A family business gives you the opportunity to actually do something with your own ideas. That is, according to Hendrik Meijer, CEO at Meijer Group. 'Compared with multinationals, where you often have to work within frameworks, our company allows a lot of freedom.'
They have a good reputation: in the area as a good employer, and in the metal world as a company that delivers quality and scores high in delivery reliability. Meijer Metal is in the top six of Dutch sheet metal working companies. Meijer Handling Solutions is the global market leader in the KooiReachfork business. The two companies in the northern tip of Friesland on the North Sea coast are managed by a holding company, the Meijer Group. Hendrik Meijer is the fourth generation at the helm of the successful metal companies.
Let me guess. You are the most northerly company in the country with a multi-million turnover and an office in the United States?
'Certainly on the Frisian side of the North Sea coast, but this did not simply come about in the past few years. The company was founded in 1921 in Sint Jacobiparochie as a contracting company. Later, earthmoving work and tractor maintenance and sales were added. The third generation further expanded the activities with mechanical engineering and sheet metal working. Today, the company consists of two professional divisions: Meijer Metal, a strong supplier that manufactures compounds, casings, frame constructions and assembly work for OEMs in the Netherlands and Meijer Handling Solutions, which develops and produces innovative products for use in logistic processes . MHS the market leader in hydraulic telescopic forks, known under the brand name KOOI-REACHFORKS®. My family has always taken the opportunities they saw. We appear to have a nose for it.'
You've been involved in the business from a very young age. Did you ever want to do anything else?
'At first, there was the occasional doubt. The company was much smaller back then. After my technical vocational training, I travelled for a year: backpacking and working in Australia. I learned so much during this year and made such leaps in my personal development; it gave me the confidence to join my father's company. I started in mechanical engineering, which enabled me to further develop my technical side, and then worked my way up through various departments within Meijer. In 2001, we founded Meijer Handling Solutions and turned a mere department into a professional company. I took up the position of director in 2003 and we were able to rapidly strengthen our international market position. We are now known worldwide as a reliable supplier of innovative products that increase the efficiency of the logistics process. I am proud of this achievement.'
So what is your focus at the moment?
'At Meijer Metal, the focus is on balanced production between the various departments; here, too, we are working on shortening the lead time; the products we make are characterised by "high mix and low volume". This results in extra complexity, which we cope with by using Lean and QRM principles. We are also examining how to increase teamwork on certain products or product families within the organisation.'
'MHS has grown incredibly fast in the past decade, comparable with Meijer Metal in terms of turnover. How did we achieve this? By developing new products and further expanding our network of importers. In addition, we have had a sales office in the United States since 2012. We may also start production there in the future, but sales will have to increase further first. Moreover, the Netherlands is a good place to produce as our largest customers (OEMs) are in Western Europe. The focus at MHS is on innovation and capacity expansion so we can shorten the lead time, in order to maintain our position as market leader.'
Where do you get your inspiration from?
'There are plenty of plans and ideas. The company is always on the move. I often visit our customers; they are brilliant OEMs: reputable customers who sell machines and equipment all over the world. This teaches me a lot and inspires me as well! In addition, we are a member of many networks, such as the Lean Innovation Network, NPAL, GPI and the Export Club, where we also acquire plenty of knowledge. I also draw inspiration from "Semco in de polder", a book written by Allard Droste. It is a good example of how to make a company work more efficiently and pleasantly by providing confidence. This is a policy that I feel comfortable with; I immediately ordered a number of copies that are now doing the rounds among the staff.'
How would you describe your management style?
'My style comes closest to coaching leadership. I'm a sociable person, I don't have a directive approach, but often act based on emotions. As the person with final responsibility, I make decisions to stay on course, but I don't do so without consulting with my employees. I think doing it together is very important. You have to create support.'
Do the characteristics of a family business match that style?
'Most definitely. I certainly see characteristics such as focus on continuity, quick decision making and passion for entrepreneurship and the product. Family businesses are usually able to decide faster, there is often money to invest and the atmosphere is often better. I myself regularly make decisions based on feelings rather than calculating every single risk. Over the years, I have learned that I can rely on my instincts.'
What else have you learned after almost 3 years as a CEO?
'The policy that you pursue must be close to yourself, only then can you live up to it. The COO we are looking for must be someone who shows his face on the shop floor. Someone who mingles with the employees, but who can also be decisive and bring people on board during the process of change. Our focus will be more on lead time, which is going to lead to a lot of changes in both organisation and lay-out. We are moving from relatively large departments to smaller departments where we are going to combine operations; these departments will be staffed by teams with team coordinators. This will be a major change for the staff, and one in which support is important.'
Openings for management positions in this part of the Netherlands are few and far between. Sounds like an excellent opportunity!
'And a fascinating job as well, because we want to change our approach. As we are on the eve of this change, now is a good time to get involved. We are investing, have just built a new hall, and at the beginning of next year there will be a new large canteen for all the staff that also includes the motor museum. There is just a sense of dynamism, to which the operations director can add a lot. Another special aspect is that we have two companies that produce in different ways and therefore also each need their own approach. The new director will get considerable freedom, especially in comparison with multinationals, where you often have to work within frameworks. With us, you can truly act on your own ideas.'
What does Meijer have to offer?
'Because the company has a reasonable size, there are many opportunities for growth. We like to see people develop and offer the necessary training to do so. We sometimes say: we offer a career, not just a job. The fringe benefits are good. We also think it is important that everyone enjoys going to work and that we all make sure that we continue to improve.'