Introductory Interview - Ton Geurts, Business Development Director at BISCI

Ton Geurts, Business Development Director at BISCI is interviewed by Grant Davis, Project Manager at BISCI, discussing in detail his roles and responsibilites, his views on sustainable and digital development of supply chains, the importance of NGOs and his connection to Limburg, among other things.

Grant: Good morning Ton, could you briefly explain what your role at BISCI is about?

Ton: 'Good morning Grant, I am the Business Development director for BISCI. A role of course that had to be created. My job is to bring businesses and government projects from city halls and the province of Limburg to BISCI. Here, we add the academia, so I describe my role as bridging between business and academia. I am often scouting for chances to collaborate, within our remit of supply chain innovation and the focal areas of digital and sustainability, but both are broad subject matters.

What we have seen since September last year, is that in most cases companies and government have shown an interest in our proposition, despite the effects of the Coronavirus. Institutions and companies are interested in digital and sustainable solutions from our businesses. None of them have taken their eye off of the longer term. The role is shaping a portfolio of possibilities to foster and strengthen the supply chain in the region of Limburg and beyond, across borders.'

Grant: I have heard you mention business, government and academia, but is there a place for NGOs at BISCI?

Ton: 'Of course, also because of my past, we look at things BISCI can offer with NGOs such as Solidaridad, but also bring these NGOs into collaboration with companies like Rabobank. Elsewhere, we are looking at innovation in smart packaging and long term research in adding value fairly across global supply chains.'

Grant: What motivated you to join UM and take on a role, that is maybe more undefined or uncertain?

Ton: 'I only have one answer really… another red line in my life. At various instances in my career I have started journeys where the horizon is unclear; jumping into becoming a procurement director from working in the legal department at DSM. Leading a joint venture in Chile in iodine and derivatives. Starting, with a fountain pen in my jacket, building the internet for DSM. Becoming the first Chief Purchasing Officer (CPO) ever at AkzoNobel. Then moving to West Flanders to become the global supply chain head and CPO in a metallurgic company. This is but one more red line, being allowed to take part in the BISCI journey and an offer I couldn’t resist.

In the last 20 years, I have always had roles that were around heavy change management and realising tough goals for executive committees. This time I was looking forward once more to a new S curve in building bridges between the business worlds and academia, but combined with the possibility of guest lectures and the ability to share my knowledge with young people.'

Grant: And why do you want to work in sustainability and digital as core parts of BISCI?

Ton: 'Sustainability has been my passion already for a long time and the combination with digital is a revisit of shaping the internet for DSM and keeping the heart young.'

Grant: And how about on a personal level, is there any particular reason to come to Maastricht and Limburg?

Ton: 'My wife and I had decided to come back and live in Maastricht where we lived earlier and got married in 1988, and it feels good to contribute again to the prosperity of the province where I grew up and to have the BISCI offices in Venlo, the city where I was born!'

Grant: What are the best bits about your role?

Ton: 'The best bit about the role is starting from cold acquisitions and then developing personal relationships with the people leading the companies and institutions that we work with.'

Grant: Without being too derisive of me as your co-worker! What are the bits that you don’t like so much?

Ton: 'There is a challenge now and then in bridging the experience of academia with the needs of the various companies. In other words bridging the longer term, more holistic with the practical needs that businesses initially define for us. But the combination of such challenges and at the same time meeting fine people with ambitions for their companies is also a privilege. To be able to combine the best of Fontys, TNO and UM with the beating heart of Limburg, makes me jump out of bed every day.'

Grant: So a little on to your business management style; what is your approach to developing a high-performing team?

Ton: 'Over the years, developing a team has become quite engrained in my way of being. I like to have a personal touch with each individual that contributes to the goals of the team. For me I also try to see the people behind the ‘team member’. As a principle I am goal oriented and I like to define stretching goals in collaboration the team, making it a sport with the team to achieve those goals. A way of saying from my youth is “’Cannot’ is on the graveyard” which if you take this approach and put your energy together, a team can achieve a lot more than what they thought could achieve. I realise however that I can be quite demanding sometimes for the members of the team.'

