This year Rob Wagenborg takes off the mantle of board membership and concludes a 32-year career at Royal Wagenborg. An interview with Rob, on one of his last days as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). About highlights, important Wagenborg innovations, his vision and plans for the future.
32 years Wagenborg in retrospect: what would you say were the highlights?
“Wagenborg has experienced several memorable milestones in the past decades. For instance, the expansion of our business activities in the offshore industry with the introduction of vessels Arcticaborg and Antarcticaborg in the Caspian Sea or more
recently, the ‘Walk to Work’-vessel Kroonborg for NAM/Shell UK. Or the acquisition of Kramer Transport in 1985. This marked the beginning of our activities in the craning and heavy transport sector, the oil and gas industries AND together with the privatisation of WPD contributed to getting back onto our feet after the mid-80s crisis. In a short time we grew considerably and created our own room for investment. Not only for our shipping division, but also for intended expansion on land through the acquisition of Reining, Lommerts, Van Wezel, De Groot, Klomp, Team Heavy Lift, Foxdrill, Labie, the stevedoring companies Eems Dollard Scheepvaart and Veem & Factor, the terminal in the Eemshaven and Royal Niestern Sander Shipyard. Eventually we were able to expand as a company and improve ourselves in terms of knowledge and attitude by tapping into a wide and deep range of services with our clients, and to strive for complete logistical solutions.”
How will Wagenborg again surmount this crisis?
“When the last crisis made its entrance in 2008, the company was already up and running and had spent years operating in a wide range of projects – both on water and on land, both with horizontal and with vertical transportation, within the oil/ gas and dredging industry. We monitored our clients closely and developed beautiful new solutions such as floatels and ice management. Eventually we were able to compensate the first part of the crisis with
revenues from our non-shipping activities. For shipping the market was the most adverse. If you view the crisis as a nine-year long tunnel, then this provided us with air mid-tunnel and gave us the opportunity to settle our investment commitments. Looking back on my time at Wagenborg I can admit we went through some hardships, but always in harmony. Times where we had to have all hands on deck. And in reality, in terms of attitude we never quite left this deck. This team spirit is what really defined the fun in working for Wagenborg.”
MY BIGGEST SATISFACTION
“After the new funding and with things settled for the future, I am now able to pass on the beautiful company that is Wagenborg like a baton, as if it were a sports competition that has been in progress for generations.” This as authentic entrepreneurs with the urge for deeds and adventure in the blood."
How would you describe working for Wagenborg?
“Working for Wagenborg is inextricably linked to an attitude where there is nothing to gain without team players, where we see possibilities in each other and are each other’s ambassador. Because of this we have
been constantly capable of being innovative for and with our clients. The atmosphere within our company allows everybody to just be themselves and make optimal use of his/ her talents. Ego and fear are ingenuity’s worst enemies! We wasted no resources
investing in this attitude. It is all about working together, being bold, communicating and focusing on the right tasks. My mother always said: you have to see it and be bold about it; that’s what entrepreneurship is about. I have faith that these characteristics will continue to be put to success in the years to come.”
You created a separate division that implements several Wagenborg activities into multimodal projects: Wagenborg Projects & Logistics. Why was this important to you?
“Before I joined Wagenborg I had the pleasure to work for the management consultant firm Boer & Croon in Amsterdam. My letter of application for this position consisted of only three lines of which the first one read: “I hold interdisciplinary thinking in the highest regard”. It was this line that landed me the position. I carried this view all through my active period, also during the five years I was management consultant for minister Neelie Smit-Kroes at the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. Whenever a project was launched, the first thing I would do was contact every department that was possibly involved, such as finance, information technology, payrolling, education, supervisors, etc. Sometimes one of these parties had already started; in the past it was customary for everyone to go their own way with the changing matter. I managed to break through that individual approach. With the foundation of Wagenborg Projects & Logistics, we operate as one company. This allows us to better immerse ourselves in our clients and come up with more complete, more innovative logistical solutions. You’re not doing an unnecessary duplication of work, create a huge synergy-effect and the contact with each other and with the client is much more friendly, which means it’s much easier to ask each other questions.”
“Ego and fear are ingenuity’s worst enemies!”
MY MOST DIFFICULT MOMENT
“After the new funding and with things settled for the future, I am now able to pass on the beautiful company that is Wagenborg like a baton, as if it were a sports competition that has been in progress for generations.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WAGENBORG HAS TAUGHT ME…
“You can’t do it alone and the human factor is essential in success and job satisfaction. Or, as Bert Buzeman likes to say: “No matter how qualified you are, if there’s no platform for it, you’re nothing.
Efficiency = quality x acceptance.”
What would you say has been Wagenborg’s utmost important innovation?
