New Silk Road Network’s member WiSch Enterprise is a full-service logistics company in the Netherlands. Its origins date back to 1996, and at the beginning of 2021, they moved their office from Rotterdam to Groningen. Such a change was followed shortly by the sad passing of Mr. Willem-Jan Scherpenisse, Founder and CEO of the company. From thereafter, his wife Ms. Ivonne Scherpenisse-van Daelen took over as CEO and their son Mr. Joey Rensch joined the business as COO. Our team had the pleasure of talking with both Ivonne and Joey about the new management structure, their thoughts behind moving to Groningen, the current dynamics of freight forwarding and how they managed to stabilize the business thanks to their philosophy when working with partners and clients. We learn about their family business story, and how they got things back on track in an honest and heartwarming conversation.
In conversation with Ivonne and Joey…
NSRN: WiSch Enterprise is a premier Dutch logistics provider that till today operates with a small team, however, has managed to build a very reputable name amongst customers and partners. As the family business, its name also reflects the origins of the company, taking the first letters of the names of its founders, Mr. Willem-Jan Scherpenisse, who sadly passed away suddenly last year and Ms. Ivonne Scherpenisse (WiSch). Can you tell us a bit about the journey in bringing this company to life? What was Willem-Jan’s dream when founding the company? Do you think he was able to achieve what he wanted?
Ivonne: Willem-Jan was always in business throughout his whole life, and he was an entrepreneur for many years too. We also worked together and took inspiration from each other. For a period of time, I was working as an appraiser of property in Belgium. Following the methodology of the taxation company we built, Willem-Jan copied the business structure into WiSch Enterprise. Every evening we would talk about the business and the plans we had and what he was planning to do. His intention was always to help his clients and WiSch Enterprise was his way of realizing this. When he started out with this company, he just wanted to work for a few more years and help the customers that he already had and then stop working. He built such good relationships over the years though, that the company just continued to grow rapidly! The idea though, of slowly exiting on a high note was good, and he was very happy with that. He was also very happy to leave the company to one of the children: Joey. The plan was to help Joey work through the process and mentor him personally. Afterwards Willem-Jan would be able to gradually retire, which he was really looking forward to. Unfortunately, this did not really work out as planned, and Willem-Jan passed away just as Joey was moving over to Groningen to join the family business officially. Since then, it has been a very challenging journey for Joey and I, but we managed and I can say we are in a good position now.
NSRN: At the beginning of 2021, you moved WiSch Enterprise from the logistical hub of Rotterdam to Groningen. What was the reason for this decision and how does it affect the operations of the company?
Ivonne: Of course, Rotterdam is the central logistics hub, however we wanted to move to Groningen to have a more peaceful and quieter environment. Nature is wonderful here and the people are really nice. As you recall, the idea for Willem-Jan was also to work a few more years and retire, so he wanted to do so in Groningen. We did end up moving one and a half years earlier, because the company was on a rise and we did not want to hire people and then have the company moved. We found a really nice office here, just 3 minutes away from our house. We have a canal in front of our office with boats coming through. Willem-Jan was very happy. Everything was set for the company to restart, and Joey was on his way here too. But on the same day he arrived here in Groningen, Willem-Jan passed away… It was a very hectic time, not just due to the moving but also as you know the industry was in chaos since two years ago. One day after his passing, we were already working because containers were blocked. We had to jump in right away. In addition, the new office was not ready yet, but luckily we had the full support of the local businesses here. They really helped us put together the new office in less than a week so we could start work in a professional environment right away.
NSRN: Today the name of WiSch lives on with the leadership of wife and son… Joey, what motivated you to step into freight forwarding? As COO, where do you see the strength of WiSch Enterprise and how do you envision the company to evolve in the next years?
