This year is the 90th anniversary of Raben Group. Can you think of some things that you did right in the last 20 or 25 years?
ER – I think one of the most important moments in my life was on Christmas Eve in 1989, when I told my parents that I go to Poland. It was the time of changes in Eastern Europe, and I wanted to be a part of that. My dad was looking for somebody who could go to the East, to set up a business there. When I was 22 I moved to Poland and I think that was the best moment in my life to make that decision, because everything started there. It was the new beginning of the company. In 1991 the company was already 60 years old, run by my grandpa – the founder, and later on taken over by my parents. It was still a very small company in the Netherlands, with c.a. 30 people employed at that time. When I took that opportunity to go to the East, it was a way to operate in a totally new environment and we started to expand our company. And now, 30 years later, we did not only do something in the East of Europe, but we have expanded as well into the West of Europe. After these 90 years, it’s an enormous development. But the first step was made in the early 90s, when I made this decision to go to Poland.
Nowadays when you look back, have you ever foreseen that this would be such an international company?
ER – You start somewhere but you don’t know exactly where it ends. In the 90s, it was hard to imagine that this part of Europe would be so economically strong and so successful, and that we would take part in it. Poland joined NATO and the EU. It was something which was not in the agenda of any entrepreneur in the early 90s. Nowadays it’s so normal to be a part of this big Union. At the same time I think to myself that we as younger people, and especially the youngest one should think about how much value is today to be in Europe, to be part of this Union. We have to take care of it. I’m definitely a European guy. I’m not a typical Dutch guy, I am not a Polish guy, I’m a European guy and I believe in Europe. However, we all have to fight to keep Europe in the shape it is today. Its democracy is not only freedom that I’m allowed to do everything I want. Democracy is that we take responsibility and keep those values alive. We are United Europe and if we want to have peace in Europe, we have to work on it very hard.
How many people do you employ now? And how was it in the 90s?
ER – Nowadays we are the market leader and Raben Group employs about 10,000. In 1991 we had 35 people in the Netherlands and after one year we had 12 persons employed in Poland. So by the end of 1991 probably we had about 50 people employed.
What is the best sign of success for you?
ER – I feel satisfaction and pride when I see that people develop inside the company. People start their journey with Raben somewhere, and step by step grow within the company. Later on they run a department, location or a country. Then I’m very proud of what they have achieved. This is a big satisfaction for me because I like that we have good people around, who are developing from the inside. We are the business in which we need to understand and pay heed to details. In logistics, the devil is in the detail and those who understand this will succeed. It’s very difficult to do the right execution because it all depends on people, if they are happy to be so close to the business every day and if they can contribute to the success. Our business is being very close to the people, understanding operations, contributing to your teams, and above all, it is about being very close to the customers. We are selling a promise and this promise must be delivered. This is a totally different approach. People, who are focused on services and like to work with customers and serve them will be very good at developing their part of the business.
The best example of your success is sticking to some values that are always present?
ER – The person who reflects the Raben values has a very good base for being in Raben Group. If you have a person who follows the values and is not making the numbers, it’s a difficulty. But if you have a person making the numbers, but not having any values, it means that we have a big problem. Because we believe in Raben values, as a culture of the company. Values are our signposts that show us how we want to run the company today and in the coming years. Second important thing is that we need to understand the operations. This is the guarantee of success. And the third crucial thing is that we need to be able to serve the customers. The customer is central in our company. If we put all these three elements together, then we will be successful. We have a very simple saying for that: we call it ‘People with Drive’. It’s like a football team. If you have people who are fitting to each other, let’s say 80% good people, they will win. If you have three good players in the football team and the rest is rather not performing well or not even considered, these three persons will not make this football team successful. But it’s the team that makes the success, the team which drives us, and we do respect it.
I am honoured and proud to be the leader of 10,000 people, that I can be the CEO of Raben Group and derive satisfaction from working with people and customers. This is really something for me. If I could start my life over, I would like to have the same opportunity, I would like to have this chance in my life.
Can you say that some of these values might have been inherited from your father or from your grandfather?
ER – I’m sure the entrepreneurial blood, is coming from the previous generations. My father was an entrepreneur, so was my grandfather. At the same time, I must say that the brothers and sisters of my father have the same DNA. One has a farm, one has a shop, the third one is the co-founder of the supermarket chain. Nowadays they are older, but when they were active in their professional life, they all run businesses. So yes, that’s in our blood.
As soon as you achieve one goal, for example becoming the leader in Poland, you want to go further. For example you’ve started to build your own transport network in Germany.
ER – I will always go wherever it’s dusty or mud, or there’s any difficulty. I go wherever you have to build or create a lot. I did it in Poland with different networks: pallet distribution network, fresh distribution network, or a groupage network. And the same scenario was copied into Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary, the Baltics, Ukraine. I was especially active in those markets as well. However, those markets have been developing in a way that I could hand it over to much better people than myself. Now I’m active in Germany. We have been building up a transportation network there. In 2011 we made the decision to go for a large rollout of the network and today we see that it really works. Nevertheless, it was a hard job because the German market is very competitive. It’s quite a challenge to build up the network there but I’m absolutely sure that’s the right decision for the Group. Germany is in the centre of Europe. 80 million consumers, the biggest export nation. This country is simply very important for all of us. Around 50% of our international volumes are from all the other countries such as the Netherlands, Poland, Czechia or Hungary, every second shipment goes to Germany or comes from Germany.
What about the speed of decisions? Raben is very keen on being agile, or reacting very fast. That’s also in your DNA?
ER – Not making decisions is the biggest mistake you can ever make. The market goes fast and if you want to catch up with others, then you need to be faster in making decisions. There’s so much speed in the world. We should think about how to make Europe competitive versus the other parts of the world. If you have to run a marathon and you have a backpack with 20 kilos of stone inside, you will not run it fast and quick enough to be the winner. But you have to get agile, get rid of the 20 kilos of backpack, 20 kilos of your fat, get slim and get the best shoes and run, and train, and be the agile guy to win. We as Raben – we do not want to have the backpack of 20 kilos, but we want to run the marathon in Europe, and we want to be the first at the finish line. We believe that the European environment can give us a chance to be better than other players on the market.
You are celebrating now the 90th anniversary of Raben Group. How do you imagine your company in the next 10 years?
ER – In 10 years we will be stronger in Europe, we will be in several new countries and push our company further. With this great team that we have, I am sure we will achieve some ambitious goals. Our family business today and in 10 years will be thinking about how to develop in areas outside of Europe. We will continue to expand our geographic portfolio, countries, not necessarily the product and segment portfolio as we believe we are in the right segments at the moment. We will continue to work on innovation as we want to differentiate ourselves from the competition as a more innovative company. We will be flexible, maybe even more flexible and faster than now. I do want to keep the DNA of the Group that we call “People with Drive” at the same level we have today.
Sure. Do you think that logistics is sustainable?
ER – It is not even a question of whether it is or not. The answer is “absolutely yes.” We want to set trends on the market in terms of sustainable development, not only by having eco-friendly trucks, but also through all the processes we use, so that they are as environmentally friendly as possible. We will continue to realize our CSR strategy. This is a must. The planet we leave behind when we die is where our children and grandchildren will live. If we don’t take care of it, their lives won’t be easy. It is our responsibility, it is our duty. In the meantime, there will also be customers who will be ready to join us on this sustainable path of business. I think that we are a good partner as ‘your partner in logistics’.