As per the 1st of January, Steven van Schilfgaarde is the CEO of Royal FloraHolland. A completely different person from predecessor Lucas Vos. Van Schilfgaarde: ”I’m very aware of the fact that I won’t find all the wisdom within myself. I really believe in getting members, customers and employees involved in the decision making process.”
by Arie-Frans Middelburg
We meet Van Schilfgaarde in a small room on the fifth floor of the Royal FloraHolland building in Naaldwijk. The new CEO of the largest flower auction in the world explains that he doesn’t have his own office. Most of the time, he simply takes his laptop to one of the flexible workplaces in the open-plan office and works there among the other employees. Van Schilfgaarde says he likes openness and transparency. But how about when he wants to bang his fist on the table? “Banging a fist on the table isn’t really my style. Not as a way of getting what you want. Within a cooperative, it’s important to get people on board. Otherwise, they’ll vote with their feet”, says Van Schilfgaarde, already revealing his disposition a little. And he adds: “The new generation members joined us for a different reason. They became members for commercial purposes. They demand a good service. I want to be a real service provider.”
Lucas was a flamboyant CEO, a visionary networker and an iron fist in a velvet glove. What kind of leader is Steven van Schilfgaarde?
“You can’t compare me with Lucas Vos. I am my own person. I’m very ambitious and result-oriented. My management style is based on clear choices. I know from many years of business experience, that FloraHolland won’t be able to do everything at once. But when decisions have been made and we reach the implementation phase, I like giving a high level of responsibility to the relevant managers, while directing them towards results. I’m also very aware of the fact that I won’t find all the wisdom within myself. I really believe in getting members, customers and employees involved in the decision making process.”
Everybody says you come across as a bookkeeper?
“I don’t understand that at all. I’ve been CEO with Getronics for 2.5 years. And I’ve always been more than just CFO at Royal FloraHolland, too. I was responsible for the IT portfolio, was involved in the joint venture with FloraXchange and in other strategic business operations. With regards to my people skills, I don’t feel like I’m a bookkeeper either. I’m not just about numbers and small deviations. I do feel more comfortable in small groups than in large groups. But that doesn’t mean I avoid large groups. During the last GMM, people were already saying that I was showing a side of myself they hadn’t seen before. And that’s correct. I didn’t use to have the role of CEO, it was Lucas’ role. But that’s changed now. People will get to know a different Steven.”
Were you surprised to be asked for the position of CEO?
“It might have been a surprise for outsiders. But I was asked by the Supervisory Board and they had known me for a while. I felt very honoured and accepted with great pleasure. We shouldn’t waste any time and make the necessary changes for members and their customers now, but we’ll also have to ensure that they’re on board. We must offer them an environment in which they can operate. Take for example the digitalisation of the plant clocks. That was done too hasty and the communication around it wasn’t great. We’ve got to be more vulnerable.”
Trials for nationwide auctioning have been postponed. Why is that?
“Our main focus for 2018 is on three things. Firstly, successful implementation of Floriday. All plant growers have been migrated, the flower growers are next. We also want to link to new channels. Secondly, we want to improve our day-to-day services. We’ll be increasing the number of containers, trolleys and people and implementing lots of small process changes. We’re also exploring ways to improve how we handle peak days such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Whit Sunday etc. Thirdly, we will finalise the merger by updating the IT of our logistics processes. As a result, we’re postponing the nationwide auctioning trials. It’s technically possible to go ahead with it, but we’d like to focus on other issues first.”
When nationwide auctioning is a fact, which branch is going to be closed? Naaldwijk or Aalsmeer?
“We won’t be closing anything. Looking at the current space requirements of Naaldwijk, Rijnsburg and Aalsmeer, we have a shortage. And if we decide to separate the commercial transaction from the logistic operation, our current space will also be too little, rather than too much. In fact, such a change will lead to an increased need for space, especially cold storage, to ensure faster delivery times.”
Wouldn’t a completely new location be most efficient?
“Starting all over again is out of the question. Everything would have to change. Including infrastructure and the way in which growers and customers work. Everyone is familiar with the current infrastructure. Our logistic infrastructure doesn’t cause any major concerns anyway. We are more efficient than Schiphol. One aspect that could be improved, is our peak capacity. With the clock being linked to the logistic operations, we need a large peak capacity. If we separate those two, we can try to spread out the use of the infrastructure more. We’re already quite effective as it is, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to maintain our current competitive position. But I agree that we could do even better. Effectiveness and efficiency remain important objectives for Royal FloraHolland. It helps in maintaining the Netherlands’ strong position as a global hub. And as a service provider, we will always have to keep an eye on the costs. We aren’t a monopolist. Growers and traders have plenty of options for buying and selling.”
How much importance is the clock still going to have?
“I’m convinced that the clock will remain very important. We’re going to focus on strengthening the clock, as a strong clock is in everyone’s interest. We still need guide prices. I don’t consider the clock old-fashioned at all. I think that bidding is perfectly okay. But we do have to incorporate the clock in the digital world, if we want to strengthen it. I foresee a separation of the moment of transaction and the logistic operation. And there are many new ways of trading: forward contracts, direct trade and long term agreements. We could even consider establishing prices based on supply and demand as calculated by algorithms.”
In addition to strengthening the clock, Royal FloraHolland’s objective is growth. Why?
“Digitalisation is making the world smaller. If you want to stay attractive for growers and customers, you must get the broadest possible supply and the broadest possible demand. That way, you can retain growers and customers. What once started out as a regional market, has now become a European market and will become a global market. From this point of view, it’s important to maintain a strong marketplace.”
Growth and a strong clock at the same time, don’t you think that will clash? Will new suppliers show up, if they’re not allowed to dump their produce, or if they’re always going to be last in line for the auctioning process?
“There are regulations in place with regards to dumping. It isn’t allowed. The order in which products are auctioned, is something we’re looking into. Should someone who supplies to the auction every now and again have the same rights as someone who supplies to the clock on a daily basis? What’s interesting is that Kenyan and Ethiopian growers in particular, supply more regularly to the clock than European growers. If growers want to sell successfully through the clock, experience shows that they’ve got to supply every day in order to build up a good customer base. The auction members will discuss these issues and potential solutions during upcoming meetings. And growth isn’t just about the clock. It’s about the entire marketplace. We need to bring together the maximum supply and the maximum demand, through a number of different transaction methods.”
Are you going to vlog?
“No, I’m going to write columns, both internally and for the Vakblad voor de Bloemisterij trade journal and Floribusiness. Vlogging doesn’t really suit my personality. Vlogs are often very focused on current trends, which means that they rapidly lose their relevance. I’m more interested in columns. I also strongly believe in visiting growers and customers at their companies and in listening to the discussions taking place at this table. I have great confidence that we’ll be able to keep everyone on board. After all, growers and their customers are the reason for our existence.”