So is this corona time the right time to acquire the full interest of a theater technology company? Yes, says Roelof Bakker. He and his Van Raad Investments recently took over the shares in Dutch Theatre Systems & Services (DTS²) from the other shareholder, Participatiefonds Ondernemend Groningen (part of NOM), which invested in the company in 2009. "It has been a beautiful marriage.
He has been asked that question frequently recently. 'Bit of a crazy moment, when the whole theater world is on hiatus. Isn't it?' Roelof Bakker has also asked himself, but always came to the same conclusion: it has been nice, the moment is fine. This is a logical continuation of a commitment of more than ten years. DTS² is strong, can stand on its own two feet, even in these times.'
Of course, Groningen-based DTS² also has to deal with the vagaries of the virus and its measures. But don't confuse its impact with that on the creative sector. 'We do the technology. That's a different story. Empty theaters, on the one hand, mean that theaters barely have income. That may imply that they are cutting back on maintenance and renovation. On the other hand, you see theaters taking advantage of this moment to give their halls a major overhaul. Moreover, multi-year renovation schedules are ongoing.'
The linking of expertise creates ideas that would not surface in individual companies.
Roelof Bakker, Van Raad Investments
VRI Tech Group
That the lingering situation is deeply sad for the theater industry is clear. 'We come across harrowing stories. We think culture is important, this is really not fun. But business-wise, it's not so bad for us. We have almost the entire annual budget for this year already in our wallet. Apart from that: I don't think in the short term. The theater market will really come back. It's difficult, but it will be fine.
DTS² is going to have a bright future.'
And when the time comes, DTS² can go full throttle. That has to do with the special nature of the companies Van Raad gathered over the years. In addition to DTS², they include Integron (hydraulic systems, power systems), Wadcon Automation (industrial automation of machinery), Habeload Lifting Solutions (industrial lifting aids), Hecas Techniek (inspections and maintenance) and Munter (electrical engineering and cabinetry). Working together within the VRI Tech Group.
This is not a random row. The companies reinforce each other on several fronts. For example, they are housed next to each other on the Duinkerkenstraat in Groningen. And in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, Integron and DTS² use the same branch as Munter. 'But we also have branches in Leeuwarden and Emmen. The strength is the cooperation, the exchange of people and knowledge in the field of drive technology, lifting and hoisting technology, engineering and control. In a crisis like the one we are in now, you see that one company is doing less and the other better. The close cooperation allows our people to support projects in one of the better performing companies. We haven't had to lay anyone off.
The business model is working fine, says Bakker. 'The efficiency gains are substantial. The fact that we use each other's housing and resources pays off a lot. All the companies also share their overhead. It's the same administration systems, the same IT. That saves a lot.' Bakker is emphatically talking about different companies. The way they are intertwined can give the impression of being one company with different divisions. 'The different companies are more than that. They all have their own market, their own character, their own management. But they all share their knowledge and are all supported from within the group. We have standardized quite a bit, such as the rates internally. Of course, you don't want the companies to waste time among themselves and compete with each other.'
The vast majority of employees are very happy with the cooperation within the VRI Tech Group. 'They know that their job security is higher. But more importantly, they are more often challenged by technology when working on a joint project. Or because they can fill in at one of the sister companies.'
NOM and DTS²
The collaboration that has emerged is good for more than efficiency and synergy. 'You're talking about innovativeness and risk spreading. The linking of expertise creates ideas that would not surface in individual companies. That can create new products, opening new markets. So that's what happens.'
In essence, the creation of Dutch Theatre Systems & Services is a typical example of that thinking. In 2008, an idea arose in Integron's engineering department to develop a new type of winch suitable for use in theaters. Instead of trying to enter that market himself, Bakker sought contact with Roden Staal, which was already operating in the theater market, to set up a partnership. That thinking, then.
That was in 2008, on the eve of the financial crisis. It proved fatal for the steel company. No reason for Roelof Bakker to abandon the plan. He asked NOM to become a co-shareholder in a new company that was to be set up partly out of Roden's bankruptcy: DTS². A new shoot on the stem, in a totally new market.
That, in turn, fits Roelof Bakker's career, which seems to be a combination of perseverance, interest and chance. 'I've come to love the theater world since DTS². That really came my way by chance. Just like the whole tech sector actually. That's where all my companies move in, but I don't have a technical background myself at all.'
Bakker, who has his roots in Groningen but has lived in Amsterdam for some time, was trained as a business economist. He once joined the then Jac Boiten as a consultant, became impressed with the technical puzzles that were laid there, with the solutions that were always found. With Van Raad Investments, he became the owner and renamed the company Integron.
'That was the start, I also ran the management at that time. But after a while I got involved again mainly in financial restructuring and turnaround consultancy. Very challenging and instructive. Since the end of 2018, I have focused entirely on executive management and investment management.' So now the circle is complete again.
For NOM, this story is a great example of how it should work. Help with the start or growth and when the time comes sell the interest again to help new entrepreneurs. Roelof Bakker: 'It was a nice relationship with NOM, a loyal partner, which is concluded in a nice way.'
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