Interview Marinka Nooteboom in Financial Newspaper in connection with 135th Anniversary
Former banker finds second career in heavy transport
This week trailer manufacturer Koninklijke Nooteboom Group celebrate their 135th anniversary. Three days, starting on Thursday, have been allocated to commemorate this anniversary. No doubt it will be a joyful occasion because the company is back on track.
It was a remarkable transition in 2011. At the age of 39 financial specialist Marinka Nooteboom switched from the world of asset advice to that of heavy transport. No more lunches with wealthy clients discussing investment categories, but talking to tough men about low-loaders, pendle axles and abnormal transport.
Nooteboom was on a free-lance job at ING when she heard that the Koninklijke Nooteboom Group in Wijchen had appointed an interim Director. The trailer manufacturer, led by her father and uncle, was not doing well. Due to the economic crisis in 2010 the turnover of €190m during the good times had gone down to just €70m. They suffered a loss of just over €8m; the workforce had shrunk from 700 to 350 employees. And there was unrest in the management too. Hence the decision to appoint an interim Director from outside the family.
No obligation, but a feeling
Nooteboom had a choice to make: to stay in the world of high finance or to make the transition to the family business that builds special trailers for the transport of cranes, excavators and windmill rotor blades. She decided to choose for the family business: ‘I thought the experience that I had gained in the financial sector would be useful in our dealings with the banks.’
She stresses that she was under no obligation to join the company in Wijchen, ‘but I felt the need to do something.’ She knew the company in Gelderland well, because as a member of the fifth generation she had a seat on the Supervisory Board. So she was not completely ignorant about the business of trailers that are pulled by a tractor and used for abnormal, heavy transport.
Welding robots and 3D-printers
Marinka was going to take a temporary position in management – staying in the background, working alongside the interim Director – but after six months she did not want to leave. Early in 2012 she became the first woman to take the helm at Nooteboom. She was very impressed with the dedication of the employees to the product. ‘I never encountered this in the banking sector.’
She made changes in the organisation. She wanted more entrepreneurship within the company. ‘I encouraged our people to follow more training courses. The professionalism within the Nooteboom Group needed to increase.’
The number of engineers nearly doubled to 35. ‘Innovation in this sector is happening extremely fast’, she says. ‘We are now working on welding robots, 3D-printers and new composites, i.e. materials made up with various components. The transport sector will have to deal with developments such as HGV’s driving in convoy (also called platooning) and electric driving. This will somehow have consequences for companies such as Nooteboom.’
‘This year the Nooteboom Group hopes to break through the turnover ceiling of €100 million’
Open Day 3000 visitors
This week the Koninklijke Nooteboom Group celebrate their 135th anniversary. The event is spread over three days, starting on Thursday. Major transport companies, crane hire companies and other business relations are given the opportunity on Thursday to attend a seminar about ‘innovations and trends in the transport sector’. On Saturday they expect 3000 people to visit the Open Day.
No doubt it will be a joyful occasion, because the company is back on track, which is partly due to the positive economic conjuncture. Customers from the construction sector and energy sector have the confidence to invest again. After years of spending cuts the transport operators are ready to replace their vehicles. This year the company, now with 400 employees, expect to break through the €100m ceiling.
The niche market on which the company is active still has very few new players. In the Netherlands, Broshuis from Kampen, is a serious competitor. Across the border in Germany there are a number of competitors too. According to Nooteboom the big trailer manufacturers such as Krone and Schmitz are not interested in this part of the market. They are committed to produce in bulk and according to Nooteboom the transport of huge cranes is too specialised for them. ‘Custom-made products are what the customer always wants from us. Every centimetre in height counts, because a trailer and its load must be able to pass through tunnels and under viaducts.’
On the medium term Nooteboom sees two important challenges. The hardwood in the floor of the trailers must be replaced by bamboo to make them lighter and more durable. And the trailers should be designed to be even more versatile than they are now.
‘The dedication of our employees to the products is something I never encountered in the banking sector’
Strangely enough Brexit, the impending withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is not a problem. Nooteboom’s turnover from the United Kingdom amounts to €20 million annually which means the British market is important for the company. But to date the upcoming Brexit has only revitalized the British market.
In the immediate future Nooteboom’s expertise gained in the past at Van Lanschot and ING will be useful. The financial basis of the organisation must be strengthened. Only a few years ago the equity capital fell to 5% of the balance sheet total and that is not enough for a capital-intensive company such as Nooteboom. According to the CEO the solvency, including guaranteed equity, has increased to 26%. ‘Financially things are improving’, Nooteboom adds. ‘In 2015 we invested in a coating installation and our office building. We were able to pay for these from our own funds.’ She did not need to call upon the firm’s bank ABN Amro.