Interview Coen Vinke – Holland Colours

After years of international positions and a lot of travel, Coen Vinke settled in The Hague with his family a few years ago. Although he had been working in chemistry throughout his career, Holland Colours came across his path by accident. He and his international team have been giving colour to the B2B market for more than four years now. Flevum spoke to him about sustainability, an international identity and why it is so important that his employees have shares.

From Brazil to The Hague
The dunes at Scheveningen, or the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. That is where Coen Vinke finds relaxation these days, by walking or mountain biking. A big difference with his previous places of residence, for example in Brazil, Spain and the United States. Yet the CEO of Holland Colours sees it as a happy medium: a little more time for the family, but also the international challenge that has been central to his career for years.

Vinke is originally a business economist and has been active in chemistry throughout his career. Therefore, no technical or complex language, but thorough knowledge of the market. A good match with Holland Colours, which itself is not a pure chemical company. The organisation has its head office in Apeldoorn, with additional branches in six other countries. Here, colour pigments and other raw materials are processed in small spheres. The result? This combination of colour pigments and raw materials ensures a clean and optimised process for the customer, who mainly use the colour balls in the manufacture of plastic products, including polyester or PVC.

Sustainable by chance
It was groundbreaking when founder Jan de Heer developed the technology forty years ago. Not only because of the clean working method, but also because of the sustainable way in which the spheres are produced. Seeds that grow in India are processed into oil, with which the colour pigments can be encapsulated. ”Actually, by coincidence we have been working on a sustainable product for so long already.”

Nevertheless, the CEO can also count on criticism: Holland Colours products are mainly used in plastic applications. How does he rhyme with sustainability?

Vinke: ”Many people have had serious reservations about plastic for a few years now. In reality, plastic is not the problem: it is a good material that finds its way into many applications including construction, industry and it is also a fantastic packaging material. Moreover, it is lightweight, which in return saves on transport emissions. However, consumers throw it away, we do nothing or little with the plastic waste, that is the problem. People often look more positively at glass and aluminium, but both are very energy intensive to produce, and therefore cause a lot of CO2 emissions.”

It is not a hymn to the plastic, he emphasises. Every material has its advantages and disadvantages, with a lot to gain from the reuse of materials. It is precisely there that Vinke sees enormous opportunities, also for Holland Colours. “The developments in the field of plastic recycling are moving very fast. It is no longer only reused as textiles, for example, but to actually make a bottle that you can reuse. We are therefore sitting around the table with various parties and companies to see how we can shape this in terms of colour and other properties. After all, colour remains extremely important for marketers. If the whole world were transparent or colourless, it would be very boring.’

Picturesque descriptions will not mend broken circuits
In all these developments, collaboration with various parties is central to the CEO. For example, Holland Colours works together with universities and participants in the entire process, in search of winning technologies and sustainable solutions. The company itself also takes responsibility, with different targets for 2030. ”In the end, talk doesn’t fill any gaps, you have to actually take action. With us we have focused on the 3Ps: process, product and people. In concrete terms, this means that we want to halve our CO2 footprint by 2030, switch to sustainable energy, and help our employees with sustainable solutions at home. But there is still a big challenge, especially in the product part.”

Nevertheless, Vinke foresees that this transformation is in a sense easier for his company than for the large corporations. ”Our real advantage is that we don’t make standard products, like the big boys. We are in discussion with customers to understand their challenges, and through co-design we arrive at a design. On that basis, we will formulate, test and, together with the customer, optimise the quality of their process and the end product. We therefore do not have standard products in stock, and are therefore more flexible if, for example, a customer has new machines or wants new products. Then it really helps that we have creative people with a lot of knowledge in our labs.”

Two hours to meet
The CEO describes Holland Colours as a mini-multinational. ”We are a family business, but we have also attracted several investors from different countries right from the start. We were listed on the stock exchange in 1990, and all our employees are also shareholders in Holland Pigments Holding. This makes for a unique combination: on the one hand we are a niche player and a leader in our market segments and we have branches all over the world. At the same time, we can maintain the good atmosphere and involvement of the family business, partly because the employees are shareholders. This way they feel more involved in the entire process. ”

It has its challenges: due to the time difference between America, Asia and Europe, there are only two hours each day that all offices are working at the same time, and these are therefore normally filled with meetings. Nevertheless, Vinke mainly sees how strong the mutual bond is between all employees. ”We are really a people-oriented company, both towards each other and the customer. We take good care of each other, and we saw that very clearly in the Covid period. If someone was sick, it was picked up by someone who worked twice as hard. You can only be very proud of that.’

The visibility of the CEO
Maintaining this culture also requires good communication and an active role from the CEO himself, says Vinke. ”Sometimes you really have to travel around, show your face and communicate with all layers of your company. I still have plenty to learn there myself, but it is greatly appreciated by the different locations. Especially when you are so international, visibility is really essential.”

Vinke will face plenty of challenges in the coming years. Holland Colours is working on an internal transition program in which digitization and IT are central. Yet it is mainly the current social and economic trend that concerns the CEO. “The next six months are just going to be really exciting for us and I think any business. Think raw material

shortages, rising prices, chance of a recession. We are financially very healthy and we have loyal and hardworking people, so we can take a beating. Still, I think it’s very exciting to see where it goes in the medium to long term. The world is shifting, so as a leader you have to be prepared for that. How do you process that in your growth plans, what effect does it have on your internal affairs? Enough food for thought, but at the same time it also binds us together. I spoke to new employees in Indonesia, who had consciously chosen Holland Colours because I consciously spoke out in favour of innovation and sustainability. That gives me a lot of energy.”

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