It has been six months since Auke van der Meulen, Durk Valk and Eric Martens, the founders of Get There, officially handed over leadership and share ownership to Niels van Bostelen and Frank Hoving. Since then, together with remaining shareholder Nico Kluin, they have been at the helm of the Leek-based company. A good time to talk about their experiences so far.
Niels and Frank both come from within the own ranks of Get There, the company that since its founding in 1999 has grown into a major player in the Northern Netherlands market for high-quality ICT services. Technically, it was a management buyout. They themselves prefer to speak of a generational change. Simply because the baton was deliberately transferred from the old to the new generation.
'Auke, Durk and Eric felt it was important that the successful course they have been on for the past 22 years could be continued with their own people,' Niels explained. 'Throughout the entire process we tried together, including with the help of the NOM, to shape the transition as well as possible. There was a mutual favor factor. Of course, quite a lot has changed for us over the past period. After we put our signatures last September 23, we were after all ultimately responsible. And that's how it felt at the time. The switch went immediately.
Not a moment uncomfortable
Frank nods in agreement. At the same time, he emphasizes that a sense of responsibility has never been lacking. 'That applies to everyone within Get There, by the way,' he says. 'But really being responsible and everything that comes with it, yes, that is different. Yet we haven't felt uncomfortable for a moment. Such a generational change doesn't happen logically overnight, either.'
Niels joined Get There in March 2015. Before that, he worked for seven years at a large ICT service provider as an Account Manager, also in the Northern Netherlands. 'But that company had changed so much over the years that most work was organized from the Randstad,' he says. 'As a result, it was no longer the club I had once chosen. In my search for something else, I came in contact with Nico Kluin. We immediately had a click. At the time Nico was solely responsible for commerce within Get There and suddenly that had doubled. What particularly appealed to me then, and still does, is the northern character. Get There is a real northern Dutch company. A company with mainly clients and employees from the three northern provinces. Besides the client portfolio, this is also reflected in the mentality, attitude and behavior of employees. They are reliable, down-to-earth and a deal is always a deal. During job interviews we carefully check whether people actually fit into that culture.
Until about four years ago, Get There's success was based primarily on two areas of expertise: Business Solutions to manage projects and IT Solutions to develop and manage software through Java and Microsoft technology. While Get There was very successful with these, there was a constant search for new growth markets. This is how the idea of Data Solutions was born.
'In 2018, I was approached by Durk Valk,' Frank looks back. 'He told me that Get There wanted to set up a Data Solutions business unit and wanted to explore my role in it. I didn't have to think long about that. My then employer, where I had been active at the time in the field of data migrations for about ten years, was itself in an acquisition process and that already made me think about my future. Discussions with Durk also revealed that it was possible to spin off Data Solutions either inside or outside Get There. So eventually I also became an entrepreneur. But not just as owner of Data Solutions, but of the big picture.
They like the entrepreneurship, that much is certain. Niels emphasizes that managing director and co-shareholder Nico Kluin plays a major role in this. 'With his experience and history within the company, he really fulfills a mentor role. He is a more than valuable bridge between the previous generation and Frank and me. Without Nico, I would never have done it either.' Frank adds, "You can have so many coaching conversations beforehand about what entrepreneurship means, but Nico is it down to his deepest fibers. A born entrepreneur we learn from every day.'
How would Niels and Frank characterize themselves as leaders? For example, do they approach things differently than their predecessors? 'Of course we give it our own schwung and are constantly exploring how we can design things better and smarter,' Niels argues. 'To my mind, we are slightly more informal in our way of leadership. That also has to do with the fact that many of our colleagues are of the same generation as us. People with almost the same needs around professional and personal development. In addition, authoritarian leadership is not for me. It also doesn't fit the culture of the company. When I came here, I was immediately given a lot of freedom. Daring to relinquish control and responsibility is also what I really strive for myself.'
Employee autonomy is also paramount in Frank's management style. He wants to be of service to his colleagues, he says. I am convinced that this is the way to bring out the best in people. Giving each other room to develop. So we now have what we call a good conversation with all employees individually; reflecting on the past period and looking for opportunities, motives and ambitions. Being and staying in contact with each other. We also find it important to ask our colleagues for their opinions on how we do things as executives. After talking to everyone, we try to find a common thread. The goal is to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable and can be successful. An important task we gave ourselves from the beginning.'