New Division President: Jeroen takes over from Lieven
Don’t expect a sudden change of style but more of a soft transition because the new Division President is intimately familiar with the workings of the company. After 8 years as Operations Director, Jeroen De Temmerman is taking over from Lieven Malfait.
A Look back
Lieven, you’ve been Unilin Insulation’s Division President for 33 years. What are your thoughts looking back?
Lieven Malfait: “That’s a tough opening question. Definitely with a sense of pride. We’ve been able to accomplish quite a bit in those 33 years. When I started there were something like fifty people working in Insulation - and only in Desselgem. Now we have a workforce of over one thousand employees in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and the UK. I think we’ve come a long way since then.”
What are you most proud of?
Lieven: “Of the people around me. In the beginning there were just five people in charge of the company. They all stayed on until their retirement. That says a lot. People have always been Unilin Insulation’s strongest asset. I’m also proud of a number of takeovers. In 2005 we acquired one of our biggest Dutch competitors. That gave us a tremendous boost.”
Do you have any regrets?
Lieven: “I do, actually. A number of years ago we missed out on a key takeover. It’s something I won’t forget anytime soon. We had invested a great deal of effort into the file but a difficult economic climate forced us to briefly put our plans on hold. By the time we returned to the negotiation table a few weeks later, it was too late. My team and I had worked on it for months, even during Christmas break. But it wasn’t to be. Still, it’s not in our nature to dwell on setbacks. We take the lessons learned in stride and always look to the future.”
How does it feel to stop?
Lieven: “I always said I’d call it quits at 65. There are many things I still want to do that I haven’t had enough time for these past years, such as travelling to warmer climes and spending time with my children and grandchildren, more golf and tennis. In the future I also want to get in to astronomy again and learn Portuguese. I think I’m perfectly prepared to keep from falling into the abyss.”
How is the transition going between the two of you?
Jeroen De Temmerman: “It’s been underway for a while now. Obviously I know the company really well. Meanwhile I’m involved in all major projects so I’ll be up to speed as soon as I have ultimate responsibility. Recently I’ve also visited a number of major customers abroad to get acquainted.”
Lieven: “Those contacts are very important. Not just with customers but also with raw materials suppliers. I have cultivated those relationships in recent years. Now it’s up to Jeroen to do the same.”
Is it a soft transition?
Lieven: “Yes, it is gradual. Jeroen has been a part of our company for some time, he holds an MBA (Master in Business Administration) and I’ve seen him grow in his role over the years. He’s perfect for the job.”
Jeroen, has it always been your ambition to take over the helm?
Jeroen: “It’s not as if you wake up one morning thinking: I want to become Division President. It’s a process. I have taken on more and more responsibilities over the years. After a while your interests extend beyond your own responsibilities and you develop an affinity with different parts of the company. Hearing about Lieven’s retirement plans got me thinking.”
Are there differences in leadership style?
Lieven: “Naturally Jeroen will handle things differently. But I don’t think there are any fundamental differences.”
Jeroen: “I agree. I think it’s important to stay authentic so it’s not as if I’ll start behaving differently in my new role.”
What are the hallmarks of a good business leader?
Jeroen: “One of the most important characteristics is the ability to motivate people and help them grow. I always tried to do this as operations director. As a manager it’s also your job to get all noses pointing in the same direction so you can all work towards the same goals. That’s a challenge in a growing company. And naturally you also have to place the right emphasis in your strategy. Where do you want to be at any given point? Sometimes you have to trust your gut feeling.”
Let’s look to the future. Jeroen, what are your ambitions with Unilin Insulation?
Jeroen: “We are a strong company with a solid foundation but we must keep growing. We can do this by determining what additional products we can market and which new markets we can explore. We can also grow from a geographical standpoint, for instance in Eastern Europe.”
Does your growth plan include concrete objectives?
Jeroen: “We want to double our turnover in five years’ time. That’s ambitious but based on the results in recent years it’s certainly not impossible.”
Lieven, what is the one single piece of advice you’d like to give Jeroen?
Lieven: “Surround yourself with competent people. No man does it all by himself.”
Are you planning on visiting Desselgem from time to time?
Lieven: “I may drop by when I’m in the neighbourhood but I have no intention of playing father-in-law and checking up on things. I have every confidence I’m leaving Insulation in capable hands.”
You two clearly get along.
Lieven: “Definitely. We work very well together and we share the same standards and values.”
A textbook succession.
Lieven: “You might say that (laughs).”