The Japanese chemical group Kisuma has had a branch in Veendam since 1997, where very pure magnesium chloride is found in the ground. Marcel Oolbekkink has been working there for almost as long, now as managing director of the factory, which runs 24/7. He sought the optimum between the Japanese long-term vision and the European work culture. And called in Allied Forces for that.
Magnesium is the most important raw material for Kisuma’s products, which you often encounter as an additive in the plastics industry. For example, it is used in fire-retardant articles. In that world, Kisuma wants to be a ‘technology leading supplier’, thanks to unique technology, customized production and R&D in co-creation with customers. Serious ambitions, for which Marcel wanted to forge a strong team.
He chose Kisuma at the time because he was “done” with the short-term thinking of listed American companies. “I was curious about the Japanese working method. Kisuma always focuses on the long term. If you have your affairs in order, people will not be shocked by an occasional setback. It feels a bit like a family business, where continuity is always the priority. In the crisis of 2008-2009, which hit us very hard, we might have had to lay off half the staff, but head office decided to keep everyone. We would need them again soon enough.”
Confronting case about communication and cooperation
Until 2015, Marcel reported directly to a Japanese director. Then he gained the confidence to take charge himself, “if he knew it all so well”. From that moment on, the ambition grew to give a small twist to the prevailing culture. “I wanted to look a bit more ahead, seize opportunities. A different type of manager suited this, to work out big ideas for the future. We put together a balanced, international team. And to develop that team, I was looking for a good partner.”
In the many management courses that Marcel had taken, he missed the leadership aspect. And as an alumnus of the non-commissioned officer training, he already felt a click with Allied Forces. This was confirmed by contact with Marieke Plas. “She saw the dynamics and quickly understood what we were up against as a team: Too little interaction between departments, too many islands and too kind to each other. While we had to work more multidisciplinary in order to attract large, new projects. The technology readiness level should not only be determined by R&D, but also by marketing and sales.”
Entirely in accordance with the working method of Allied Forces, interviews were first held with the individual MT members, substantiated by a validated analysis. The MT then moved to a converted water tower near Hardenberg for an off-site. “We discussed a lot there, but we also did a lot: practical assignments. We had to go out in the dark to solve a crisis situation under time pressure and as a team. A beautiful, confronting case about communication and cooperation. That dynamic paved the way for honest conversations about our future state: how we see the company in 2025. And what is needed for that.”
“The collectiveness of such a process gives much more support to actually do it. The people at Allied Forces know very well how to facilitate, only intervene when necessary and then introduce theory. That is experiential learning.”
The effect of the program? “Now we are all doing it together. Not anymore: Operations looks at the existing, R&D at the new. We have made concrete plans ourselves for the must-win battles (strategic objectives to which everyone gives commitment and which are essential for achieving the desired end situation). Together we decide what to do with it: continue, stop, accelerate. I don’t necessarily want to link it to this, but last year we had a top year.”
‘Proof of the pudding’ was a large factory test that Kisuma recently carried out. Marcel: “We brought a product from the laboratory to a production run in one go. In the old situation that would have been virtually impossible. But now we have explicitly involved all departments from the start. The importance of this project was felt everywhere.”
“If you know what the assignment is, you can find solutions to interim problems together. We are part of a greater whole. Everyone knew the plan, not just their own role in it. It wasn’t easy at all, but the test was successful. Lab, production and sales have worked closely together and involved the customer. We act as one team. The product is custom made and is now being optimized further.”
The Allied Forces philosophy is alive and well at Kisuma. And Marcel would like to spread it further in the company. “It has to stick, otherwise the entire exercise would not be sustainable. We would like to continue the program with the MT and staff in the second half of the year. And I know that some departments are very curious.”
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