Grant: No need to tell me! But how would you say you motivate the team then to meet your high demands?

Ton: 'For me a way to motivate a colleague is to see that the characteristics and strength of a colleague fit the role and job that person has to play. My aim over the years has always been to make my best efforts to ensure that a person can further excel in what the person is already good or great at. I do not aim to develop persons to become mediocre in everything, I prefer them to excel where their passion is. With bigger teams over the years, I got the remark “He likes to move a team from playing free jazz to the ability that they can play the 9th of Beethoven”.'

Grant: Very good! So in a little more detail what are the qualities of a high-performing team in your opinion?

Ton: 'They exist out of strong individuals that are also strong team players. The individual or team when asked must be able to excel at the right moment. A high-performing team should be open, extroverted and looking for chances. For BISCI a good team now should realise we are in the full spotlight of the province, of companies and their partners, TNO, Fontys and the University. There is only one such chance to deliver on the agreed goals and to be part of change towards a business oriented School of Business and Economics (Maastricht University).'

Grant: Now that I have officially joined BISCI myself, apart from chasing me all day! What would a normal day look like for you?

Ton: 'Starts early in the morning by scouting the internet, newspapers, social media. A good strong coffee…'

Grant: And what’s your favourite coffee?

Ton: '…at the moment the Napoli from Nespresso. Then I would love to have a day conversing with clients, partners and team members, building and growing the relationships. Even in the COVID-19 days we are luckily facilitated with all digital possibilities, but normally a source of energy for me is the human contact with colleagues in the coffee lounge and at business. Then, either at the end of the day or in the evening I always like to read about subject matters that can be of interest for my working environment or could bring us to new leads…by nature I am a curious person.'

Grant: Do you think BISCI is important in its role as a boundary organisation that sits at the intersect of academia, business and government? Why can’t we remain in our own areas or expertise?

Ton: 'What I have experienced, working for BISCI, is that the goal to foster and strengthen digital and sustainable supply chains is a noble goal to bring the economy and well-being of the people in our area to a higher level. It was a significant and vital step that the province shook hands with the university to achieve this mission. The knowledge can come from TNO, Fontys and the UM, the energy and the needs from businesses and government projects, and the facilitation from government. It is truly unique because I believe that these projects from companies or government on their own would not be able to succeed without this triple helix partnership.

So far, what BISCI brings to the table is very often embraced by our customers and what we bring to the table is different from any other standalone service company. We have young and bright minds supported through internships, post-doctoral research or PhDs as part of the organisation that can bring a different view compared with classic consultancy services. We can see that other consultancies may only choose to view the short term solutions only, where we at BISCI use the longer term view of academia and the younger generation as well.'

Grant: So back to your return to the local area, how do you enjoy life in Maastricht and Limburg? Are you used to the hills again yet?

Ton: 'Together with my wife and children when we are home, we truly enjoy the beauty of the hilly landscape, and countryside surrounding the city. The possibility to have the choice of either to go for a stroll in the city or a walk in nature, to cross borders, to see and enjoy the unique setting of the south of Limburg. We have enjoyed making some renovations to our home, and I have enjoyed being back in a wine-tasting club where I was one of the first members, more than thirty years ago. Another pleasure is the garden and the “extended garden” where with 6 guys of similar age we try to practice how to grow wine on a small piece of land. Which means that every weekend, we are with boots on the ground, learning about the agricultural challenges and respecting mother nature.'

Grant: Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven’t discussed?

Ton: 'As a closing remark, I personally believe that we are putting BISCI firmly on the map; with our BISCI event in February 2020, our growing list of projects and clients and all this despite the challenging effects of COVID-19 and working purely digitally from home with a close knit team. But more importantly, I would like to say that despite being the Business Development Director I truly enjoy being close to the students, to the young generation and to see that the ones that graduate from this beautiful university, find their way to internships and jobs at prospects and customers of BISCI. It is a privilege to be a part of shaping BISCI, and we are blessed to live and work in this beautiful part of the world.'

Grant: Well, thank you very much Ton. Having been one of those graduates from UM I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to work with companies improving their sustainability and sharing in the creation of a better world tomorrow.

Grant Davis