As a globally operating distribution company specialised in steel pipes, and pipe and tube applications, Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group‘s presence reaches far and wide. The company is active in 33 countries worldwide, employs roughly 2.400 people — and has an estimated revenue of around €1.4 billion. “There’s more than an off chance you see something in your neighbourhood that is constructed with our pipe and tube products”, says Caroline van Nieuwkerk, the company’s Executive Director HR, who has more than 25 years of experience transforming international businesses.
As a globally operating distribution company specialised in steel pipes, and pipe and tube applications, Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group‘s presence reaches far and wide.
Toward the end of 2019, the Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group acquired German company , with 1.600 employees in 59 different locations. While every integration of an acquisition has its own unique challenges, integrating in a time of a pandemic brought upon its own degree of difficulty. As for many companies, for Van Leeuwen the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way business was done.
‘No one-size-fits-all solution’
“There was no one-size-fits-all solution, because every country, naturally, is different”, says Caroline van Nieuwkerk, the company’s Executive Director HR, who has more than 25 years of experience transforming international businesses. “We had to curate a solution for every country. 40% of our employees, mainly in warehouse jobs, couldn’t work from home. It extended to something we still talk about today: ‘What type of company are we, and how does hybrid working fit into that model?’.”
Built on data
As the leadership of the Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group discussed priorities, goals and strategies — they prioritised one working solution in terms of its HR. For Van Leeuwen, that solution was called Workday. Workday’s Enterprise Management Cloud system is used by some of the most-established and fastest-growing companies in the world.
“As we’re building our HR foundation, we always start with data.”
“Especially after the integration of Benteler Distribution, we needed one methodology, one system we could work with for all 33 countries”, Van Nieuwkerk says. “With Workday we saw an opportunity to do that with one system, rather than each with their own separate forms. As we’re building our HR foundation, we always start with data. With that, Workday can help us immensely.”
A transnational HR approach
Van Nieuwkerk also saw a much more transnational HR approach in dealing with the pandemic within the company. “We had a relatively similar approach in all countries where we operate in terms of how we dealt and deal with health and safety protocols”, Van Nieuwkerk says. “But what stood out to me is the fact that we brought all HR departments closer together. We had regular Teams sessions with HR managers in all 33 countries.”
“We had regular Teams sessions with HR managers in all 33 countries.”
The HR managers shared ideas on the major issues for every company throughout the pandemic: holding the fort together. “It was all about: What can I learn from you?”, Van Nieuwkerk continues. “I discussed ideas with HR managers in Asia, in the United Kingdom. I was also inspired by what one of my colleagues in the Czech Republic had thought of in terms of a virtual, personal team building exercise with personal photos of every employee.”
‘It all starts with leadership’
As the Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group approaches the next stage — wherein restrictions are lifted and people can return to their everyday normal ways of working, Van Nieuwkerk says the company looks at its leaders to ‘make a difference’. “To me, our goal is to facilitate our leaders to become the best possible leaders they can be”, she says. “Only then will we be able to help our people and thus our customers in the best possible way.”
“Understanding what it is you need, allows you to do your job more successfully.”
Van Nieuwkerk sees four main aspects wherein leaders can flourish. “Firstly, we need digital skills in every layer of our company, from warehouse to management”, she says. “Then you need a certain set of cognitive skills. Have a good mindset in terms of being agile. Thirdly, you need to be aware of empathy and how to work together successfully. Lastly, you need to be self-aware individually. Understanding what it is you need, allows you to do your job more successfully.”
“The primary goal should always be to keep everyone on board and aligned on the business strategy. And that all starts with leadership.”
Moreover, the Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group looks at hybrid working as something to incorporate into the business model. “Although we all miss the coffee corner conversations, the hybrid way of working and communicating is undeniably effective. But if you don’t see any body language, you can’t always know what’s going on. The primary goal should always be to keep everyone on board, and aligned on the business strategy. And that all starts with leadership.”