Duco Kriele and Kees-Jan van der Made stepped down and sold part of their shares. In other words: the directors of Wiertsema & Partners are going for a Smart Exit. A successor has now been found in Johan van der Ploeg. 'I get all the time I need to get to know the company and the market.'
It is October 2019 when Johan van der Ploeg walks into the Wiertsema & Partners building. At the time, he is employed by infra company Roelofs and visiting the Tolbert-based geotechnical engineering firm for a project meeting. Afterwards, he bumps into director Duco Kriele on the stairs. The two get into an animated conversation about Wiertsema & Partners' activities. The meeting made an impression on Johan and, once home, did not let him go.
Of course, he enjoys his job at Roelofs, a real family business he has been associated with for twelve years. As regional manager he is responsible, from the head office in Den Ham, for the five northern provinces. He enjoys the freedom he gets, as well as the challenges the infrastructure projects offer him every day. But still: secretly he is open to a new adventure.
Especially at such a wonderful company as Wiertsema & Partners, a prominent player in Dutch geotechnical engineering. Moreover, Johan had recently read that Duco Kriele and Kees-Jan van der Made were looking around for future successors. Both directors, and also shareholders, were keen to step down. Hence.
After a few nights' sleep, Johan decided to send Duco an app. 'Is it true that you are looking for a successor, and if so, isn't that something for me?' A response was not long in coming. 'That's right. I have a list of a few names in my head and one of them is you.' From that moment on, things moved quickly. After some pleasant conversations, eight weeks after that chance meeting, Johan and Duco shook hands for good. 'Since January 4, 2020, we form the management of Wiertsema & Partners together,' says Johan. 'Duco is going to focus more on Marine Sampling Holland, our sister company responsible for the company's offshore activities and foreign projects. Those international projects are really where his heart is. With my arrival, he can free up more time for that. Kees-Jan is mainly concerned with new developments and is also very active as chairman of the industry association.'
Duco and Kees-Jan sold some of their shares and work one day less a week. A Smart Exit, it's also called.
Johan van der Ploeg
Meanwhile, as director and co-shareholder, Johan has been with the company for over a year. Already he feels like a fish in the water, he says. 'Duco and Kees-Jan indicated that they were not in much of a hurry to succeed me, giving me plenty of time to get to know the company and the market well. I made a conscious decision to go outside with them as much as possible.
There, in the field, you get a good impression of our work and exactly what is expected of Wiertsema & Partners. What particularly appeals to me is the enormous variety of clients. From municipalities and provinces to independent research organizations and private individuals. Every year we are involved in some 3,500 projects.' From infrastructure to geotechnical engineering, it seems, at first glance, quite a transition. 'Basically, they are indeed two completely different fields,' Johan agrees. 'On the other hand: whether it's a road, a bridge or an entire residential area, it's all built on the subsurface.
The crazy thing is, ever since I started working at Wiertsema & Partners I've realized how terribly important it is to do good soil testing. In many projects in road and housing construction, small and large, this is where things often go wrong. Simply because relevant knowledge about the risks in the soil is lacking. Actually, it's quite strange that you only find this out after 25 years of work experience. While I also studied Civil Engineering.'
Johan had only briefly been a director in Tolbert when corona broke out last March. The crisis obviously had an impact on the company, especially the foreign activities of Marine Sampling Holland. It was a shock, of course, but, in his own words, it did not give him sleepless nights. 'Sales for 2020 were lower than projected,' he says. 'But we are a stable and well-run company. We can take a beating.' Open and direct, is how Johan describes his management style. If he doesn't like something or if he thinks things should be done differently, he says so immediately. 'In addition, I give employees a lot of responsibility. I do that with the understanding that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. If you can combine those strengths in a team, often the best things are created.'
Clear division of labor
Johan is satisfied with the cooperation with Duco. More than that even. 'We usually have enough with two words. It runs very naturally. Right from the start there is a clear division of tasks. For example, I immediately became Head of Advice. This means that on projects I advise on various geotechnical, geohydrological and environmental issues. Halfway through the year, Commercial Affairs and KAM affairs, which stands for Quality, Occupational Health and Safety and Environment, were added. Duco is still responsible for pricing. It will take some time before I master that aspect as well. '
As mentioned, Johan was given that time. But how long actually? Does he already have any idea if and when he will definitely take over the company? 'No idea yet, but ultimately it is my goal,' Johan argues. 'Duco and Kees-Jan have sold part of their shares and work one day less a week. A Smart Exit, it's also called. That they are taking a step back is fine by me, two steps will also be fine later, but I really hope that they continue and stay involved for as long as possible. In whatever role. I can still learn a lot from them.'
Smart Exit and the added value of NOM
In the spring of 2019, NOM took an equity stake in Wiertsema & Partners. Even then, it was clear that Duco Kriele and Kees-Jan van der Made, the directors, wanted to liquidate part of their accumulated business assets while remaining active in the company for a while.
'A Smart Exit is nowadays called that,' explains Ruud van Dijk, Investment Manager of the NOM. 'The entrepreneur can then 'secure' part of the value of his company in preparation for retirement or use it to do other 'nice' things. For example, one buys a new house for it, another will invest or invest in other companies. To get that money together, you obviously need an investor. At NOM we come across such funding requests more and more often. Also because in addition to funding, we also bring valuable knowledge. Together we can help the company grow, find and guide possible successors and help organize the eventual transfer of the company. It is especially this combination of funding and organizing that makes NOM a powerful partner in these kinds of projects.
In this white paper you will learn:
- What you have to deal with when you start working with investors
- Differences and similarities between bank funding, subordinated loan and equity capital
- In what ways NOM as an investor can help you
Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.