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Episode 6: Being part of the puzzle – the international KTR family


Text of the current episode:

Julia Ures: “Hello and welcome back to a new episode of In Sight KTR. We all know that doing jigsaw puzzles has become a huge trend during the pandemic. Today we will talk about a puzzle on a larger scale, namely the KTR company that consists of the headquarters and 24 subsidiaries. I will discuss what it is like to be part of KTR when you are actually not working from the headquarters in Rheine. And our episode is named “Being part of the puzzle – the international KTR family”. For this I have invited two guests. My first guest today is Hans Hagedoorn, Managing Director at KTR Benelux, in the company since 33 years. Thank you for being here today Hans!”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Welcome!”

Julia Ures: “Also with us is Pierre Martin, he is Managing Director at KTR France and he also has been with the company very long, for 25 years. And Pierre thank you for taking time for our podcast!”

Pierre Martin: “Thank you!”

Julia Ures: “Before we addressed the questions that you have sent us via email and our social media surveys, let’s start out with a question that I personally have. We are doing an online meeting today because we can’t actually meet right now. I assume this is a very common situation for you, even before the pandemic. Isn’t it, Hans?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Not before the pandemic. It is something which came up after the pandemic started. We are always travelling to people and travelling around in the Benelux, as far as possible. So this is something we had to learn with…; as the pandemic started. No visits, only viewing in the screen. So, it’s a different way of life at the moment. No, it wasn’t there before the pandemic.”

Julia Ures: “And Pierre, what about you? Was it a new situation?”

Pierre Martin: “Yes it was a new situation for us. Yes, it is a new situation. Yes, I think COVID has excellerated this change of way of doing business also. It is also for us an opportunity to work now with this. Maybe with less visits, but it is in between such, in between the real visit and the telephone. I think it is much than the phone of course. But this is thanks to the plague outside it has excellerated doing business.”

Julia Ures: “Now on to the questions that were sent in by our community. We have 20 minutes time. So that we get an idea of the different subsidiaries: Hans, which one is the smallest in terms of number of employees and which one is the largest?“

Hans Hagedoorn: “I think the smallest will be the two persons office. Probably Pierre, I think it would be Portugal or Spain or Denmark?“

Pierre Martin: „Denmark. The new one.“

Hans Hagedoorn: “Denmark, two people. This is our last subsidiary we got. And I think the biggest is China. Isn’t it, Pierre?”

Pierre Martin: “Yes for sure, I guess, yes. But you have to say that also part of the production is there.”

Julia Ures: “Pierre, the parent company is german. What do you think? How german are the subsidiaries? Do you have to follow many german rules and processes? Or do you add your own touch to it?”

Pierre Martin: “I would say I have my own touch to this. Of course, we have to understand the german way of doing business. And we are close to customers. So we have to translate not only the language between the French customer and the English and German talking people in Germany, we also have to translate the way of doing business. Not only the way of language, also the way how you do business. Also the way…the way you consider the time, the way you do business. It is different. And I do not only the language translation but we do cultural translation between the French customer and our supplier in Germany.“

Julia Ures: “And Hans, how German is KTR Benelux?“

Hans Hagedoorn: “Ähm..not!”

Julia Ures: “Nothing at all?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Although we are the closest subsidiary, I think the cultural difference is still there. Especially the way of talking to people and opening. Finding openings in conversations is different than in Germany. Therefore, I am very happy that we don’t have the contact from Germany into Holland, but we have our own people. And I think this is very important, this one, also our strength for all these subsidiaries, that we can do our business in our own culture.”

Julia Ures: “Both of you talked about cultural differences, that seems to be an interesting topic. What do you think is the biggest difference between the headquarters and KTR France or other subsidiaries, Pierre?”

Pierre Martin: “We are much smaller than the mother company in Germany, so we have to be very flexible. In our internal organization we have to be very flexible for our customers. Everybody here in the company has to do many different things. So, we have 17 people here in France, comparing to the 500 people in Germany. The structure of the company is completely different, so we have to be organized differently.”

Julia Ures: “Could you please give us an example what works different?”

Pierre Martin: “Yes, for example here my staff here, internal people, they also do a part of the logistic part. And in Germany the logistic part is a complete department. Here it is a part of different people doing this. And the same for Purchase. We have many people doing purchasing and in Germany it is one department. But this not only Germany compared to France, it is big companies compared to small companies.”

