You have only succeeded as a leader when those around you want you to succeed

'The times when I had the most satisfaction from my work was when the pressure was very high and transformation was needed. Success starts with good relationships and therefore trust. When people want to start helping you, then things start moving. At some point you get a good rapport: how do we make each other a little better?' - Kef van Helbergen, Associate Partner Boer & Croon

Zorgpleinnoord 2

Kef van Helbergen has joined Boer & Croon as an Associate Partner. In that role, he will contribute to large-scale transformations as interim CEO.

Nutrition and health

Digitization and sustainability
'Digitalization and expectations of sustainability are putting pressure on the way we are used to working. Therefore, we need to step out of our comfort zone, be curious and drive change in a flexible, pragmatic and inclusive way. Only together can we build new business models, seize new opportunities and create more sustainable solutions and a more just world step by step. I would like to contribute to making the food chain more sustainable. Together we have to make sure that people eat healthier, gain more insight through data on the impact of food on health and vitality for all age groups and ensure that the food chain becomes shorter and more transparent.'

'My first job at SHV, felt like coming home. In Belgium, I got the opportunity to experience all facets of Makro, hands-on. At the cash register, at the end of the process see everything that goes right and wrong, you learn lessons from that that stay with you all your life. My time at SHV taught me a lot, both professionally and personally. As a trainee in Belgium, I was given two years to learn and try everything. What will always stay with me is the freedom I was given to determine my own path.
After this, I was sent to Indonesia to build a store in Bandung. Completely from scratch, so I had to find land, buy it, build it, assemble and train a management team and open the store. After two years, I got my own store in Jakarta. Later that year, we were evacuated because the political situation had become untenable. My store was looted and set on fire. When peace had somewhat returned, after two weeks, we got on a plane to rebuild the whole business. That was very much appreciated there, because they saw that we really invested in the relationship and also took responsibility when things were a little less pleasant. This gave us a good name in the market and we no longer had any problems getting permits, for example.'

Doing business in a foreign market

'After Indonesia, I was allowed to pioneer in China for five years. There I learned to trust my intuition. At that time in that country there was absolutely nothing to hold on to. You had to set yourself up in such a way that people were eager to help you. Because you're going to open a store in a foreign market. How do you determine the assortment? You have to go out, build relationships, have lunch with everybody and look at other stores and visit the open markets. You have to learn to think very locally. You will only get things done if you have a good understanding of how the culture works, how the distribution is set up and what people expect. You shouldn't copy your European stores there. When we opened the first store we had over 16,000 customers the very first day. People had never shopped in a refrigerated environment before.'

'In Poland, I was allowed to tackle the hypermarkets and supermarkets for Ahold. I reduced some of the hypermarkets and integrated them into the supermarkets. In the end, we sold the whole operation to Carrefour. After the sale, it was a nine-month wait for approval. This kind of operation is right up my alley. You have no idea what you are getting into, you don't know how long it will take. The most important thing then is that the employees don't walk away. Through open and honest communication, you make the best of it together, even if the future is uncertain. Looking back, I am proud of how we as a team were able to gain market share in those nine months and hand over a great club to Carrefour.'

Improving the business model

Helping a hypermarché growing
'Just before I made the move to Metro, Metro had acquired Géant- Casino in Poland. My first task then was to integrate the two companies, reposition the brand and make it more commercially attractive. Since French people know more about hypermarkets than Germans or Dutch, I had a lot of help from the French team at Géant-Casino. The result was tremendous growth and we were voted retailer of the year two years in a row. That is the essence of what I like doing best: continuously improving the business model and constantly adapting the offering to the changing needs of the customer.'

'After Poland, I had the opportunity to join a completely different side of the business as Global Head of Executive Development. I then became responsible for the development, succession planning and transformation of the management teams at Metro, Kaufhof and Media Markt. I strongly believe in lifelong learning and felt I could contribute with my line experience in the development of the Development Centers and content. Then I got to run Metro in seven countries in Eastern Europe. Building teams and making them better and better. It works differently in every culture. Instead of frenetically sticking to how you think things should go, you have to try to get teams in a flow. You have to create a space where people feel comfortable and can perform. That's the fun part of leadership.'

Impact of soft services

Future-proof side job
'After that, when I switched to, my father jokingly said "Kef, why did you even study? First you started filling boxes and now you're going to sell used cars." I took that step because I could go through the digital car wash as a 50-year-old. We built a digital platform in 23 countries and set up a sales force. I gained a lot of knowledge there on digitalization and customer journeys.'

'My last position was as Managing Director Compass Group Benelux, a large corporate catering and soft services organization. During my time, we acquired two great brands (Maison van den Boer and J&M Catering), introduced a new brand and introduced three new concepts (Nula, URock and Nonna Pepa). In addition, I became aware of the impact of our food and soft services on vitality and sustainability of our clients. Compass Group Benelux serves 730,00 meals per week. By serving less meat, using shorter and more transparent chains and using different cleaning products, you can help clients 'reduce their carbon footprint' by big steps. Getting people to eat better and healthier has a direct impact on their vitality. As part of CSR, we entered into a partnership with The Colour Kitchen, a platform where people with a disadvantage on the labor market, such as refugees from Syria and Ukraine, but also ex-prisoners, were put to work. Really cool to see how you can help people like that!'

'Boer & Croon's Get It Done mentality really appeals to me. As an Associate Partner I get a great opportunity to work with young driven people. We can learn a lot from each other. That interaction is very valuable. I want to build things together with such a team as interim CEO and take steps towards a more sustainable future.'