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"Putting people first is at the heart of our mission statement." Interview with John Engelsman

John Engelsman was born and raised in Kampen. Growing up in a family where his parents instilled in him the importance of doing good around him, John became interested in environmental and social issues at an early age.

His studies in environmental chemistry led him to specialize in soil pollution. Since 2012, he has been the leader of the IJB Group, which specializes in the foundation industry and has over 350 employees. Corporate social responsibility occupies an important place within IJB Group as John believes that the well-being of his people comes first.

What is critical to build leadership?

The most critical point is to create trust by doing what you say and saying what you do. Only then the people you work with will know that you are a reliable person. This also creates a certain stability that is important for the good development of the company and the trust of the people in you. Avoid going left today, right tomorrow. I have seen too often in other companies in the concrete sector in the Netherlands that they have too many different wishes in what they want to achieve. Today they make this product and tomorrow they make another one. Too much change in management is not good for the company. Maybe in our company, it's kind of the opposite, because we have a lot of employees who are on long-term contracts. Last week we had a couple of employees who have been with us for 40 and 45 years, so that's probably a long time. But the benefits of these long contracts are present, it creates a sense of trust and belonging and that is very positive for a company.

Another critical point is to be close to your employees and connect with them. This is unfortunately not always possible with everyone when you have several hundred employees. But whenever opportunities arise, take your chance to get close and connect with them. And as a leader, have a good eye on how your staff is doing, on their well-being. Putting people first is at the heart of our mission statement. Of course, we have to make profit, but profit comes after the well-being of people.

What are the biggest challenges of the building industry?

For us the transition for 2030 is a milestone, a real big step to make. What's difficult is that the demand for building materials is so important that everyone is focused solely on that, on the manufacturing capabilities of these products and whether we have enough raw materials. Because we have a shortage of just about everything: we don't have steel, we don't have wood, etc. It is becoming more and more difficult to find raw materials to produce concrete, so on the one hand we have a short-term volume problem, and on the other hand, we have medium- and long-term environmental goals by 2030.

In addition, in the building sector there are multitudes of small parties. They work independently of each other, they compete, and they communicate very little. And when they come together for a common project, there are often all kinds of complications due to the lack of communication. I often take the example of health and safety in factories and on construction sites because in previous years there were a lot of accidents, people who died on construction sites. What we see is that it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors towards each other. Construction companies say "oh, everything is fine, we follow protocols" but when you get to the heart of the matter, those protocols are worthless because time, money and the schedule are so demanding that the safety and health of your staff gets pushed aside. The real change in jobsite safety hasn't happened yet, because everyone is focused on the small parts, but the biggest risk is when those parts come together. We have such a demand for construction products that we don't make changes, we run and run to deliver.

And when it comes to environmental issues, we can see that small companies, individually, are making efforts. The changes are already there. The problem is when you look at the whole chain, it's not happening. So, it's hard to lead change together and build a common vision. We need more collaboration and a new leadership to make these changes. And this will be the greatest challenge of the coming years.

How can we overcome these challenges?

We need new leadership, and therefore we founded the Bressummer leadership program. We need to get rid of these window dressing situations. We need a chain of trust and collaboration. Why make health and safety, but also the environment, a competitive thing? Now, when someone comes up with a solution to reduce CO2 in concrete, they use it as an advantage over their competitors, to stand out and be better. I find that very strange. Why are we trying to be more competitive to save the world or the health and safety of our employees? Unfortunately, that's what's happening in the construction industry, and that's what we need to eliminate in order to create more trust and collaboration in the construction project chain.

What message would you like to give to the new generation of leaders?

My message would be focus on the dialogue with each other. Reach out to each other as much as possible and try to have an open and equal dialogue. Only with true dialogue can you change things and build trust with each other. That's the base, the foundation, on which the rest can be formed.

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