's development was stopped by its owners, and we were obliged to find alternative opportunities before a possible crisis. At that time I was 37 years old, and my children were still very young. It was a difficult period. Erik with Paul Van Hecke and Van Lantschoot in Bruges The office is on the ground floor, at the side of the spacious showroom, and surrounded by the offices of the other colleagues of FAAC Benelux. It is Friday morning, last day of a week spent mainly in his office, where this month things have been a little hard going, since FAAC Benelux has been implementing the new group software, SAP. Wednesday he went on a short trip to Holland to a fair in Amsterdam and tonight he is flying to Bologna, to spend the weekend together with his Bolognese family. In the early years I travelled a lot to Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. I was nearly always on the road ... After having enjoyed a good Italian coffee (almost) made by an Italian espresso machine, and served here as a rule to all visitors, our interview began. Luckily, in time I got some job offers, and among those that interested me were mainly FAAC and Carpigiani. The choice was hard, and I remember making a long list of criteria and assessments to sort out my thoughts. In the end I chose FAAC, mainly because it seemed to offer a better chance of an interesting international career. I think that in the end I wasn't disappointed about this. FAAC at the time was already very successful in Italy, and it was breaking into the international markets both European and eastern, thanks to the pioneering work of the then Commercial Director of FAAC Vittorio Vivanet (note from the editor: currently Head of FAAC Spain) and his two assistants, one of whom Paola Melloni (note from the editor: currently Head of FAAC Switzerland). For some recondite reasons (my memory has never been my strong point) I remember as if it were yesterday my first business trip for FAAC, together with Vittorio to Belgium, he always tells me he remembers it well. In a café at the Grand Place of Brussels, we thought about the future of FAAC exports, drunk on the promising outlook, and probably also a bit on the excellent Belgian beer. That “better chance of an international career” how did it happen? In the early years I travelled a lot to Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. I was nearly always on the road; I planned my trips by trying to maximize the number of visits. I remember for example once I made a two-week trip with successive stops respectively at Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Sydney, then Christchurch, Tahiti, returning to Europe passing through the United States. I had an appointment with our French Polynesia distributor Ernest Ah Chong at Papeete airport Sunday evening, to be able to speak about business the following morning. Race in Bruges 2006: Erik with some Colleagues and Clients Erik, almost 17 years have gone by since you joined FAAC. What made you take that decision back in 1992? In effect, I joined FAAC in June 1992. Before I worked for SAECO as export manager, as it happens together with Giorgio Verdi (today Area manager of FAAC Italy Spa) who worked in the          
  • 2. FAAC Inside The thing that I had not considered in my itinerary was that between New Zealand and French Polynesia I would have passed the meridian opposite to Greenwich. Arriving at Papeete I could not find Ernest as arranged. The calendar had gone back a day on board the flight from New Zealand, thus giving me a Sunday free on the Tahitian beach. I found it hard to persuade my colleagues that that oversight had not been deliberate. Anyway, unlike Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne, unfortunately I didn't win a bet, just an extra day of life. Anyway, I am very glad of those 4 years of work in exports, they were exciting albeit with big sacrifices. I have to thank my wife Anna Maria for the support she has always given me; for her, not having relatives in Bologna, it was probably more difficult than for me having to bring up our children without help. But anyway you know that when you start a career of this type, you have to find a way to manage family relationships, with your wife; you have to have a home anyway, a base that suits this lifestyle. Otherwise it is better to choose a different career, you risk jeopardizing your marriage, your family. After some years I began to show interest in the development of a career also into terms of work content. Unfortunately the chances weren't as easy as I had hoped when joining FAAC. I made a series of proposals to Vivanet and Bassi, a kind of target practice “clay or pigeons” that they could shoot down if they were no good. We spoke of new positions such as marketing export manager, or car parks export manager, FAAC Electronics export manager, the opening of a branch office in the Far East... But the time         N° 0002/2009 was still not ripe. The opportunity finally came when the manager of FAAC Tor Automatic in Switzerland left his job and a replacement was needed quickly. I accepted very gladly considering it a new adventure, and a new starting point. Meanwhile we have moved by train to Zaventem airport, where we board the 9.00 p.m. flight for Bologna. The typical landscape of this corner of northwest Europe is not monotonous; several countries pass by quickly, alternating with cultivated fields, woods, and meadows with cows grazing. Why this interest in an international career? Well, since I was a child I wanted to become a sailor and follow the great Dutch sea explorers. I was born in Indonesia, my mother's native country, my father was Dutch. I was educated in Holland but I always felt called to cross geographical boundaries. I came to Italy in 1981 to study for 2 years at the Johns Hopkins American University which has a seat in Bologna, to prepare for a diplomatic career. However falling in love with my wife to be, and of course also the city of Bologna, I decided to stay there. I am still very glad to have my home in Bologna; after all it’s the city where I’ve spent most of my life. I love it a great deal. I always enjoy showing the city and its “secrets” to my clients and Pagina 7 foreign friends, I feel very proud. I must have already told a thousand times why Via Senzanome (road without a name) is called just that, probably embellishing the story from time to time. Old Dutch friends are surprised sometimes at how over the years I have assumed “Italian” habits, and how by now I speak Dutch without a specific origin. Tell the truth; are you more Italian or Dutch? Ehm, - after a slightly embarrassing silence - often when I'm in Italy I feel very Dutch, however when I'm in Belgium I feel rather Italian, and then.... when I'm in Holland I feel very Belgian. A bit of a mixture I suppose … Now already 8 years in Belgium... Yes, 8 years now, although alternating with short stays in Holland, Sweden, and also a short “return” to head office in Italy. Well, I still remember when Vivanet called me in August 2001 with the request to open a branch office in Belgium for FAAC. I was immediately really keen on the idea. I arrived in Brussels with just a credit card and laptop in my case. I had to begin invoicing in January 2002. I had to find offices, a warehouse, staff, everything, in 4 months, make the first stock order, etc. The adrenaline was flowing fast, especially when, just before Christmas, “I arrived in Brussels with just a credit card and laptop in my case. I had to find offices, a warehouse, staff, …..” Illustration of the plan of the FAAC Belgium office - 2002  
