Column: Do you ever ask yourself as a director where your passion really lies?
Do you ever ask yourself as a director where your passion really lies?
It’s almost 20 years ago that my brother Jasper and I decided to buy back our family business. Even then, the Van Duuren family had been in the transport business for over a century, but Jasper and I had ended up on the board of a large logistics company for a number of years due to a combination of factors. And, although that in itself was quite lovely and interesting work, we discovered that, as managers at a corporate, we didn’t feel completely at home.
‘We are entrepreneurs, not managers’ is what we said to each other. After that, the decision was quickly made: We left our employer as good friends and decided to re-found Van Duuren. In those 20 years we have grown enormously, and that is what I want to reflect on in this column: managing internal growth.
In particular, if you are a director-owner, managing has some special aspects. One of them is: learning to let go. And that is not always easy. At some point, your organisation is so big that trying to pull all the strings is not something you want anymore. So you have to look for top performers to whom you trust some of those strings. And then it gets interesting. Who are those top performers you are willing and able to put so much trust in? One of the things I have learned over the years is: don’t go looking for a copy of yourself. In fact, you should not look for someone with your profile, but someone with competences that you have less. Someone who complements you by bringing new skills into your company.
That way, you can focus on the things you are good at. I once heard a wonderful anecdote from Jan des Bouvrie’s mother. Jan was terribly dyslexic as a child, but could draw wonderfully. His mother said at the time: ‘We can do two things: either spend a huge amount of time on education in reading and writing, or focus on the talents you are good at: drawing and creativity. She chose the latter, and the rest is history.
To me, this anecdote means that even as a director, you should always stay close to the things where your own passion lies. I often refer to these as the things that make your tail wag. For me, that is sales. If I can trust others with activities I have less affinity with, even in an ever-growing organisation I can continue to focus on what I do best: taking advantage of opportunities, starting conversations and creating value for the company. For me, these things actually come naturally, mainly because I enjoy them so much. I regularly exchange business cards at the gate at the airport. I love the conversation and have an inherent motivation to get to know people and look for opportunities together to make each other stronger.
The trick for your organisation is to have people in all places doing what really gets their tails wagging. It is a much-discussed theme: let people do where their passion lies and they will fly. But as board members, we sometimes forget that we also need to position ourselves in that way. If we in the boardroom really have the guts to let go and ensure that we ourselves do what we do best, ‘managing growth’ suddenly becomes a lot easier!
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