Having been at the helm of NTS for only about six months, the successor to Marc Hendrikse, Tjarko Bouman, is opting for a more commercial approach. This way, he expects that the various branches and offices worldwide will be able to work more seamlessly together and will realize an unambiguous proposition for mainly international customers.
2020 was a year of extremes for NTS. During the first lockdown in the spring, factories in Asia remained closed for six weeks and production came to an abrupt standstill. When the doors were allowed to open again, clients and customers were waiting in line. “But in the end, we had the best year ever with our Shanghai office,” says NTS director Tjarko Bouman.
Bouman, who took over from Marc Hendrikse at the Eindhoven system supplier in mid-2020, counts his blessings. “We are fortunate to see our key markets continue to grow.” The semiconductor industry had a shock reaction to the outbreak of the corona pandemic, but it picked up very fast. “Expectations for 2021 are very positive. The industry keeps on growing. There is now even a shortage of chips and the outlook for the future is also very good.”
The situation was a lot harder in other sectors where NTS operates. For example, the medical sector is in a bad state. “Projects have been put on hold there. However, I do expect that there will be some catching up and postponed assignments will still be awarded,” says Bouman.
Overall, NTS cannot complain. “The pandemic has certainly had a major impact in some locations, but on group level we had a similar year in 2020 as in 2019,” says Bouman. “Given the circumstances, we’re very satisfied with that.”
Bouman joined NTS on 1 August, after nine years at Vanderlande. When travel restrictions were less strict, he visited all branches in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In December he was even able to visit the NTS office in Singapore. However, Bouman certainly does not have the feeling that he knows everyone in the organization. The digital channels that are nowadays the norm, he finds too restrictive. “I don’t believe in them in the long run. After the crisis, the balance will certainly be different and there will be more discussions and meetings online, but you only get the real experience when you are physically present, walking through the factory and talking to people.”
In recent months, Bouman has spoken digitally with a whole series of customers via Zoom and Teams. “I ask them, among other things, why they choose NTS,” he says. “They respond that they appreciate our craftsmanship and that we are more than a pure build-to-print supplier; we think along with the customers. I also get a lot of positive feedback about our global presence because it allows us to support the entire life cycle of a product. On the one hand, we are close by with our development and engineering. And on the other hand, when a product is more mature, we can move production to Eastern Europe or China.”
One point of criticism that Bouman sometimes hears, is about ambiguity. “It is especially important for our customers operating globally that we act as one company,” he explains. “That starts internally by having a clear view on how we look at the product creation process and how we can coordinate this worldwide within our own sites. We must strive for unambiguous planning, implementation, management and reporting of projects. We have already taken a number of important steps down that road. Especially in the mindset of our people.”
Bouman is eagerly looking forward to the moment when he can reunite with the global top of his company – the core teams of all branches and all technical specialists, together about fifty people. “Both at management level and at a functional level, we are looking for more coordination and unambiguity about the way we work. You need live meetings for that,” says Bouman.
The process towards OneNTS had already been started before Bouman joined the company, but the new director is aiming to accelerate these efforts. “As far as I am concerned, it is all about local for local, but global coordination,” says Bouman. “When we talk to a Dutch customer, we talk locally; in our own backyard. That is important because ultimately, that’s how we get to the root of what they’re looking for and determine how the product has to be engineered. If we spread the same process across multiple locations, a customer shouldn’t notice the difference. That requires thorough account management. Such an account manager must ensure uniformity towards the customer and arrange coordination within NTS. He receives internal help from a program manager who coordinates the processes within our organization for the customer. We want to avoid that one branch turns left and the other right. instead. We want everyone on the same page so we all follow the same route.”
Bouman is trying to achieve a similar result by restructuring the NTS management team. The Eindhoven company has moved away from a layered structure and is making the transition to a single board with seven members. “One team means more clarity,” Bouman explains. “Previously, there was still the risk that the different locations operated more or less on their own. I think if you combine your powers in technology or commerce, or towards a customer, you can have a lot more impact.”
NTS has grown considerably in recent years, to about seventeen hundred employees, but the last takeover dates back to 2018. Couldn’t NTS have ironed out all the wrinkles earlier? “With every acquisition comes the challenge to merge everything into one,” answers Bouman, who doesn’t want to go into further detail because these are matters from before his appointment.
With Bouman, NTS has a more commercial man at the helm. “It’s a matter of personal experience and preference how you organize things,” he says diplomatically, “but I choose to put more emphasis on the commercial side of our sites, and a little less on the operational side. I certainly do not mean to say that that theme is not important, but I look at the situation slightly differently. Above all, let’s operate as one team.”
Bouman also looks at the integral proposition of NTS through his commercial eyes. “What capabilities do we now have at all our branches and departments, and how can we merge them smartly?’ he explains. “We are in the middle of that process and still haven’t had enough time to get it all cleared up. We will be working on that this year.”
Because companies in the Netherlands usually know what NTS has to offer, the company is increasingly focusing on clients abroad. “That is definitely the ambition,” says Bouman. “In the Netherlands, we already generate a lot of turnover with the major players. If you want to grow further – and we want to – it is only logical that the focus shifts more abroad.”
This includes North America, where NTS now has a ‘forward position’: an office for sales and sales support. “In time, we want to expand there,” says Bouman. “The question is what exactly NTS wants to do in an US office. Development and engineering? Or also a local production site? We are still looking for the right answer.”