"Zaanstad is very attractive thanks to the historical buildings lining the river front."
Marco, tell me, what exactly does CoNet do?
"Our core business at CoNet is automating industrial activities. And I’m talking about the industrial process here, not the IT. A staggering 95 percent of what we accomplish, is done with Siemens, no other brand, and we use technology for all sorts of industrial organizations and domains, such as Food and Beverages, Chemicals, Oil and Gas, Steel and Infra."
What motivates you personally?
"Keeping industrial activity alive and well is what I’m interested in. By automating processes correctly companies based in the Netherlands can stay in business. Producing efficiently is necessary if you want to compete with low-wage countries. So, as an extension to this motive, it is important to me to generate enthusiasm in people about the industrial sector and to create a fun working environment for them. We’ve noticed that not enough people chose technical courses at this moment. That is why we are lobbying the government to put more emphasis on technology and industry in the education system. If it were up to us, we’d also visit schools in order to provide youngsters with insight about how technical subject matters work. The Technasium in Zaandam, which is a VWO school with a focus on the technical courses, is a very good initiative. That is why we set up a training system to help these students get acquainted with industrial automation. The cooperation is still in its infancy, but we would like to invest and help more. You know, the nicest thing about this job is that you can transform, grow and improve something. There’s the theoretical side to automation, and then there is the practical one, and both are mightily interesting. You are creative. It takes months to design – in theory – and then, when you load up the software – in practice – the plant does what you have put in: that is just awesome."
You describe CoNet as being idiosyncratic. Where does this show most?
"We are definitely different. First of all, because of our one-brand strategy, but also because we are a technically driven company. We are performing at the Champions League level in our field, and we do not play political games. Furthermore, we do not look to the competition but rather trust in our own strength. And finally, our people are also idiosyncratic. They are both technically gifted and creative. In this business you are forging something, painting a beautiful picture."
How do you feel about working with people from this area (Zaankanters)?
"Zaankanters are a chauvinistic lot: very proud of their region and heritage. They will grant jobs to other companies from the Zaan region for instance. I’m a native myself, and in my experience people here are very open and direct. Incidentally the Zaanstreek is the oldest industrial area in the Netherlands. That is very special! Did you know that Jisp and Wormer, who make up Wormerland, actually constitute the oldest industrial area in the world? That was because of the whaling industry. Thanks to all of the water in this area, processing whales and liver-oil was done right here. And don’t forget, back then that was a smelly business."
What makes Zaanstad such a good place for entrepreneurs?
"Zaanstad is very attractive thanks to the historical buildings lining the river front. This former Verkade facility, where we have our offices, is just one of many examples. We are really proud to be here, and it is also strategically smart because of this location’s proximity to Amsterdam. Another advantage is that this site is exactly halfway Amsterdam and Wormer, which is where René and I live, ha-ha."
"Zaankanters are a chauvinistic lot: very proud of their region and heritage."
What could local authorities do to give more support to entrepreneurs?
"Submitting tenders is very tricky for SMEs, because governmental institutions prefer selecting companies offering a total package. It would be nice if the local authorities could think along with companies like CoNet, by dividing up work packages. Industrial automation would then be one part of a whole project. We also think that it is important for local authorities to promote the preservation of industrial real estate along the Zaan river, to make sure the prettiest and oldest industrial heritage remains intact."