Meet Our People: Gerben Willemsen
In our series #WeAreCustomsSupport, you will meet the people behind Customs Support. We value our colleagues and the work they do. In this series, we will interview the people who are always ready to assist you with importing or exporting your goods without worries. Next up in this series is Gerben Willemsen, who is Chief Commercial Officer at Customs Support.
Who are you?
My name is Gerben Willemsen, and I’m forty-six years old. I was born in Maarheze in the South of the Netherlands and have since moved even more to the South to Limburg. I now live in Maastricht with my girlfriend, and I have six sons, five of which still live with us. The youngest is seven, and the oldest is twenty-three. I love the exuberant lifestyle that Limburg is known for. I like having drinks with friends and dining heartily. To compensate and keep my body healthy and my mind clear, I do a lot of running and HIIT workouts. I’m always looking for a new challenge both in sports as well as in a working environment. I’m constantly pushing my boundaries.
You are always looking for challenges. How does your work challenge you?
A typical example is one from my youth. I worked at a gas station. I needed to prepare everything in the morning before the station could open. The first time that took me thirty minutes. In four or five days, I had everything ready in twenty minutes. There was no need to do that, I had to be there at the same time, but I did it anyway. In any working environment, I need to work in a challenging environment. Just “business as usual” is not my thing.
What makes you happy the most? The end goal of the challenge, or the route to the end goal?
If you had asked me this years ago, I would have said that reaching the goal is most important. Now I know that the rush of reaching the end goal only gives you a short burst of energy. It’s the whole process to achieve the goals that drives me now. I have always worked in companies that were growing fast or where processes needed to be reorganized because things were not going well: extensive transformation and restructuring projects. If a project is finished or a goal is reached, I’m immediately looking for the next one. So in that sense, I like the process better, but I’m also always proud when a goal is reached.
What does a Chief Commercial Officer do?
I have only recently joined Customs Support, and my first big project is setting up the commercial department. The customs brokerage market has always been very traditional. Once you had a client, they would stay with you. Sometimes one would leave, and one would join. The customs brokerage market is changing, and simply signing a new customer is no longer enough to retain them. Competition is increasing, and clients nowadays have a much more critical attitude. Also, Customs Support keeps growing fast by adding more and more companies to the Customs Support family. Our customer base grows as well through these additions, but there are also significant opportunities to grow organically. We can realise this growth through a more professional approach to marketing and sales and a more international one. Our international growth enables us to support our clients in multiple countries.
What does a typical working day look like?
I haven’t had many typical days yet. My first few weeks were all about getting to know the people and the organisation. I’ve also done some very insightful sessions with our Quality & Compliance Manager Nathalie Roozen. She brought me up to speed on all things customs related. I have started to take stock of everything we have and need as a marketing and sales department. I’m working on both operational and strategic matters.
What do you like most about your job?
I really like bringing organisation to the next level. I love large change management projects. Develop a clear vision and then convince people of that vision and take them along on the journey towards it. To then look back after a few years and say to each other: look at what we accomplished together!
It’s great to set up and manage a commercial organisation, but I also like working with customers. I love the excitement of scoring a new customer and working with customers to support their growth. It’s not about the quick win for me, but it’s about the long run. Building relationships built on trust.
What is one of the biggest challenges?
A commercial department needs to have the right tools and processes, but the most important thing is having the right people in your team. The next step is convincing them to work towards our vision of the future. That’s where you can truly make a difference, so that’s where the focus of my attention is now. When you have the right people in place, processes and tools will follow. It’s all about the people that use them.
And what if you’re not at work?
I am truly happy when I am spending time with my sons and my partner. Sometimes it can be small things, like sleeping late together at the weekends or enjoying a nice glass of wine with family or friends after a day of working hard.
Why Customs Support?
On one side I have to say: the challenge. It’s a big one. There’s a lot of work to be done to optimize the marketing and sales department. What I love about it is that I can determine our commercial strategy. We are in this together, but I get to walk on point.
I also love the culture and the people. Customs Support is a very horizontal organization. Lines of communication are short. And there is a real let’s do this together attitude. I also like the ambitions of the company. Growing fast through international mergers and acquisitions. I like ambitious targets. And the ideal mix between strategy and operations.