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Arie van den Berg and Bas Brinkman: A double interview

"They don't call me the Gyro Gearloose of De Lier for nothing"

Two men from different generations, but with some strong similarities. One is that they have a heart for Berg Hortimotive; another similarity is their drive. A double interview between Arie van den Berg (81), founder and former owner of Berg Hortimotive, and Bas Brinkman (37), the current General Manager. About business management over the years, following your heart, and related successes.

Arie van den Berg - Born in De Lier in 1942 - Education: Horticultural College - Former lettuce grower & founder and former owner of Berg Hortimotive - Married to Hennie

Arie van den Berg: from driving instructor to lettuce grower
Arie started his working life as a driving instructor. That wasn't the intention at all, but it happened by chance because of a good acquaintance with a driving school that was short of hands. He had just turned 18 and was still at horticultural school; a fairly logical choice at the time, as his father was a grower. Being the eldest son, he followed in his father's footsteps (Arie comes from a family of 7 children). In the meantime, he bought a small plot of land near his father's greenhouse, measuring 4,000 square meters (of greenhouse). Under glass, he grew lettuce, endive, and cauliflower. Meanwhile, Arie was called to serve in the military, but due to his height (a towering 2 meters), he was deemed unfit. There was no suitable uniform for the very tall Arie, so he just wore civilian clothes. Ultimately, he only served for 36 days.

Producing without drawings
Electronics and Mechanics had interested him from an early age. If he saw something electronic, he wondered how he could make it even easier. This was also the case with the tomato sorting machine. Together with his brother-in-law, he made conveyor belts from old washing machine motors as they didn't want to spend too much money.

Arie: "We never used to make drawings. So, the first machines were never drawn but were ‘just’ produced straight away. Of course, it wasn’t all as complex as it is now. Today, this wouldn’t be possible."

Ease and simplicity, two words that resonate with Arie. He believes that if you manufacture something that is logical, not too complicated and made with the right quality materials, you soon have a valuable product in your hands.

Customer-specific questions from growers
Arie regularly received customer-specific questions from fellow growers. He was always eager to help them find solutions to their problems. At one point, however, the demand for his solutions became so great that, on the advice of his accountant, he decided to turn it into a private limited company (Ltd.) in 1987. This is how BeMa (Berg Machines) was born. Until 1995, besides owning BeMa, Arie was also still a lettuce grower. A double job, in other words. Arie still owns a greenhouse, but he rents it to neighbor RijkZwaan. In 1997, the factory was built, which still stands at its current location. Another 3,000 meters were added in 2004 as Berg outgrew its premises.

Arie on BeMa: "In the end, it really became a hobby that got out of hand, but one that made me very happy."

With Arie, the glass is always half full. Even if there were some setbacks, because obviously, not every machine he produced became a bestseller, he always had the confidence that things would turn out all right again.

Behind every successful man is a strong woman
The role of Arie’s wife, Hennie, in his successes is a very important one. She always stood behind him and supported him through thick and thin. Bas is curious about Hennie's role in the company. Arie points out that Hennie did not come around every day but was always his sounding board. "Hennie has very good people skills, much better developed than mine. This was particularly helpful when hiring personnel. She played an important role in that," says a proud Arie. They have been happily married for 56 years.

The founder of the pipe rail trolley
Jaap Zegwaard developed the pipe rail in the late 1960s. Arie's role was destined for a trolley that could drive smoothly over that pipe rail. In 1975, he was asked by two brothers from De Lier whether he could make a trolley that could drive on the pipe rail. Jaap Zegwaard already had a trolley running on his pipe rail, and Arie went there to have a look. He quickly realized that the structure was too complex. Arie thought that it didn't need to be so complex at all and could be many times simpler. He ended up building a prototype of an electronic pipe rail trolley. After some refinements, the BRW150 was born. It's a simple electronic pipe rail trolley that is still produced today.

Building on your own strengths
As is often the case with successful products, Arie's pipe rail trolleys faced competition at some point. For Arie, however, this was never a threat. He did keep an eye on it, but it never bothered him.

Arie: "As long as you make something that you never see again, it sells itself."

