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At Kisuma everyone understands the plan and knows his/her task

The Japanese chemical group Kisuma has had a branch in Veendam since 1997, where extremely pure magnesium chloride can be found in the ground. Marcel Oolbekkink has been working there for nearly as long, now as managing director of the factory, which runs 24/7. He was looking for the optimum between the Japanese long-term vision and the European working culture. He commissioned Allied Forces to assist him.

Magnesium is the most important raw material for Kisuma’s products, which you will find mainly as additive in the plastics industry. It is used in fire retardant products, for example. In this field Kisuma wants to be the ‘technology leading supplier’, thanks to its unique technology, customised production and R&D in co-creation with customers. Serious ambitions, for which Marcel wanted to forge a powerful team.

He chose to work for Kisuma at the time, because he ‘was done’ with short-term thinking of listed American companies. “I was curious about the Japanese way of working. At Kisuma the long haul always comes first. Once you have your house in order, nobody is worried about an incidental setback. It feels a bit like a family business, where continuity always has priority. During the 2008-2009 crisis, which hit us very hard, we maybe should have made redundant half of our people, but the head office decided to keep everyone. We would need them again soon enough.”

Until 2015 Marcel reported directly to a Japanese director. Then he gained the trust to take the lead himself, “as if he knew it all so well”. From that moment on the ambition grew to change the prevailing culture slightly. “I wanted to look ahead a bit more, seize opportunities. Another type of managers would fit better, to develop big ideas for the future. We put together a balanced, international team. And to be able to develop that team, I was looking for the right partner.”

During the many management courses Marcel has followed, he missed the aspect of leadership.
And as alumnus of the non-commissioned officer’s training, he felt there was a click with Allied Forces in advance. This was confirmed through the contact he had with Marieke Plas. “She saw the dynamics and understood quickly what the challenges were within our team: Not enough interaction between departments, too many islands and being too kind to each other. While it was necessary to start working more multidisciplinary to be able to attract large, new projects. The technology readiness level will need to be met not only for R&D, but also for marketing and sales.”

Entirely according to the working method of Allied Forces conversations were first held with the separate MT members, substantiated with a validated analysis. After that the MT went to a refurbished water tower near Hardenberg for an off-site. “We had a lot of discussions there, but we did a lot there too: practical assignments. We had to set out in the dark to solve a crisis situation as a team under time pressure. A wonderful, confrontational case about communication and cooperation. These dynamics paved the way for honest conversations about our future state: how do we see the company in 2025. And what do we need to get there.”

“The collectivity of such a process provides a lot more support to really go and do it. Allied Forces’ people know very well how to facilitate, only intervene when necessary and only then bring in the theory. That is experiential learning.”

The effect of the programme? “We now do it all together. No longer: Operations looks at what is already there, R&D to what is new. We have transformed the must-win battles (strategic goals to which everyone commits and which are essential to reach the desired end goal) into concrete plans ourselves. Together we decide what we do with it: go on, stop, accelerate.
I don’t necessarily want to connect it to this, but last year we had a peak year.”

‘Proof of the pudding’ was a large factory test Kisuma had 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 explicitly involved all the departments from the start. The interest of this project was felt everywhere.”

“Once you know what the assignment is, you will find solutions together for occurring problems. We are part of a bigger picture. Everyone knew the plan, not only one’s own task in it. It was definitely not easy, but we passed the test. Lab, production and sales intensively worked together and involved the customer. We act as one team. The product is custom made and is further optimised now.”

The philosophy of Allied Forces is very much alive at Kisuma. And Marcel would like to spread it further within the company. “It needs to take root, otherwise the whole exercise will not be sustainable. In the second half of the year we want to follow up on the programme with the MT and the staff. And I know some departments are extremely curious.”