Joey: I was previously doing dispatching in the Netherlands. At one point, I had up to 50 truckers under my supervision. However, the conditions and working environment was horrible and after a few years, I had had enough. I was looking for another job when Dad found out I was looking for something else. He offered me a job at WiSch Enterprise and asked me if I want to learn the business from him. I thought that this was an opportunity that you don’t get everyday in your career. I will be learning the business from somebody who has been doing it for almost 50 years. What could possibly go wrong? He was doing a great job and with that much experience behind you, it can only go well. He got sick the week before I moved here and, he died on the day I was packing my last things. The last time I saw him was a week before that. It was a very difficult emotional time. We had to open the office right away because containers were blocked, but a lot of help from the businesses here helped speed things up. The office furnishment was done in two days and then we just started. It was a huge headache to figure everything out because he knew everything from the top of his head. We were always cross-checking everything. That went on for weeks before finally, we had a full picture of what everything was and who we were dealing with, especially all our partners, clients and agents. We managed to stabilize the situation within a weeks’ time, which I think was a very big achievement. Now looking back, it was a lot of hard work, a lot of headaches and a lot of emotional rollercoasters throughout the year but somehow, we managed. We did it together, we supported each other. My mom knows the business from her own entrepreneurship years, and she has taught me a great deal. At that time, I was still finishing my freight forwarding education. I remember that one time I was studying something that I thought I would never put to use. Funny thing was, the following Monday, I received an e-mail, and it required exactly the piece of information that I just learned. So, I guess you can say that even the most absurd things in education can come in handy. Of course, with my logistics background from dispatching, it was easy to get a grip of the freight forwarding side. Together we managed and we are proud about that. We can continue the business and my father’s legacy this way.
NSRN: Ivonne, as the CEO, what philosophy have you followed since assuming this role and what kind of transformations have occurred in the company?
Ivonne: I think I continued to do things mostly how Willem-Jan did because we always talked about business. We did our businesses together, before this office, we also worked from home together. So not a lot has changed. The only thing I would say, is that I really stand for a self-validating autonomous structure where everybody finds their own place in the company and feels comfortable about what they are doing. For example, if I take somebody on for finance, and it turns out that they are really into and talented in sales, then by all means, I let them give it a try and see where that leads to. Something I really enjoying seeing in the company is people developing, growing and being happy. In general, Willem-Jan and I have the same philosophy. This hasn’t changed that much. We just want a good company with nice staff that are happy to work with us. We want a stable connection with our network, and we have agents all over the world. In the first few months, I only took time to get in contact with our agents, informing them about my taking over and building a connection with them. Two weeks after Joey and I took over, I took Joey to our biggest customer in Germany and introduced him as the director. We also asked for help, and thanks to Willem-Jan, we had many people who supported us. An agent from Turkey told me: “Willem-Jan was my mentor.” I thanked him for saying that and at the same time asked him “I know about you, he told me about you. Can I ask you to be a mentor for my son now?”. We really want a warm connection with all the people we work with. Our goal is not to make money, but to do something that matters. I think because of my coaching business, I really want to impact people and help them come together. When we grow, we want the people to grow with us. And when our partners’ business grows, we will grow with them. I think this is the philosophy for both me and Willem-Jan.
NSRN: With the effect of the pandemic, a difficult process began for freight forwarders. While growth was realized at some points, there was shrinkage on the other side. How would you evaluate the impact of the effects of the pandemic process on WiSch Enterprise operations and on industry dynamics?
Ivonne: Fortunately, Willem-Jan already foresaw that Covid-19 will bring troubles, especially to international sea and air freight. We therefore turned our attention last year to develop more into road transport. We looked for somebody who could bring something to the table and Roel stood out. He is our in-house senior forwarder and has worked in road transport already for 40 years.
Joey: Roel is a huge asset for us. He joined our team just before the 2021 NSRN Regional Meet Up in Bremen last November... Of course, we always hope to do more, but it is rather difficult at these times because there are so many trucking companies out there, perhaps even more than freight forwarders (laugh). There is so much competition and it is very hard to get in between and make enough profit that you can live off. We were also quite lucky that we don’t do a great deal of export, so we have less of a headache when it comes to getting space and dealing with the carriers.
