Rerouted: Heijmans

Friday, 31 July 2020

Doing business and becoming a successful entrepreneur never happens without a challenge. You need to be flexible, creative and change your route when the situation so requires. We ask our community of mobility entrepreneurs how they adapted their actions in Rerouted.

Not so long ago, we spoke to Bart Smolders and Coen Sanderink of Heijmans. Smart infrastructure has become new business model for Heijmans and data has given infrastructure a heartbeat. But what impact did the outbreak of COVID-19 have on their business? Did they change anything?


How did this outbreak affect your business?

Bart Smolders: ‘Corona infections require drastic measures worldwide and also in the Netherlands. This applies to Heijmans, other companies in our sector and our customers. At Heijmans we work along three lines in this era of Corona:

  • Safety and Health for our people is paramount. We follow RIVM guidelines
  • The continuity of our projects is important for NL, our customers and our company
  • This requires continuous adaptability and entrepreneurial strength

‘Alongside these three lines the majority of our people work digitally and from home. In our infrastructure projects we work with partners applying additional measures. Employees are no longer allowed to travel by four in a van, but had to travel in separate vehicles in order to comply with the 1.5 meter distance.’

‘On top of that we are continuously talking to customers to keep the tenders in the market. Government officials supplying these tenders had to change and work remotely too. So we have to keep the conversation going and stay top of mind to hold on to that sense of urgency. By staying in touch we have also been able to adapt to the circumstances and become more flexible. Due to empty roads some work could be rescheduled and done earlier than planned.’

Coen Sanderink: ‘Of course our business is affected by the virus. Schiphol Airport is one of our biggest clients. Before the outbreak it kept on growing and growing. We would build new infrastructure at the airport, maintain the current asphalt and monitor the aircraft bridge on which airplanes such as an A380 would pass over the highway. Since lockdown planes stayed on the ground, resulting in an amended maintenance regime. And as for the A380: they decided to slowly stop flying this huge aircraft.’


Did the virus result in new opportunities or smart solutions?

Coen Sanderink: ‘To me this virus offers a window to the future. Even though our health and economy are so badly affected, these times also energise me. Why? Because it makes people think in a different way and this can actually accelerate change and speed up our mobility transition. Like Einstein used to call it: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Something we could also apply to our climate crisis. We cannot solve our climate crisis in a world in which Schiphol Airport keeps on growing and growing or in which we want to travel faster from A to B. The past 20-40 years our way of thinking has been entirely involved around the car. This virus has helped to shift this. Another interesting quote I read in a book which can help thinking in a different way: “Is that deer passing our road or are we trespassing his forest?”’

‘Before Corona the daily news was full of messages containing complaints about cities running full of tourists, increased congestion and emissions. Cities were slowly trying to ban mass tourism and cars. COVID-19 has actually given us a lot of answers and showed how we can make changes. Cities have developed more space for cyclists and pedestrians to move in a safe way. New infrastructure asks for new traffic flows and monitoring systems. This offers us new business opportunities.’

‘Complying with the 1,5 meter distance also asks for new systems to measure movement of people and manage crowds. This has all been speeded up by this outbreak.’


Has your day changed?

Coen Sanderink: ‘Working remotely, online meetings, like most of us. Luckily our schools have opened their doors again but like many people, before that I got appointed a new job teaching my children from home. My wife and I split the day in two. Fortunately, the children are already fairly independent so we can also work from home. In addition, I try to catch a new rhythm in which I also consciously take a walk to prevent from looking at a screen the entire day. I follow webinars more often or watch recorded videos. After all, normally I would also go to conferences. Something I find very hard to keep up with is the networking. You just cannot network with 50 people in a Zoom meeting. Hopefully we can physically meet again soon.’


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