Interview with Erik Paul Kooijmans (CEO FAAC Benelux)
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,
sales office - Italy; the company's
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
countries pass by quickly,
alternating with cultivated
fields, woods, and meadows
with cows grazing.
Why this interest in an
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
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,
then.... when I'm in
Holland I feel very Belgian. A
bit of a mixture I suppose …
Now already 8 years in
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
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
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
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.
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
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
It has been a success story
thanks to more than 20 years of
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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.