Author: Committee

The Disruptive Potential of Drones

The Disruptive Potential of Drones

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “drone”? I am sure, for many of you, it still has a negative connotation. You might think of warfare, espionage and surveillance. Indeed, drones were invented and first used for military and…

BLOCKCHAIN: A Future for Banking?

BLOCKCHAIN: A Future for Banking?

Have you heard of Blockchain? Intrigued? You should be. This innovative, bitcoin-underpinning technology is guaranteed to stimulate interesting discussion in the realm of finance and banking. While the bitcoin project, introduced end October 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, became a viable mode of transaction for global…

An Interview with Ruud Sanders from AkzoNobel

An Interview with Ruud Sanders from AkzoNobel

Akzonobel ProfileOn 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?

rsI 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!


Hope for the Oil Industry

Hope for the Oil Industry

An interesting development came to light last week; or well, I hope you share the opinion that it is interesting. As most of you know, the oil price has been a continuous issue over the last year and half because of the market surplus. If you…

Company focus: The Accountancy Traineeship at PwC

Company focus: The Accountancy Traineeship at PwC

The accountancy traineeship When you start as an accountant at PwC you follow our two-year program The Associate Academy, the accountancy traineeship. You will be intensively supervised by a personal coach and you will gain extensive experience with various activities for various clients. You will get in…

The Diary Affair Of The European Central Bank

The Diary Affair Of The European Central Bank


Even if the presence of diaries has been declining over years, most of the people will remember growing up with these little personal books, full of thoughts, experiences and memories. Well, unlike diary books of your childhood, the European Central Bank, or just ECB, keeps diaries in order to record important meetings, speeches etc. Nonetheless, both versions often have something in common: sensible information. In the case where a diary, containing such information, is being publicized, a diarist often has to face serious issues. However, if one belongs to an institution called ECB, worries are somehow totally displaced.

The foundation of the European Central Bank has its roots back in the year 1998. It is the monetary policy instrument for the European Union following its determination of maintaining price stability within the Eurozone. However, compared to other central banks, the ECB’s single objective has never been defined in statutory law. Similarly to this, let’s call it unconventionality, the principle of never disclosing market sensitive information, might not have been taken as serious as it should have been.

Under the EU freedom of information rules, the ECB have been asked to hand over diaries of its executive board to the Financial Times, disclosing sensitive information about board members attending meetings with companies of the private sector in the week before monetary policy meetings. Contrary to the Bank of England, which strictly prohibits its members of the rate-setting committee to talk to externals in the week before policy decisions, some members of ECB’s executive boards had a quite different perception about that. In fact, Benoît Cœuré and Yves Mersch, two executive board members, as well as Vítor Constâncio, the ECB’s vice-president, and Peter Praet, his chief economist, are all accused of participating in meetings just days before major monetary policy conferences. There are records in the diaries showing that these individuals have met with major banks, asset managers and hedge funds, including well-known names such as BlackRock, UBS, BNP Paribas and PIMCO.

Despite being associated with these inconsistencies, none of the mentioned parties have been willing to comment on this matter. Unintelligibly, if outsiders shall believe that public sensitive information has not been disclosed during these meetings. The integrity of the ECB is definitely in question. Instead of completely clarifying what happened, the behavior of the ECB creates even more doubts and is not at all in accordance with its aspiration of being a transparent organization. Thus, statements made by an ECB spokesman, such as ”In any case, no market-sensitive information is disclosed by the ECB in any non-public forum” are hard to believe for outsiders.

It is also not the first time that a central bank deals with such allegations. Back in 2010, the release of William C. Dudley’s daily schedules triggers off an akin discussion regarding suspicious meetings with many hedge funds and private equity firms. Mr Dudley, the 10th President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, even held “off the record” speeches according to the documents being released.

