Infrastructure Traffic management Sustainability Speeding up

Speeding up the mobility transition | Hetty Lemmen, OFN

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

‘We always aim to create products and solutions that are as smart as they are sustainable.’

With the continuous growth of the population and ongoing urbanization there are numerous mobility challenges. Sustainability, safety and societal impact are amongst our daily concerns. We need to speed up the mobility transition to keep up with the fast changing global dynamics, which requires inventive approaches and better solutions. In this series we share inspiring and innovative cases from all over the world. Hetty Lemmen is Director Commerce at OFN. How does she speed up the mobility transition?

In 2019 Hetty Lemmen decided to switch jobs to become Director Commerce at OFN after 12,5 years of working in the telecom industry. How does she experience the mobility industry?

‘OFN was founded in 2001 by Henk Baars with two employees focusing on street furniture and signage at train stations. Since its foundation, OFN has provided tens of thousands of products that millions of Dutch people use intensively on a daily basis. In 2006, as an intern at the age of 19, his son David Baars set up a service organisation as well. In addition to supplying products, we were also able to offer service and maintenance to guarantee quality in the user phase as well. This gave us a better grip on the chain. The service organisation was established under the same owner and holding company, but the projects department worked from Buren and the service organisation from Andelst. Since 2019 the projects and service organisation merged into one and we work from the same building in Geldermalsen.’

‘Today OFN exists of 90 employees. Since 2017 sustainability became the core part of what we do. Both in production and our organisation. We drive electric vehicles and have solar panels. You need 10,000 traffic signs of aluminium? Than OFN is not your party to go to. We believe in circularity and sustainability. We produce street furniture such as bus stops, traffic signs made of rice husk, benches made of local wood and a smart garbage bin (which contains seven times more thanks to an automatic press) to a parking garage of bamboo layered design and a B-composite poles.’

‘I have absorbed knowledge from the field by not being afraid to ask questions.’

‘Only two years ago I applied as Director Commerce without knowledge on the technical side of street furniture and only basic knowledge of mobility. The organisation has welcomed me with open arms and it feels as if I have been working here for years. For me it is totally different than the former job in which I was the expert and everyone came to me. Luckily, I have been able to absorb knowledge from the field very quickly, just by not being afraid to ask questions.’

‘From day one, I scheduled meetings with every part of the organisation to learn from my colleagues. At one specific meeting about tenders, I got really scared of all the difficult terminologies. From that moment onwards, I decided to ensure every offer was sent via myself in order to get as much knowledge as possible on the business too.’

‘I believe in my job it is not necessary to know every term and understand every technical detail of the product. I need to understand what is going on in the industry and where the chances lay. Both myself and our account managers should be able to sell every single product, tell others precisely what we stand for and what sustainable activities we perform in order to be successful at networking and relationship management with important clients and local governments. I believe the best account manager knows how to filter the knowledge needed in order to perform at his or her best.’

‘A successful account manager knows how to filter the knowledge needed.’

‘Unlike most comparable companies, we prefer to partly outsource the production of our solutions. This way OFN works material independent; we don’t have our own factory. We buy the materials and assemble them into the final product. In this way we can respond to the sustainable wishes of the customer. This is what I think makes us more flexible; even though it could be more costly. Our important challenge is to grow, as for every organisation. However, we have to ensure that growth fits the organisation. Especially, since we do not have the ambition to grow explosively in employee numbers. If we want, we could launch a product every day, but it is our challenge to deliver additional value to our customers and offer every employee the chance to grow with the organisation.’

‘I believe growth is about finding the right balance.’

‘Don’t get me wrong; this does not mean we are conservative. It is always important to try new things and learn from it. Designing the exteriors of a parking garage with sustainable wood or sustainable noise barriers are new things we try. However, I believe to design and sell something is as important as to produce and manage. This should remain in balance.’

‘To me speeding up the mobility transition means we always aim to create products and solutions that are as smart as they are sustainable. One product I am really proud of is the traffic sign made out of rice husk. Together with Textline we designed a circular and sustainable traffic sign made of residual material rice husk (60%), rock salt (22%) and mineral oil (18%).’

‘Our circular traffic sign is a symbol of what we believe in.’

‘Of course it is not easy and sometimes contradictory to find new solutions to decrease the number of movements and at the same time you want to increase business. Again it is all about finding the right balance. If people chose a cheaper non-sustainable product over ours, we think of it as their loss. Our circular traffic sign is a symbol of what we believe in. It can last for 80 years. After damage or the end of the signs life, it can be 100% reused and fully used for a new traffic sign. The foil will be recycled into rain boots. The circle is complete and that is what gives me so much energy!’

‘The future of mobility is hard to predict. It seems to be going in different directions. We want to drive electric vehicles, but at the same time we are still broadening and expanding roads because traffic is increasing.’

‘It takes a lot of kilometres to expand abroad and this does not fit our vision.’

‘Our future growth will be focused on the Netherlands only. We focus on the Dutch market because there is still plenty to do in the Netherlands. The market is large and the climate targets make the demand even greater.’

‘We value the lowest possible CO2 emissions, which is becoming increasingly important in the Netherlands, and abroad. We do not rule out international expansion, but when we take on projects abroad, we are often seen as expensive because of the distances both employees and our products have to travel. Due to the distance our products have to travel; it is seen as less sustainable then when produced locally.’

‘Both literally and figuratively, it takes a lot of kilometres to expand abroad and this does not fit our vision. If we were to actively focus on the foreign market, we would have to grow considerably without knowing in advance what the foreign market will bring us such as legislations and certifications, etc. We are not going to take that step for the time being, but we will of course handle foreign applications.’

‘By 2030 every new traffic sign that hits the street should be made of sustainable circular materials.’

‘Focussing on the Dutch market allows us to focus on the quality of our products and make more people aware of sustainable solutions. That is what we stand for. In order to really make an impact and contribute to the global sustainability target (100% circular economy by 2050), by 2030 every new traffic sign that hits the street should be made of sustainable circular materials.’


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