Posted on January 6, 2022
a DredgeWire exclusive, by Peter Bowe, Publisher
I had the opportunity to interview ROHR-IDRECO CEO Fulco Vrooland about an important topic: just how are you coping running a multinational company during the pandemic?
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ROHR-IDRECO is a specialized manufacturer of premium quality deep digging electric driven dredgers for the wet mining and dredging industries. The company employs about a hundred staff at its headquarters in the Netherlands, manufacturing facility in Germany and its sales and services offices in the US and France. DredgeWire’s Peter Bowe talks to Fulco Vrooland Löb, ROHR-IDRECO’s Group CEO, on how the company is faring during the covid-19 pandemic.
PB: Fulco, we have known each other for a long time. Weread about the recently re-imposed full lockdown in the Netherlands. Tell us how you have been coping with the past and current situation.
FVL: The first few months of 2020 we experienced a noticeable slowdown due to uncertain market sentiments. Other than that, from a sales perspective we have been fortunate to be busier than ever. The past two years we have been on a straight growth trajectory. In that sense, the current lockdown is not changing much from how we have been operating for the past two years. I think we have all adjusted to more digital communication, which has helped tremendously.
Supply chain delays and cross-border traveling restrictions have been a headache. We position ourselves as a premium brand and source our equipment from European suppliers only, so probably we are less vulnerable here than others. For the US market we chose a “made in America”/local-for-local approach where possible, which has helped us tremendously. Still, one PLC card not delivered on time, can cause a delay in handover of a complete dredger. Same goes for our on-site assembly teams that have had to deal with different countries’ quarantine requirements and so on. I think everyone in the industry is dealing with this, so there is mutual understanding when issues like these come up. Other concerns are of course shortages and steep price increases in raw materials, energy, and labor. We must beselective regarding what projects to undertake, diligent in cost build-up, and careful with terms and conditions.
PB: what changes have you made on how you run your business, and conduct sales?
FVL: Two years ago, when our first lockdown was announced, I was experiencing a déjà vu of sorts. I was domiciled in Japan but temporarily stationed in China when SARS broke out in 2003, the country closed for us, and together with the rest of our Japanese management I was sent back home. In those days internet was still so slow and unreliable, so trying to run a large shipyard from a distance was a logistical nightmare. When things had gone back to normal again though, we realized that some of our Chinese colleagues had risen to the occasion and locally led the company through the difficult days. This was a very interesting experience. So, one of my first thoughts this time was not “how well are we prepared?” but instead was “what are we going to gain from this new situation?”Looking back two years later now, I think the answer is: “a lot”.
Currently, a hotly debated measure in several European countries including Germany, is mandatory vaccination, or in the Netherlands to extend the current use of the so-called “corona pass” (basically a QR-code generating app to prove you have been recently vaccinated) for all non-essential shops and public spaces, to the work floor. I believe this is absolutely not the right way forward. Instead, what I am still missing in the public discourse, is a more holistic approach to what we can do as employers to promote the health of our staff, which is key in managing this pandemic.
Putting my money where my mouth is, with the gyms being closed for months during the first lockdown, we have built a pretty neat weightlifting and exercise room in our office building, and encourage our team to use it during, or after work, at will.
For our respective sales team we have organized a specialized training for online selling and presenting. To stay closely connected and in touch with our clients and partners we have invested in a new CRM system and upped our Social Media presence. Currently we are in the final stages of renewing our website, to be launched Q1 this year. Working flexibly and from home has become widely accepted, and is for me personally saving three hours of daily commuting time that I can now spend on getting things done. I am amazed to see how we nowadays conclude major deals over Zoom or Teams, saving us significant time and money we otherwise would have spent on overseas travels. These are measures that will stay and that we will happily be building on as business owners and employers.
Most importantly: over the past years we have invested significantly in operation software and especially automation of our dredgers, having developed three tiers “Eyes Underwater”, “Making Waves” and the most extensive level of remote controlled and automated dredging, “iDredge For You”. This process has improved our ability to remote support our machines worldwide. With these tools installed our clients can vastly reduce their dependency on having actual people on site, both for their operations as well as for servicing and maintenance from our side; clearly a major advantage during these two years of pandemic and subsequent restrictions on movement.