After this incident, private meetings in the week before policy meetings belong to the past, a “quiet period” for this week has been imposed by the ECB. Furthermore, diaries of the executive board of the ECB will be published three months after policy meetings to grant further insight in the activities of the executive board. Considering these endeavors of the ECB as an act of discretion or just as the most uncomplicated approach to get away with it totally depends on one’s blind confidence. On April 21, three months after the ECB’s last monetary policy meeting, the next set of diaries will hopefully positively enlighten us.


Franchise Films in Hollywood: The True Awakening of the Force

Franchise Films in Hollywood: The True Awakening of the Force

What do Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and James Bond all have in common? The listing above represents a strategic phenomenon that has dominated the trends in current film production in Hollywood. The success of film…

Tax Evasion: A Serious Problem

Tax Evasion: A Serious Problem

The United States of America, labelled as the land of opportunity by some, is currently in the midst of the pre-election lunacy that takes place every four years; with outrageous statements by a man, whom I shall not name, taking the internet by storm far…

From Academic Group Assignments To Global Teamwork

From Academic Group Assignments To Global Teamwork

What do you think about group assignments? If you are a university student, chances are high that group assignments will accompany you throughout your academic career. The objectives are well known: e.g. developing stronger communication and time management skills, learning how to collaborate and share diverse perspectives while solving arising conflicts together as you go. However, we are not explicitly taught on how to do that. The approach is rather practical: learning by doing. In the following paragraphs I want to give you an overview about some challenges for teamwork in an international business context. Maybe it can provide you with some useful pointers as to how to navigate the group assignments you have during your studies. The goal is for you to become aware of certain dysfunctions that can arise while working in a team, so you can consciously take action to mitigate or avoid them, making you a better team player.

Multinational companies have access to a pool of experts from their global network. When there is a need to form a global team, to help the company to compete in a promising market, they can bring together team members with different cultural and functional backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

However, they need to be aware of several factors that can make teamwork less efficient.


Figure 1: The vicious dynamic (Neeley, 2015)

A different cultural background can mean different attitudes towards hierarchy and authority, different preferences for communication (direct vs. indirect), and conflicting norms in decision making (Brett et al., 2006). Additionally, when team members are geographically dispersed, it is more difficult to build connections and alignment, since there is less face-to-face interaction. Both can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, and subsequently negatively affect cooperation and trust within the team. Neeley (2015) calls this the vicious dynamic (see Figure 1). In his research he proposes a framework (see Figure 2) that helps to avert this dynamic by looking at the concept of social distance, which measures the degree of emotional connection between team members.


Figure 2: The social distance framework (Neeley, 2015)

Social distance can arise from structural factors such as location, the number of sites where team members are based and the number of employees who work at each site. If the team leader is located in the same place where the majority of the team members are or close to the company headquarters, the needs and contributions of the minority team members at other locations are often overlooked or deemed as less important, causing a perceived power imbalance. It is the responsibility of the leader to alleviate this power imbalance by actively involving every team member, encourage sensitivity, and build unity.

A definitive characteristic of global teams is that the team members have different levels of fluency in the chosen language of communication. Members who are more fluent dominate the discussions and exert more influence while the others, who are just as competent, find it difficult to contribute. This can lead to a whole lot of inefficiencies starting with demotivation, interpersonal conflicts, and not utilizing the full potential of the team. Neeley (2015) proposes 3 rules of engagement to counter this problem (see Figure 3). Fluent speakers need to dial down their dominance, while less fluent speakers should dial up their engagement. The role of the team leader is to balance the inclusion.

Rules of Engagement

Figure 3: Rules of engagement (Neeley, 2015)

Communication technology can have a positive or negative effect on social distance. Which effect is rather desired depends on the purpose of the communication. Face-to-face meetings and video conferences enable the perception of body language and facial expressions, decreasing social distance. They are best to be used when the other party needs to be persuaded. Delayed communication, like E-Mails, are efficient when information needs to be shared. The lack of contextual cues in this context increases social distance.

Identity (age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion etc.) can determine the meaning of certain behaviors. It is crucial for all the team members to keep an open mind, learn from each other, and avoid assumptions on the meaning of behaviors. The way people give feedback may be different. Some people might be encouraged by direct criticism others may find it offensive and prefer an indirect way of feedback.

