They meet at the Dredging Museum in the town of Sliedrecht, where the dredging industry was born. Leo Oostendorp and Theo Wanders, iPS founders and owners, are clearly enjoying themselves. The model ships, photos and paintings on display loosen their tongues and stories are told. A perfect atmosphere for a retrospective look at iPS’ past.
They met for the first time at a job in Bahrain, about 43 years ago. Oostendorp was a technical inspector, Wanders a construction engineer working as an assistant accountant. Even though they regularly changed jobs, clients and countries, they kept running into each other. The moment Zanen Verstoep and Boskalis decided to join forces and, in doing so, cleaned up the dredging industry about 30 years ago, Wanders and Oostendorp asked each other: ‘Do we sell ourselves to the market or do we start a business of our own?’ That was when they founded iPS.
At that time, Theo Wanders had gained a great deal of experience as head of human resources, and Leo Oostendorp knew all about technology. It was obvious they’d start a company specializing in recruitment and selection. ‘We both put 100,000 guilders of our own money and rented an office in Leiden. It went well right from the start. We had an extensive network of qualified people. At that time, the dredging industry was in bad shape, many people were made redundant. We outsourced many of them to jobs in the shipping, civil and offshore industries, from a single person to a complete team of staff. One thing led to the other. Initially, a request for a bridge builder would come in, but we ended up delivering an entire building team. We had the courage to mediate jobs particularly for highly qualified staff. They were desperately needed, for example for the construction of new ships. We organized logistics around jobs as well. That way, more work came our way and subsequently a complete chain of services was created.’
Speak the language
Wanders and Oostendorp started a subsidiary office in Capelle aan den IJssel, mainly because a large number of workers were available in that area and there was an increasing demand for the supply of fleet personnel. ‘We smelled the opportunities and took care of the niches. The companies we worked for knew us and granted us the business. We spoke the language of our clients. That, and the fact that we knew the market and the people qualified for the job, gave us an advantage over our competitors’.
How things went in the past
According to Wanders and Oostendorp, finding the right people used to be different from how it is now. ‘Email and WhatsApp didn’t exist; we called candidates after 5 PM, so they were free to talk. When they arrived at the office for an interview, our secretary Noor gave the candidate a cup of coffee in the waiting room. She would shake her head in pity if she believed it wasn’t a suitable candidate. She was right most of the time. She knew exactly what type of person would suit iPS’ clients: no pretence, no attitude, down-to-earth, a go-getter. You immediately noticed whether a candidate would hit the ground running, even though he had no diplomas. The trick was to convince a client he would be taking in a guy with character. Nowadays you can’t get to a job without a diploma, times have really changed.’
‘Perhaps we are old-style entrepreneurs’, say Oostendorp and Wanders. ‘We believe that a real entrepreneur does business using his own money, not a loan from the bank. We could work with many companies that do not have their own money. They borrow money and can only pay the bill in six months’ time. We don’t want that. We do offer payrolling, but only to financially sound companies.’
The segments in which iPS now operates have grown almost organically. ‘Opportunities always just crossed our path. For example: we’d hired someone who knew someone who was building the tunnel between Terneuzen and Vlissingen. It turned out the joint venture of the project had a problem rewarding the tunnel workers employed on the project. We took on some of the workmen. Eventually we delivered a complete team of tunnel workers for the construction of a tunnel under the Pannerdensch canal. Our people knew the machines and because of that they ended up working on a tunnel project in Sweden, and that way business expanded. The same thing happened in the Wind Energy market. The vessel we provided the crew for was given a contract to build windmills. For us, this was a niche that we took on with both hands. The essence is: Taking the burden away from the client‘.
Wanders and Oostendorp are proud to have started a business that is still viable after 30 years. They have grown without the need for bank loans and not by just focusing on profit. ‘We have created a company people like to work for. Of course, we know that money must be made in the end. But iPS is about human value, about socially-motivated entrepreneurship. That’s what we consider important.’
The owners of iPS are credited for their modesty. ‘At the time, we were very happy with our small, 70 square meter office. We have always believed in being modest, to not stand out from the crowd, and doing the job as reliably as we can. Many people like to tell you about how good they are. Appearing to be interested in another person often turns out to be self-interest. It’s a way of doing things that doesn’t work for us, but of course we also know that it’s important to show what we‘re doing’.
For Wanders and Oostendorp partnership speaks for itself. ‘Our secret? Granting each other an opportunity and knowing you can’t do it all by yourself. Allowing each other the space one needs and respecting each other’s expertise. Most of all it’s our ability to share. If you work together well, you can multiply your business and earn good money. We know for a fact that sharing is growing.’
Oostendorp and Wanders have now both retired. But this does not mean they’re no longer involved with iPS. ‘Men of our age often do different things than we do now. They play golf, watch TV, they’re busy with their children and grandchildren. We both do not have children, so we have time to spare. We still enjoy being active in our profession, however, we have a different way of putting the concept of ownership into practice. We see fellow professionals, visit trade fairs, we watch, we talk, we hear about new developments, which we sometimes pass on to management. That’s something we enjoy. When we’re on the road we never see each other, as we’re always busy with other people. We go out and talk to the right people, just like we’ve always done in a straightforward manner.
We are still the owners of a beautiful company. We would like to keep it that way. And we are certainly going to celebrate the company’s thirtieth anniversary. How? We will leave that to management.’