Sometimes there is a week delay. This is oversee-able. It will be a week later but then what we preferably do is work ahead of time. You also have the time frame to take that hit. When there is congestion and it takes another week or two, most of our clients give us enough time to plan ahead, and that helps a lot.
Ivonne: That’s why we have such a strong agency network all over the world. We have a good relationship with them. So, they step up when necessary. They do everything to help us out. We always work with the same partners instead of shopping around for cheaper options. We let them have a piece of the cake as well.
NSRN: As you mentioned in your New Silk Road Network profile, WiSch Enterprise has a strong import and cross trade business from China to various destinations. China's zero-Covid policy continues to negatively affect the industry. It's also a delicate time with the Ukraine-Russian crisis going on. How are your operations affected by these dynamics and what kind of solution do you think should be followed in this regard across the industry?
Joey: Since the beginning the pandemic, our imports from China took a huge hit. We therefore shifted most of the business to the West because of the whole pandemic situation. We used to have steady monthly business from China, however since end of last year, this has unfortunately dried up. We still do a handful of containers from China. But you can imagine that 30 containers are a huge amount of your income. That was a big hit for us, but it also opened new doors. One of them is the import of fresh fruit to Europe. First, we tried 1-2 shipments, now, we do it weekly and it’s growing. We also have a client who ventured into general goods, and that has been coming along nicely too. There is more coming of course, we have room for more containers. It’s been a tough situation at first but when you put your eyes on the opportunities, you see them and you find them.
The whole situation in Ukraine and Russia hasn’t impacted us that much yet but I do hear a lot of concerns and problems from partners. It’s terrible and it’s a rough situation for a lot of people. Our hope of course is that it resolves quickly. I don’t think there is one simple solution for everything, but I do think the world needs to come together. When we work together, we achieve great things. So, if the world comes together, if the businesses and people come together, then we can find solutions. You need to listen to each other, really work together, and truly try to help one another out, that is the best way to grow and overcome problems. We cannot do it by ourselves, we have to do it together.
NSRN: As you mentioned there is so much competition right now, in the market that you are based in, especially freight forwarding. What is unique about your company, culture and the team?
Ivonne: One of the things we are different from most companies is that we don’t go after the money. We don’t fight with our elbows out for some volume. I believe when you send out good vibes, when you show your integrity with your own company then the money comes as a by-product. We work together and we do everything to help our clients. We think along with them and find solutions for them. I think that this will bring your business to you. This is something that Willem-Jan was different in and we continue to be as such. When people ask us to handle a shipment, we will see if we can do it and tell them honestly. We won’t say no because it will take too much effort and will not bring enough money. We do whatever our people need. That is something that makes us different and why a lot of people help us out when we have questions. That’s where we stand out, I think.
Joey: It doesn’t matter for us if you are a long-time partner, the biggest client, or just have one shipment. When we say yes, we go above and beyond. There was once a shipment that didn’t materialize because the costs became too high for the client. It was a private person from the Netherlands, who bought a special edition pipe organ from the UK for 5,000 Pounds. He wanted to ship it to the Netherlands, but as a private person, he didn’t have a company number and EORI number. I had accepted the job. I researched and called and did everything to find the solution for him. Then we presented a solution where we would import it on his behalf, however as he had an arrangement with the seller to deduct the shipping costs from the purchase price, the seller did not want to sell the instrument anymore as his margin was not enough... So, I did all the preparations for something that did not happen. The point of all this is that’s the mentality that we have. It doesn’t matter who it is, when we say yes, we do everything to deliver. If we are not sure we can deliver and we will be clear about that too. We don’t just say yes to anything because when we do say yes, we go all in. It's the effort that we put in. We are not always the cheapest, but you get something for your time and for your money.
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