  • 3. FAAC Inside N° 0002/2009 we were still working hard, installing the structures in the warehouse, heating, blinds, office furniture, and even the server. All my work was still on the laptop, so I was glad to be able finally to make a back-up. The historical center of Bruges However, a few hours before turning on the server my laptop was stolen from my desk by one of the many outside workers in the company, we never found out who it was, so we had to reconstruct everything during the Christmas week, the blackest week of my working life. Anyway, in the end we began the invoicing in the first week of January, as agreed... Then the move to Bruges, after the first years of the Vanhalme purchase. For me it was sad having to take down the structure of Heist-opden-Berg, we had a good team, strong and combative and unfortunately we couldn’t save anyone. Bruges: Beghinaggio So I am very glad that Annie De Gelas, who is now helping us in the Waterloo office, came back to us two years ago. Anyway, working in Bruges with the people of ex-Vanhalme, makes me feel very good. Apart from the city of Bruges, which is a real gem, I really like this part of Flanders. People are very open-minded, entrepreneurial, which can be seen also in the spirit with which the company has established itself on the Belgian market dominating the market of automatic gates. In Belgium, Vanhalme has always been synonymous with striving for quality, a union between knowledge of the market and in-depth technical know-how, but also a very strong personal relationship with clients. Bruges: tower of the church of Our Lady       Thus it has gained nearly a 40% share of the market. In the early years of the takeover, due to the great boost it gave to the competition on the market, this share suffered a bit, but in recent years it has been picking up again. Pagina 8 It has been a success story thanks to more than 20 years of hard work. From the start a lot has been due to the charisma of Mr Gaston Vanhalme, who, by the way, I am still in regular contact with; he is now over eighty years old, and still highly spirited and especially brave. But the success of Vanhalme is certainly due to the great professionalism, and extraordinary commitment of a person such as Paul Van Hecke, together with others like him, with the teamwork spirit of a close-knit group of colleagues, including several that have been in the company since the 80's or even longer. People very open to innovation and the new needs of a multinational group, but at the same time intent on keeping the habits and customs of a family business. For example, the habit of shaking hands when coming into the office every morning: all FAAC Benelux colleagues go around the company to say hi to each other, a laugh and a joke, and off to work. I quite like that! That's the way to maintain the team spirit. In recent months, as first foreign branch office of the Group, we implemented SAP in our administration. We all know how demanding an operation of this type can be, it takes a lot of time and patience, by all the collaborators if you don't want to lose too much of the service quality. It is tiring for everyone; you really need to be cool under stress. Well, although the work is still not fully finished, we can say that we have been able to avoid the worse trouble; of course also thanks to the support we got from the IT team at Zola Predosa. So, I consider it one of my duties to ensure that this habit is not lost; on the contrary, I would like to be able to enhance  
  • 4. FAAC Inside N° 0002/2009 Pagina 9 would like to be able to enhance it. I think that after all there is no entrepreneurial success without a fundamental spirit, a culture that makes us feel involved together on a mission, regardless of what part of the world you work in, or what department. Each person is made very aware of their responsibilities, this in particular is the advantage of belonging to a multinational group such as FAAC. With well-formulated and delegated responsibilities at all levels, but in a context where the human factor can be felt. You have also done a few stints in Holland, Sweden and Italy: why? After the takeover of Vanhalme my position was immediately clear. I had to be flexible in a corporate strategy for Benelux that had to come together along the way. I was rewarded well in terms of very interesting and educational experiences in other countries. Especially in 2005, in Sweden, it was exciting to be put in charge of scouting that resulted in the takeover of DAAB. The months spent in FAAC Scandinavia with the Director of the local company Elwyn Mandley showed me in particular how outside Italy the company could gain a wealth of know-how in market areas different to those most widespread in Italy. She's happy to see you... Yes, because when I come back she knows we'll be going running together in the hills tomorrow. My dog, a mongrel with a bit of greyhound in her, really looks forward to that. We both love running in the hills; it's like a short holiday. What's your goal? To run the ROME marathon, starting out in the April sun from the Colosseum through the streets of Rome with a team of FAAC colleagues from all over the world! I know Will Walker (note from the editor, head of FAAC UK) is up for it, Paul Van Hecke is already warming up, but there are sure to be a lot more! Then we wish Erik well with his ambitious plans, and, after saying goodbye, let him get back to his family. “I think it is very important for FAAC to be able to integrate people well, the human asset, even those beyond the boundaries of our Group. Erik running with his dog in a race I think it is very important for FAAC to be able to integrate people well, the human asset, even those beyond the boundaries of our Group. Of course that means sometimes having to get used to other ways of communicating and seeing things, disputes are bound to crop up, but that doesn't mean they have to be avoided. On our arrival at Bologna airport, his wife Anna Maria and children David and Silvia, and their dog Doris, are waiting in the lounge. The dog is excited.  

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