Julia Ures: “And Hans, the cultural differences. What do you think, how can we imagine what the cultural differences are between KTR Benelux and the headquarters?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “First of all I think the differences between Holland and Belgium are big already. So there it starts already. We have a guy working from Belgium. In the beginning we started doing from Holland, but it didn’t work. It is a different way of thinking, a different way of doing business than we get used to in Holland. And also like Pierre said, I think the big cultural difference is that people speak to somebody in our office from starting up to the offer until the invoice. So, there is no department difference in small subsidiaries. So, I think it works very fine, because you always talk to the same guy. And of course, the conversation is different. I don’t know how is goes in France but we normally start with a cup of coffee and talking about your private situation, and then the business starts. That’s a big difference! I think that makes it also…- people feel themselves comfortable in every meeting you have in this way.”

Julia Ures: “Pierre, what would you say how big is the topic of the language?“

Pierre Martin: “It’s the main topic. So, we want to be close to our customers, so every country has his own way of doing business, and it is not the German way of doing business. So, if you want to be close to the customers in your country, you also have to be from this country. And the best way to talk to French customer is to be a French, because you have some background, your cultural way of doing business which is not the same than in Germany. And as I was just explaining before, the language is not only the words, but the way of being there. Have a cup of coffee for example to start a discussion, that’s the basic, yes, for sure.”

Julia Ures: “Hans, our community sent us the following question: What do you particularly enjoy about the internationality of the company?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “It is fun, because we are all working for the same employer, so we share a lot. We have been together for many years. Many of us have been there for long years, for more than 15 years. We used to meet twice a year. So, we can interchange a lot of things because we face the same problems, problems or whatever you call it. And then we can discuss it without Germany, without the headquarter and find our solution from the still side. You also get the personal relationship which has been built up, especially now in the COVID time, that is the advantage of the disadvantage at the moment. So we speak each other a lot, not physically, but online.”

Julia Ures: “Coffee is very important isn’t it? Hans shows us his cup of coffee. You talked about 15 years of working together with some colleagues. What do you think is the biggest thing that has changed in this 15 years, Hans?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “First of all, 15 years ago I thought I knew everybody in Rheine, and now I don’t, because there are too many people. So, our organization has been growing tremendously, of course. But if you compare it to the past and what is now going on, I think nothing really changed. Of course, we got bigger, we got more people and more subsidiaries. So the group went bigger. But I think we have still the same relationship as we had before.”

Julia Ures: “Pierre, there also might be challenges because of the internationalization. What is the biggest challenge you face when working with the headquarters or your with your other international colleagues?”

Pierre Martin: “The fact that we have many international colleagues, different countries, we learn a lot of the way of doing business. Each country has its own way, I would say. We can pick up some of the ways of doing business from other countries to try to implement it in France, for example for me. And we learn a lot from each other. For me it’s very important to meet people regularly, to see how they are doing business and how the market is changing. And just pick up what is important for me, for the French way of doing business. The organization has changed a lot since 15,20,25 years, I would say. So there is more complexity, more organization and it is even more important to increase good relation between people, to go over the complexity of the organization. The relation and the trust, I would say trust between KTR Germany and the daughter company and sister company is really the key. We can trust each other, and we can help each other.”

Julia Ures: “Hans, I see, you agree? What, for you, is the biggest challenge of the internationalization?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “I think one of the biggest challenges is of course how to handle international customers. We see a lot of customers who are not only in Germany but also have an operation plant in France or in the UK or in the USA, or whatever. And that’s a big challenge to coordinate this and therefore the cooperation between us, between our subsidiaries is very important. But this is a big challenge for us, I mean you can’t, we have one customer you can’t offer 15 € and 6 € somewhere else. So you have to compare it and have to talk together and find a solution how to handle these customers. And it is very interesting, but it is a challenge.”

Julia Ures: “Pierre, your German colleagues have all highlighted the great team spirit among the employees. It was a very often topic in our episodes we recorded for Insight KTR. In our title for today we use the words KTR family and it is also a much-used hashtag. What does this actually mean for you, the KTR family?”

Pierre Martin: “It’s really a family company and the culture of the family company in Germany I think is also here in France, the culture of KTR in France. This way of doing, this relation we have to all people in Germany and in France is the same. Towards the cultural difference, I think this way…there is an internal culture of KTR, and I can see this. And also the new people coming from outside, when they enter the company they are like ‘Ah well it’s different here, yes something is different’. It belongs to the family way of doing business.”

