Published on 19 March 2018
In business together
Witteveen+Bos staff are co-owners of the company. Only our own employees can hold shares, which contributes to a very high level of engagement. This is also apparent from the high rate of participation. The number of shares that employees are allowed to purchase depends on their status as senior partner, premium partner, partner or participant. Every year we work hard to realise healthy financial results, which in turn ensure stable share prices and dividends. The net profit is distributed annually to all employees under a profit-sharing scheme, and also paid out as dividend to all shareholders. This reflects the Witteveen+Bos philosophy that everyone within the company contributes to its success, and should therefore derive the benefits of that success.
‘The strength of the system is that everyone is in business together, so it truly feels like our company’, says Eveline Buter, Leader of the Industry & Energy PMC. ‘Witteveen+Bos is basically a consortium of small ‘companies’ called Product-Market Combinations or PMCs, which are given the trust and freedom they need to do business in their own way. The employees feel jointly responsible for achieving good results. And that fosters commitment, creativity and a flexible attitude.’ Eveline joined the company in 2006 and purchased shares as soon as possible: ‘I think employee ownership is a great idea. My work is more than just a job to me, and being an entrepreneur is in my blood.’ Eveline became a partner in 2011 and was appointed senior partner in 2017. ‘As partners and senior partners we help to set out a course for the company. We have access to a wide range of information and together we form a strong network. This enables us to operate more effectively and eventually provide greater added value.’
Maurits Schilt also purchased shares as soon as he could. ‘It immediately encouraged me to think in terms of opportunities. In the first few years, I focused mainly on acquiring projects in my own field of spatial planning.’ In 2014, Maurits was appointed head of the Witteveen+Bos office in Heerenveen and widened his perspective. ‘The north of the Netherlands has its own specific challenges which engineers can help to address. We have succeeded in generating new business in the region by focusing on key themes, ranging from earthquake resistance to dike reinforcements and infrastructure projects. In 2017 I was asked if I wanted to become partner. By then I had great confidence in the employee share ownership system, so I said yes.’
Since as far back as 1992, the ownership structure of Witteveen+Bos has been based on full financial participation by its personnel. Every year in April, a General Meeting of Shareholders is held where the company owners take key decisions. Among other things, the 2017 General Meeting was notable for a change in the composition of the Board of Directors. Henk Nieboer stepped down as director in accordance with the articles of association (having reached the age of 55 in 2017), and Stephan van der Biezen was appointed as his successor. Both decisions were subject to the approval of the shareholders.
The employee share ownership system has promoted an entrepreneurial spirit within the company for over 25 years. ‘Making money is not our main objective. Healthy financial results are a means to generate new business, develop talent, and realise our individual and shared ambitions’, says Maurits. According to Eveline, the share ownership system also contributes to employee engagement and solidarity within the company. ‘We’re all in it together, so if one of the PMCs is going through a rough patch due to a slowdown in the market, for instance, we help each other. We feel connected to each other.’
Oskars Zivtins is head of the Witteveen+Bos office in Latvia and has been a participant since 2013. ‘In conversations, Dutch colleagues frequently mentioned the ownership structure and various differences of opinion between the shareholders. I wanted to be part of that. I am honoured to be one of the first international colleagues who was asked to participate. Becoming a shareholder doesn’t change much about my day-to-day work - I continue to be passionate about my job. At the same time, ownership comes with a greater sense of responsibility, and the ability to play a more active role within the company.’
Every Witteveen+Bos employee can participate in the scheme at his or her own pace. Maurits: ‘By purchasing one or more blocks of shares every year, you can experience what it means to be a co-owner.’ Eveline adds: ‘Increasingly, the young people I talk to say they want to start a business of their own after working for an employer for a couple of years. The great thing about Witteveen+Bos is that you can be an entrepreneur and start realising your own ambitions from day one. Plus you have easy access to the knowledge and expertise of a worldwide network of PMCs’.
Share ownership incentivises me to approach my work with an entrepreneurial spirit