The author puts a lot of emphasis on the responsibility of the team leader to recognize and reconcile the different forces that can lead to dysfunctional teams. They have an integrative and exemplary role.

The teams you are working in during class usually have a flat hierarchy, without an assigned team leader. It is therefore helpful when all the team members are able to recognize budding problems to make their collaboration more efficient. Can you recognize yourself in the framework? Do you feel like your opinion is not taken seriously? Do you feel demotivated, because you cannot show your full potential in a group setting? Maybe you can use this framework to start a conversation. Furthermore, I would urge you to deliberately seek out diverse team members for your future group assignments, for the added challenge as well as for the added learning effect. What do you think?



Harvard Business Review

Global teams that work (Neeley, 2015)

Managing multicultural Teams (Brett, Behfar and Kern, 2006)

AB InBev: The Pangaea of Beer

AB InBev: The Pangaea of Beer

Here’s a fun fact: about 2 billion people in the world drink beer. Imagine what an Oktoberfest you could have if every beer enthusiast in the world attended – Ironically, an unforgettable one. What is also ironic is that in the month of October this…

9. Start-Ups: The Google Winning Team

9. Start-Ups: The Google Winning Team

By now you’ve probably come quite far with your startup idea already. You and your co-founder have settled and realized that this business could possibly be a quite sustainable one. Maybe you’re the next Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Maybe you’ve experienced growth just like…

8. Start-Ups: Revenues and Economic Sustainability

8. Start-Ups: Revenues and Economic Sustainability

Revenues. It is the most hated but also the most loved word for newly started startups. Probably from the start you will be selling products your company produces, or providing the service you specialize in against a fee. And this handicraft way of operating your business will work, until you grow too big. Once you start generating considerable revenues, automation will be the trend within the company. And if it’s all bumblebees and butterflies, soon enough you’ll reach your breakeven point.

Revenues. They lead to the breakeven of your company. And once you’ve reached that milestone, your revenues support the sustainability of your mastermind’s business idea. Economic sustainability can be defined as the point where the revenues exceed the costs. To get there, you must make sure your team supports you, in turn motivate your team to fly high and most of all: listen to the feedback you receive from the market. Once you’ve reached the point of economic sustainability, it is time to think where you want the business to be at in a few years time. Will your idea still be innovative enough? Is your company ready to face the obstacles that will block your way to long-term goals? Once your company has built a strong culture, and the business seems enduring, investors will not hesitate to listen to your story.

Your revenues don’t only depend on the investments made by venture capitalists, as mentioned in Start-Up post 6, traction is what keeps your company rolling. It generates revenues from customers, which in the long term are more sustainable and suitable income. So take a look at your numbers. Look at revenues, net promoter scores, number of customers, profitability rates and net margin. Are they increasing positively? Very good, then you are on your way to building a sustainable company. If not, then you know where to lay your focus. One way to keep constant growth is by always analyzing the market. One way to grow is to see your customer growth as a normal function curve (see figure 1). You and your idea are part of the first 2.5%. You belong to the lucky few who can call themselves innovators. The next 16% are the crucial first followers. They are the ones trying the reliability and functionality of what you provide them with. These early adopters will be the example for the big majority, the next 34% to follow. Leading to the next 34%, the late majority and the final 16%, the laggards. If you want to build up sustainability for your company, then focus on those first followers, they can make or break your company. (TED*Talk by Simon Sinek, september 2009)

Normal distribution
Figure 1

So how can we get these first followers to generate our first revenues? Public Relations is the key principle here. What the purpose is of PR, is that potential customers see how you are different from the competition and you show your absolute authority in your specific market. During the How to Start a Start-Up lectures at Reykjavik University, we had the company of Paula Gould, who is head of Marketing at a Public Relations company and came to give some advise. First of all, we were to think about the choices that consumers have, how you differentiate yourself. Why is your idea different, how is it better, is it a need or want, how will consumers know you are better than your competitors? You need to know your idea and it’s market thoroughly before any sorts of Public Relations can be implemented. And then comes the question, can you do it yourself or will you need a specialized firm to do the PR for you? Can you get these first followers by telling your story, or do you needs someone outside your company with the appropriate knowledge how to bring your uniqueness to the attention of these “hipster” customers? Even if you can’t afford a proper PR team, everyone around you can be your influencers. Your employees, your friends, your connections, anyone who knows the story of the company can spread the word.

