14 November 2019
Entrepreneur's day

Running a business is psychology

Aukje Kuypers had no intention of following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather. Yet she is now managing director of the family business, Kuijpers, with more than 1,300 employees and an annual turnover of almost €250 million. This technical installation company is primarily focused on innovation, energy transition, digitisation and circular construction. “Technically speaking, everything is possible,” says the Businesswoman of the Year 2018, “but it’s about persuading people to get on board with you.”

Maastricht

Kuypers, who grew up in Deurne in Brabant, didn’t have to be told twice. “I had a great time in Maastricht: going out, student associations, sports, parties. I lived in a fantastic student house, we were always organising things. I threw myself into student life from day one. In my last year, I met my partner there. The system of Problem-Based Learning appealed to me. In the tutorials you learn to collaborate, present and, above all, to cooperate – which ultimately comes down to psychology, the field that fascinates me.”

Closer

Her studies brought her closer to the family business than Kuypers could have imagined. “In class we talked about large companies, entrepreneurship, constantly improving, international issues, globalisation and digitisation. When I went home on weekends, I discussed all that with the family. And in turn I took that feedback back to Maastricht, where I could bring to the table how my family ran the company. That’s how I slowly grew towards the company.”

After her studies, she spent 18 months at Kuijpers as an executive secretary, “to get a taste for it, and to learn”. Then she went to Argentina for a year and, after that, worked for a Dutch financial institution. “That was in 2010. My brother Bas called me and said the company was looking for a change manager, someone who could streamline and improve the processes. The role immediately appealed to me. Getting people to look at situations from a different perspective, getting them on board with you; that’s pure psychology. I applied and got the job. Three years later the CEO informed us that he intended to step down in a year’s time; a gentleman’s agreement. We sat down with our Supervisory Board and looked at the job profiles and the needs of the organisation, and then redistributed the tasks. My brother has the role of strategist, my father is still on the Supervisory Board and I’m the managing director. My sister has chosen a different career. Six years later, I can only say that I enjoy every day. It’s really special to run a company like ours.”

Aukje Kuypers

Persuasion

Kuijpers is a rapidly growing company with hundreds of projects and contracts in its portfolio, large and small, including prestigious assignments such as the construction of the new VDL head office and the sustainability overhaul of the South Holland provincial government and a number of UM buildings. It is still rare to see a woman in the upper echelons of a technical company. “That’s not something I often think about. We’re facing major challenges. The construction world is in the midst of a transition. We have to work more efficiently, move towards digitisation and robotisation, reduce the costs of failure. There are huge challenges in building construction and renovation, circular construction, and of course sustainability. Technically speaking, there are no obstacles. Everything is possible, as long as you take the time. It’s more about persuading people, getting them on board. Realising that we have to use our resources and raw materials more efficiently – individuals, companies, organisations, everyone. And that brings you back to psychology. My hobby horse and strength, yes, and something that’s essential for leadership.”

Women

The company remains, to date, predominantly male. “Well,” Kuypers says, somewhat apologetically, “we have just over 100 female employees, and only 11 of them are technicians. It’s not many, I know, but it’s ten times more than it was five years ago. Not many girls choose to study technical subjects. Still, I’m optimistic. We know how we can encourage women to seek technical careers: by telling them they can contribute to a better and greener world. That appeals to them. And of course, we also offer attractive jobs with a lot of room for training. Personal development is important. I learned that during my studies in Maastricht and it’s no less true today.”

Aukje Kuypers (her father’s name was recorded incorrectly at birth, hence the y in the name) was raised in Deurne and studied Business Administration and Economics at Maastricht University from 1998 to 2003. Since 2013 she has been managing director of Kuijpers, which was established in 1921 and now has 1,300 employees and 15 branches throughout the Netherlands.  

text: Jos Cortenraedt