An Interview with Ruud Sanders from AkzoNobel
On a rainy Thursday in January, we made our way from Tilburg to Arnhem, to one of the locations of AkzoNobel. AkzoNobel is a multinational company that specializes in paints, coatings and specialty chemicals.
Their products can be found decorating and protecting buildings, bridges or transportation vehicles, just to name a few. One of their best-know paint brands is Flexa. Unbeknownst to you, you might have come in contact with many of their products in your daily life.
A young man descends the stairs and greets us at the reception. It is Ruud Sanders, a Tilburg University TiSEM Alumni.
Together we sit down at the employee café in the foyer. Over a cup of cappuccino, he tells us about his academic experiences and what it is like to work for AkzoNobel.
What is your current job at AkzoNobel?
My current job is Category Sourcing Manager Logistics. It falls under procurement, where I am responsible for all the bulk transport suppliers within Europe. We have factories in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy that need to be managed. Basically, I select which suppliers to work with; I negotiate the commercial package, and manage the suppliers’ performance. Together with the business representatives, I conduct Quarterly Business Review meetings with the suppliers to follow up on their performance.
What are the challenges you face?
I really like that my daily tasks are very diverse. Depending on the nature of the relationship, different strategies are needed when working with different suppliers. I have to assert myself against some suppliers’ pressure to push down the prices. The negotiation technique needs to be adapted to each supplier to match it with the portfolio strategy. I am often required to switch my tactics a couple of times in a day, I need to be quick on my feet. Also, I have to be able to respond to problems quickly. For example, figure out what to do when suppliers cancel on short notice. Then I would need to arrange a different way to get the product to the customer in time. As you can see, there is no fixed daily routine. This is also what keeps my job interesting.
What was your development in AkzoNobel?
I started in an analyst type of role, so I had more to do with data. I had to learn how to do procurement, so I assisted some of the senior managers in procurement on their big projects. I was able to bring in my ideas and how I saw things. After a while they gave me responsibility over my own small-scale portfolio, so I could learn how to manage it. Now I am responsible for a senior portfolio that has a direct impact on our company’s performance. I am in my current position as a category manager for about one year now.
When you start in a certain position, it doesn’t mean that you have to stick to it forever. There are opportunities within the company to switch jobs. For example, I know people who started in customer service and switched to a corporate project. That is all possible in our company. The company provides you the opportunities, but it does not take you by the hand. You have to take initiative. In the end, it is your career! Also, working abroad is an option within AkzoNobel, but again it is up to you what you want. Usually I talk to my supervising manager about my next steps and together we agree on a reasonable path to get me there.
You did your Bachelor’s degree in IB&M, and your Master’s degree in Supply Chain Management, both at Tilburg University. How did your academic background prepare you for your job?
In my Master’s I had a course on purchasing management. This inspired me to pursue procurement. I felt that I really liked external contacts, having external & internal stakeholders to manage, having a more commercial role. My job is very concrete in terms of goals and it directly benefits the company in the bottom line. Supply Chain Management helped me to look at the whole of the supply chain and not only a very specific part. If you have the big picture, you see the total cost of ownership. Then you see the different parts that need to be improved together in order to be more efficient as a whole. During my 5 years at AkzoNobel I have honed that mindset. My time at university, however, also shaped my way of thinking, and how I approach problems.
What were the benefits of being active in a student organization like Asset IB&M?
Being in Asset IB&M helped me a lot to figure out what I wanted to do, what I like to do, and where I am good at. It gave me a lot of personal development. Less in terms of career skills, but I learned a lot about different types of companies. It helped me to find the companies I like to work at.
How did you perceive the transition from University to the workplace?
When I did a graduation internship at a big multinational company, I got a taste of the working life and the company culture within this type of company. Some people feel very comfortable in a multinational company, others don’t. I feel very comfortable in a huge matrix organization, where a lot of people are involved, and where I have to find my way through. You have to figure out for yourself what you want and then define the steps to get there.
AkzoNobel emphasizes developing innovative products and being sustainable. How does that translate to your daily job?
We are ranked Nr. 1 in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, for the fourth consecutive year in our industry, beating out other big players. In procurement, for example, we try to look at bio-based materials instead of oil-based materials. Within transport we have targets we want to achieve, using the latest engines that have fewer emissions. We have KPIs on payloads, i.e. optimizing the amount of products to transport per truck, saving extra trips. Sustainability is emphasized throughout every part of the company.
In terms of innovation, it goes hand in hand with sustainability. Starting with different types of raw materials for our product mix. In logistics we come to new solutions in cooperation with our suppliers. We keep an eye on all the market trends and work with suppliers to incrementally innovate and optimize sustainability.
We have a strategic innovation group within the company that focuses on radical innovations, but every employee is encouraged and empowered to make changes, and implement new and better ideas.
What advice would you give soon-to-be graduates that have now become interested in AkzoNobel as a potential employer or who want to write their Master thesis at your company?
If you think about starting at AkzoNobel, I advise you to get in touch with us during our Masterclass (Apply here!). That’s the best platform where you can present yourself to the company. You will also learn about the different sides of our company and see if there is a fit. The general management will be present and you can ask specific questions. Try to get into a face-to-face dialog with the recruiters.
The way I got in contact with AkzoNobel was actually during the Economic Business Weeks in Tilburg, where I talked to a recruiter in a personal interview. I expressed my preferences and what I wanted to do within the company. From there the ball started rolling and it only stopped at the moment I signed my first contract with AkzoNobel only 2 months later.
Graduates usually start in an entry position in our company and not in a traineeship. You apply directly for the different functions. Both options have advantages. But I think for graduates it is a definite advantage to start in a function where you learn multiple critical working skills in a very short timeframe. Of course, AkzoNobel will give you the right tools to get started and will also help you with this, by giving you additional training modules.
What is AkzoNobel looking for?
Besides doing well in academics, it is very important that you take initiative, that you are proactive. You dare to question things, you are open-minded and internationally-minded. We are a very international company. The language of communication, for example, is English. We often have to work in teams with people from different countries. If you would like to work in a very international environment, then it makes sense that you prepare yourself during your studies already, e.g. by studying abroad. In our company, we value these capabilities very much.
What are you most excited about for AkzoNobel’s future?
Our company is a lot about color in people’s lives. A megatrend we see is urbanization. Cities will become bigger and bigger. People will be living in high buildings in close proximity to each other. Everybody is talking about smart cities. That is great, indeed. But cities should not become robotic. What we want them to remember is that cities should also be livable, human cities. This is what we as AkzoNobel are pushing for, helping cities to achieve this. Developing plans on how to do that, to make people feel at home, feel like they want to live in it, feel welcome. You can do a lot with color and other products we make to make cities more human! (Find out how here!)
Are you interested in working in a multinational company that focuses on growth through innovation and sustainability? Do you want to make an impact on the world and contribute your ideas?
Click on the links to get in touch with AkzoNobel!
- Masterclass 2016 in Arnhem
- Economic Business Weeks Tilburg 18.-22. April, 2016
- AkzoNobel Career (Dutch) (English)