How future-proof are family businesses? Sentech as employer

As an employer in the high-tech industry, Sentech is building a future-proof family business. It means adjusting to the changed world.

Since the arrival of the coronavirus, working in the high-tech sector has changed drastically. Sentech as an employer has adjusted to the new situation. “It means compromising and adjusting to the changed world. But despite that, everything is continuing,” said Marcel Figge, the director and owner of Sentech. What do all the changes mean for the future? Are family businesses still future-proof? And how do they respond to the challenge of building the ideal company – for the employees as well as the employer?

Figge responds: “We do business with the pearls of the Dutch manufacturing industry, and our employees are able to fully develop themselves. What’s greater than that?” Over the past twenty years, Sentech has grown from a family business with just two employees to a company of fifty employees with revenue of approximately 15 million euro per year. Yet, numbers are not the sensor integrator’s primary concern.

“We can maneuver quickly, just as other companies that are led by a director and major shareholder,” explains Figge. “Because of the corona crisis, we are forced to keep the undistributed dividend in the company. That has been possible because the company is practically 100% owned by my wife and me, so we are not dependent on financiers or banks or parties who want and must have everything from us. We ourselves are at the helm.”

Sentech also notices that some customers are placing fewer orders due to the corona crisis. Otherwise, business is continuing as usual. “We are able to pay salary, we don’t have to dismiss any employees. Business will just be a little less this year,” says Figge.

High-tech companies make adjustments

At the beginning of this year, when the coronavirus came out of nowhere, many risks developed. When China threatened to shut down, the supply chain employees immediately took action. As a high-tech company, Sentech has almost doubled its inventory and adjusted itself to the changed world.

“We said to each other, ‘Let’s make sure that inventories are up-to-date, certainly the hard runners.’ It even brought us compliments from customers, including ASML. Increasing inventories is almost taboo for a listed company. ‘It costs way too much money,’ they say,” according to the director-owner.

Sentech as employer: “The company culture is very important!”

According to Figge, whether family businesses are future-proof depends partly on the company culture. “If people feel good about themselves, good returns take care of themselves. Management must support the employees unconditionally.”

Technically speaking, Sentech was already prepared but the corona crisis has brought about more working from home by the team. Actually, only production workers and logistics employees are at the office each day. They now work in shifts. Figge elaborates, “In the first week of the crisis, I dropped in one evening to check in with them and that was very appreciated. It’s precisely in these times that you need to have an eye for the little things – a card here, a few words there. ‘How’s it going, how do you feel about things?'”

Switching to a lower gear

Marcel Figge primarily keeps himself busy at Sentech with business development, with making budget agreements, with team development, and with the encouragement of entrepreneurship among employees. “You don’t just easily hand over all the knowledge and experience you have amassed in twenty years.”

Switching to a lower gear and delegating is part of making a company future-proof. “Until recently, I was involved with my company night and day. I have now reduced that to three days a week. After all, running around all the time doesn’t work. The dilemma here is that employees still see me as the big boss. I would like to see others take center stage more often.”

As its founder, Figge has performed every role at Sentech. “From development and production to clean room work and sales. Now I have to increasingly distance myself. I must not convey too strictly what I think of something; sometimes it’s good to let things go wrong. A general director coming in from the outside would probably have it easier – they know less about the products and can simply manage for objectives.”

Working at Sentech means continuing to include people

Companies are often busy establishing and fine-tuning all sorts of processes and procedures to get employees involved and engaged. Figge feels that those are much needed in a company’s operational management, but here it mostly concerns investing in HRM and training. The improvement of your internal communication is also a part of this.

“If a supplier of that new kitchen does not deliver as expected, this is nearly always because of the commitment of the employees. The salesperson or technician was not paying attention or the warehouse loaded the items incorrectly. To what extent do the people in your company want to deliver the very best product?”

A real mutual connection is developed when managers speak more often about the current situation. “‘We do this for this-and-this reason; what do you think about that?’ People want to be included,” Figge concludes.

Therefore, train people in their communicative skills, certainly if someone grows from an operational to a tactical level. “The question is whether that person is capable of communicating. Actually, you should hire employees not just for the current moment but also with a view to the competencies required in, say, three years.”

Changes over the past 10 years in the family business

Ten years ago in Link Magazine, Sentech’s director and owner said, “I feel like the employee who makes the final decisions.” How does he feel about that now? “I am still the leader who determines the main direction but, above all, I am someone who puts his trust in the organization.”

A leadership course taught Figge how important it is to grow by delaying. “By removing yourself from the day-to-day issues more often, by asking questions instead of positing your opinion, you foster your company’s growth.”

Sentech does business with the ‘pearls’ of the Dutch manufacturing industry. As Figge says, “We come through on our promises, even in times of crisis. Customers know that we have our house in very good order, our quality system is of a high level. If we promise to do something then we do it.”

All of this lies very close to the character of the director-owner. “Employees work at a company where there is a lot of attention for each other and where they can grow. We – all of us – have built the ideal company together,” concludes Figge proudly.

Changes at work due to digitization

It’s not only Covid-19 that exerts a great deal of influence over the work environment within companies; digitization, too, means that your job can be done differently. You can read about how you can deal with this in the future in an earlier Link Magazine article.

Create your own future-proof job.

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This article appeared in Link Magazine no 3 2020 and was written by Lucy Holl.

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