“Technological innovations and complex logistical solutions are important parts in Wagenborg’s distinctiveness, next to information- and data processing. This is where the focus of the organisation should lie. I am happy with the progress we’ve made in this area. I believe the fact that we are capable of many diverse logistical modalities is a good starting point, because it forces you to think in solutions. Think about the large and diverse fleet of mostly ice-strengthened dry cargo vessels owned by ourselves and our captain-owners, the variety of mobile cranes and heavy surface transport possibilities, combined with Wagenborg Towage AND the storage and transhipment facilities of Wagenborg Stevedoring. Yet the biggest innovative power is not technical, but lies in the mindset of the Wagenborg people. We are not snobs and view each other as equals. This allows us to learn from each other and enables us to come up with creative solutions indiscriminately. Furthermore we have grown substantially over the past decades: from about 200 employees when Egbert and I just started at Wagenborg to over 3000 employees at present. During the hiring process we did look at education but also for important qualities such as: are they a team player, are they bold enough to communicate, are they egocentric or not, are they willing to open up the door to new possibilities. I’m very impressed with the quality and loyalty of our people, but also that of out captain-owners and our clients, with the commitment we feel towards one another. Many of them have been feeling connected to Wagenborg for many years. This proves what you can achieve as a passionate company.”
“Successful teams consist of an interdisciplinary mix of willers, thinkers, feelers and doers!”
Your resignation as CEO came unexpected to many. What motivated your decision to leave?
“I loved the job and I’ve always done it with great enjoyment. For nearly thirty years I was able to shape the strategy and development of the company as CEO, together with Egbert and the Supervisory Board and with regular consultations with management and the Foundation Board. Now a new chapter in Wagenborg history begins. Recently we have closed on a new five-year funding for Royal Wagenborg at the same consortium of banks we already frequented. With this funding we hold a solid position in a difficult market.
Furthermore, we were given the opportunity to boost both the Foundation Board, the Board of Directors and the Supervisory Board. As with many companies, as management we chose to work as a triumvirate where one focuses on general management, the other on finances and a third on the operation. To create a balance within the CB and DB I was asked to transfer from DB to CB. I took the opportunity and haven’t regretted it since. I am standing on the side line yet am still closely involved in the company and its relations. Furthermore it presented me with the chance to have a critical look at the future of Wagenborg and to cooperate constructively. Moreover, better ideas come more naturally when your calendar is less full. And I’ve already noticed that all the things I never got around to doing are now giving me energy.”
What I certainly will not miss
“Having my life being dictated by my calendar, although I never felt bummed when Helga or Josien called me for appointments.”
“As Commissioner I will continue to fully commit myself to Wagenborg.”
What I will miss the most
“The adrenaline of everyone around me, whether it being our own people or clients, captain-owners, subcontractors or fellow companies.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I am very proud of having braved the waves since 1898. As Commissioner I will continue to fully commit myself to Wagenborg. Nonetheless my calendar will be significantly emptier than before and also my dear Jeannette will retire and has to adapt less to my work. This allows me to make spontaneous choices in life, something you wouldn’t do in a professional setting. For decades I have been working and there
are now adventures in the area of other dimensions of existence. I hope to meet many acquaintances often. Finally I would like to express my thanks for the collaborations I had the pleasure to enjoy and for the adventures we got to embark on together, until now…”
Curriculum Vitae Rob Wagenborg
Geert Robbert Wagenborg is born in Delfzijl, in the northern parts of the Netherlands. Next to Delfzijl, he spends his childhood near Rotterdam. His father, Bert Wagenborg, was one of the directors of Wagenborg and very commercially-oriented.
The foundations of organisation and business administration are acquired during his studies of business economics and social economics at the University of Groningen; furthermore, he assisted in the implementation of the traffic circulation plan in Groningen.
After graduation in 1977 and 1978, Rob Wagenborg accepted a position at renowned management consultant firm Boer & Croon in Amsterdam. He later exchanged this position for the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, at the department of organisation and information; here he acted as a consultant for Neelie Smit-Kroes, minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management at that time, and assisted in privatising department parts and change-management.
Rob Wagenborg was introduced to the family business as director of the recently acquired Kramer Transport BV, situated in Schoonebeek and Hellum atop the oil and gas fields. The company’s main line of business was in service of NAM and included cranes, special transport, tank transport, high pressure vehicles, explosion free forklifts and drill pipe yard management.
Together with his cousin Egbert Vuursteen, Rob Wagenborg is appointed management member of Wagenborg Holding and with this succeeds his father Bert Wagenborg, amongst others. Under administration of Rob and Egbert, Wagenborg evolved from shipping company to full-service logistical service provider and offshore specialist. The acquisition of e.g. Lommerts, Van Wezel, Reining, Veem & Factor and EDS provided Wagenborg with the necessary authorisation for both horizontal and vertical surface transport and enabled complex logistical services.
After 30 years of service, which was mostly spent as CEO of Royal Wagenborg, Rob Wagenborg is taking off the BD-mantle. Nevertheless this is not a final goodbye. Rob Wagenborg will be connected to the Wagenborg family business for at least 5 more years as Commissioner.