Revenues and your first followers, they go hand in hand, they can make or break you but most of all they produce your sustainability. And once you do go into the positive rates, then things start to get fun.


This article is part of the series on How to Start a Startup, based on the lectures taught at Reykjavik University, Iceland. For more information on the course, check The Startup Iceland website

7. Start-Ups: Company Intermezzo: Bungalo

7. Start-Ups: Company Intermezzo: Bungalo

Okay, enough with all the theoretical aspects of a start-up. Time to look at real life now. Yes, using some theory in building a business is important and it will definitely guide you through some difficult steps and bridges. Also the theoretical knowledge is a…

Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: The Recap

Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: The Recap

Volkswagen, the car manufacturer most notoriously known for the Beetle (also known as “the Bug”) and the all-time classic hippy van; the Transporter (also known as the Bus) has made headlines this past week. It has come to light that Volkswagen has been involved in…

6. Start-Ups: The Traction Trap

6. Start-Ups: The Traction Trap

Traction. If you’re very serious about this business that you want to start, you probably have come across this word already. As soon as you launch the business you will hopefully see some traction happening. If it is an app that you’re launching, you’ll see the downloads, if you open a restaurant then there should be some customers trying your food every now and then.

 “Traction is basically quantitative evidence of customer demand.” – Naval Ravikant

The whole point of you starting your startup is that you want to see some growth in the market that you will operate in. More importantly is that you see where this growth is coming from. Traction can be discovered through 19 different channels, these customer acquisition channels are where you find your real customers. Some examples of these channels are Search Engine Optimization, Content Marketing, Email Marketing and Affiliate Programs. The full list and explanation can be found in the book “Traction, How Any Startup can achieve Explosive Customer Growth” (Weinberg, G & Mares, J.)

If you have been working on your company for a while now, you’ve probably already come with a prototype of the product or service you want to sell to your customers. Though having a product is not the key to the success of your company, it’s having customers. Hopefully, before you started designing your prototype there were some people who showed interest in what you were going to build. As soon as you launch this prototype in the hope to get more customers, often the response of the crowd is not as they promised beforehand. Why? Because you only launched your product, not your traction strategy. There is a rule in the Traction book suggesting that there is a 50/50 relation; 50 percent of your time should be devoted to developing the product, and the other 50 on traction.

There are 4 common situations where even traction can’t save your business:

  1. You may have built something people want, but there is just no appropriate business model to be found. It turns out people are not willing to pay, other companies see no business in buying your ad space, summed up: there is just not really a market.
  2. You built something that people have shown interest in, but the actual amount of customers turns out to be too little to reach profitability. This happens when you aren’t ambitious enough or maybe have picked a too narrow niche market.
  3. Your product is wanted, but the market is too costly to reach. Say you’re selling toothpicks and they require a direct sales force to persuade people to buy them, they would have to sell thousands per hour in order to gain profit.
  4. Lastly, it can be that the competition is too big on the market. Though you may try to differentiate your product from the rest, customers simply have too many brands to choose from and for a startup existing brands are hard to beat.

Sadly enough, there are so many startups failing every year even though they have a good product. If you don’t start with good traction strategy from the beginning it will be really hard to build it into your business model later on. You won’t realize the traction trap until it’s too late and you’re stuck deep down in it. Don’t let the false foresights of a successful product cloud your attention to the other business aspects, build a good distribution strategy and keep up on the traction thinking.


This post is part of the series “How To Start a Start-Up”, based on the lectures taught at Reykjavik University. For more information, visit the Startup Iceland website