He is driven by curiosity, sees opportunities everywhere, dares to experiment, believes in lifelong learning, knows his pitfall - a fluttering focus - and thinks about his legacy a little more often. Jeroen Bos (55) has been involved with IT company Bossers & Cnossen in Groningen for a quarter of a century. A few years ago, as CEO, he opted for a striking change of direction in his development: 'Instead of working in the company, I mainly work remotely on the company'.
Even a few years before Covid-19 normalized working from home, Jeroen chose to be in the office much less. To literally distance himself more from his business. 'The reason was the holacracy we introduced then,' the entrepreneur explains. 'That is a dynamic operating model without managers and organized around the work rather than the people. Which means that nobody has fixed positions, but fulfills certain roles based on what needs to be done, which can therefore also change. The idea is that employees in those roles show leadership themselves. But when they asked for my opinion in certain situations, I discovered that they saw my answer as a command. Because I am CEO. So I thought it would be good to take some distance and work more án the company, rather than ín the company.'
Such a holacracy turns out to be quite difficult in practice - more on that later - but Jeroen discovered that this approach at least put him more in his own power. In addition to being CEO, he is above all a navigator and spokesman. 'Let me network, build company awareness and follow my curiosity about technological developments, searching for new opportunities. I like to translate the challenges I identify in society into appropriate products and services. Although I have discovered over the years that too much innovation and side steps do not work well. I am no star in focus - my feelers are all over the place - but I have come to realize that we have to stick to our core business: IT solutions. That creates clarity and gives direction to the people who work for our company.
Flexible business DNA
'The point is that IT touches everything. Everybody works with IT these days, including people who don't work ín IT. And the digital transformation that we are in the middle of is not so much about technology, but mainly about people's behavior. The technology has been around for a long time; it only determines ten percent of the transformation; it is about the other ninety percent: how we deal with it in society. The oldest working generations are not as flexible as the youngest generations, although we have seen through corona that we can suddenly videoconference en masse just fine. As long as the urgency is felt. Being on top of developments myself, I also feel the urgency for Bossers & Cnossen. What we are doing now will be obsolete in five to ten years. So I understand the need for focus, but as an entrepreneur I see above all the importance of an open and flexible company DNA.'
That openness and flexibility are clearly in his own dna. In that respect, it is special that Jeroen has been involved with the same company for so long. What makes him find the challenge again and again at Bossers & Cnossen? 'After a responsible job at a large international company - where I learned the do's and don'ts of structure, hierarchy and processes - it was a conscious choice in 1996 to return to Groningen and build something in this dynamic environment. At the time, I joined Bossers & Cnossen as the sixth employee, motivated to help the company grow. And I succeeded. After three years I became a shareholder and since then I have been creating my own work in a way that allows me to follow my curiosity as well as helping the company develop. A combination that still works, although it remains a learning process to bring others along with my ideas.'
Taking on the adventure
'It is precisely the challenges in daily practice that contribute to my development. I learn from my network - by watching and listening carefully - but especially by doing. Taking on adventures inside and outside the company. Social involvement becomes more important as I get older. What will soon be my legacy? This is partly why I feel involved in education, where I regularly give presentations on digital transformation. It's interesting to note how college graduates ask plenty of questions and try things out, while the higher educated focus on thinking first. Both are needed, although in this rapidly changing world, the courage to experiment is more important than ever. In my own career, especially trying things out has led to development. Not everything turns out well right away, but it always brings something. You can learn from anything.'
As a recent example, Jeroen mentions the desired holacracy, which is proving difficult to achieve. We notice that the need for hierarchy is strongly rooted in people. Especially in uncertain times, such as now with corona, employees look for support in someone who tells them how we are going to do things. While the complex world demands so much more than what leaders can oversee. You need the whole team! Everyone is a sensor and everyone has a role in the whole. I want to make more use of that fact, by making the dna of our company as open and flexible as possible. I firmly believe that this is the future. Holacracy is not yet working out for us as intended, but it does bring movement. And that is important, because these days we don't have jobs for life. This is another reason why I would like to leave behind an autonomous company that can continue to exist independently and where enthusiastic people take on the roles that are needed.
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