Julia Ures: “Hans, when we talk about the relationship, the KTR family. Do you feel as close to each other? Do you feel like a family or friends?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Yes I do. We take care of each other. Of course, in this COVID times not everybody is doing the best business they can. Of course, we rely on the results of our customers, but we still stick together. And we meet each other very often, as far as possible online. And this family feeling is always there because I think there no real hierarchy in Rheine. Of course, somebody has to be in lead but if we all sit together with a beer, there is no difference. We all call each other by first name. So, there is no real difference and that make you feel very at home. And also of course we have Mrs. Tacke, who tells us every time how good it is to be together at the family. We have a good feeling with that, and it is also the reason why Pierre and I probably never left. We stayed on board.”

Pierre Martin: “Yes for sure. Like a family, you canhave an open discussion. Not be ok with someone, but you can have a discussion and still have the trust to go further.”

Julia Ures: “How often do you both talk to each other or make a call or communicate?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Once a week I think.”

Julia Ures: “Ah ok!”

Pierre Martin: “Probably, yes.”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Sometimes for fun. Sometimes for business.”

Pierre Martin: “And sometimes for both of it.”

Julia Ures: “That’s good! Pierre, let us send a message to Rheine. Namely what can the headquarter learn from your national company?”

Pierre Martin: “Oh. What they can learn from me, from the national company? That the customer is different, and so they also have to learn the French way of doing business. And maybe we need more flexibility towards our customers and be not so straight to the point. Yes, maybe in Germany they have to learn that the straight way is not the best way.”

Julia Ures: “The German straight way. Ok. Hans what do you think? What can the headquarters learn from Benelux?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “What they can learn from the Dutch is thinking out of the borders. So thinking a bit different than standards. And try always to think in solutions, instead of problems. I think we always try to find a solution somewhere. And of course, I can imagine that it is difficult when you an organization with 500 people in Rheine. It is much more difficult than we. But still, I think before hiding behind systems or behind certain ways of doing, you can always find a solution somewhere. This flexibility is something which Rheine once in a while could learn from us.”

Julia Ures: “Could you give us an advice, how can we learn that, think outside the box?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Of course, our big system is the SAP System. This is the system where the company is being based on. This tells you when the goods comes, when the delivery times are and what the prices are etc. But sometimes you wish the system isn’t there, because what we wanna do is sell our products at the best moment, at the best quality, at the best price. Sometimes you have to be very flexible but if you hide behind the system you can miss very important projects sometimes. And therefore, I sometimes wish that we could think a bit more on the customers side.”

Pierre Martin: “To think out of the system that’s maybe, because we are not really in the system, we are not, some kilometres away from Rheine. And we are small, for us it is easier to think out of the system. And it’s quite surprising that if you think out of the system in Germany, KTR Germany, they can understand this and you can see, I have seen this this example. They integrate what you have discussed. And they build another system which takes into account what you have said.”

Julia Ures: “We have received quite some questions on this topic, some of them we talked about already. So many thanks to our community! Please continue to send us ideas and questions to or participate in our social media surveys. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram and your question will be included. The next question we received is for you, Hans. 24 different places to choose from: Which of the other subsidiaries would you like to work in and why?”

Hans Hagedoorn: „Is it personal, which country I like, or is it just for the business?”

Julia Ures: “Maybe both!”

Hans Hagedoorn: “I would start a business in Canada, but we don’t have one yet. Uh that is a good question, probably somewhere in Scandinavia because I like the mentality of Scandinavia, maybe Denmark or Norway or Sweden. Think it’s close to our mentality. Of course you can say it is not a real challenge, but I think the atmosphere is a bit equal as we have. And if I would go somewhere in the south or somewhere in the far East, I don’t know if it’s gonna work.”

Julia Ures: ”Ok. What do you think, what can we learn from Scandinavia?”

Hans Hagedoorn: “I think they do a bit the business the same as we do. So open-minded and less discussions, just thinking in solutions.”

Julia Ures: “Pierre, for you is on the earth another place, another subsidiary you would like to work in and why?”

Pierre Martin: “I would go around the Mediterranean Sea. So, Spain, Italy and Greece. I had also the occasion to go to North Africa for KTR in Marocco, Algier and Tunesia. So it is good way to learn how different countries are working. So, to work in another country it is a good way to learn the country. How they are acting and thinking. It’s a cultural exchange I would say.”

Julia Ures: “Pierre and Hans, I have to thank you both very much. 20 minutes have already passed again. Many thanks to both of you, to my guests for the interesting answers and to you out there for the exciting questions you have sent us. Next time we will talk about our Think Tank at KTR, so make sure to tune in! All the best and see you soon, bye! And bye, Hans and Pierre!”

Pierre Martin: “Thank you!”

Hans Hagedoorn: “Bye Bye!”

Julia Ures: “Thank you very much!”

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KTR Insight