There were competitors who bought circuit boards for the pipe rail trolleys from him. In fact, they made them themselves at Berg and they had a very good quality. That says it all. Arie believes that, above all, you have to look at what you do yourself and keep listening carefully to questions from the market in order to further develop your products in the right way. 'Build on your own strength' certainly applies to Arie.

Berg's culture
Arie and Hennie saw the staff as their children. They took great care of them. They undertook all kinds of activities with them, and there was always something to celebrate. For instance, after the opening of the new factory, a party weekend was organized. "With all the family and staff, we went to Paris by charter plane, did a light tour, and went to the Lido and the Eiffel Tower. An unforgettable weekend, and to top it all off, all staff were given a brand new bicycle." Besides the fact that this brought a lot of fun, it also strengthened the solidarity between staff. An important aspect for a company. Bas says that this solidarity and close involvement between colleagues struck him immediately when he started working for Berg.

Bas: "We do it together, and that has been ingrained in Berg's culture to this day, which I find wonderful."

Also, unique in this day and age is the fact that multiple young employees are recruited and trained under the wing of the 'old guard', and they also stick around. "I can tell you, that's not the case at a lot of other companies these days. That really does have to do with Berg's culture and how we treat each other. You and Hennie can be proud of that, Arie," says Bas.

Keep it simple
According to Arie, the most important thing is that machines keep functioning and have a long lifespan. A good example is the 1975 BRW150 pipe rail trolley, because they are still running and are still being manufactured. Occasionally, a part such as a circuit board is replaced, but the motors show no wear. The more complicated you make it, the more it can break down. Bas hooks into this and points out how special it actually is. Despite the enormous developments in horticulture, Zegwaard's pipe rail system and Arie's pipe rail trolley have remained largely the same for 50 years. "Yes, the greenhouses got higher, yes," says Bas. "Yes, and that's why we got together with some other suppliers and the labor inspectorate to see how we could keep it safe. I had come up with a formula that showed how high you could go with a pipe rail trolley to keep it safe and stable. And that turned out to be an excellent formula," Arie says.

Back in the days, Arie on the right

Proud of all inventions
Bas asks Arie which product he is most proud of. Arie says he is proud of every product developed, but it is very special that 'his' pipe rail trolley has become a standard product.

Arie: "When I think about how many pipe rail trolleys are driving in greenhouses worldwide, it makes me proud that I am the founding father."

"But this is also the case with the hose reel," says a proud Arie. The current spraying robot (Meto) range is still based on Arie's hose reel. And this is not only the case at Berg.

Sales and focus
Arie said goodbye to Berg on his 66th birthday. That seemed like a good moment to him. He struck up a conversation with Bas Lagerwerf. The company he worked for was involved in automation, including software. Arie saw that as a nice addition towards the future for Berg. As Arie had no successors, this sale seemed the best move to him. And it turned out to be. Since his departure, Arie has not completely disappeared from the scene. He still lives on the same site where Berg Hortimotive is located, and he still regularly drops by. He has a cup of coffee with old-timers and takes a look around the factory. Arie is pleased with the further development he had in mind when he left and with the quality he sees in the products.

Arie: "The most important thing is to stay close to the grower.'

"When I think of how many problems we solved for growers back then, they are almost uncountable. I often sat around the table with growers, and while talking, I would outline their wishes." Bas points out that this is indeed the most important thing, and this is where his focus lies.

Time travel to younger years
Bas is curious about if Arie could time travel and which years he would want to go back to. Arie indicates that he would travel back to his younger years. "Electronics was quite a big hobby anyway. At one point, I was even programming PLCs, but sometimes, I got stuck because I had not mastered the English language. Maybe I could have developed that more. But looking back, I am happy with my development in Mechatronics and Electronics. This gave me the insight to be able to make the right decisions." Berg Hortimotive will always be his child; after all, he has put all his heart and soul into it. But Arie is also conscious about staying healthy. He does that by constantly being on the move. He achieves this by working in the garden and staying up-to-date on current affairs in horticulture. And by regularly visiting Berg, of course.

Bas Brinkman - Born in Delft in 1986 - Education: Business Administration - Board member Royal Brinkman & General Manager of Berg Hortimotive - Married to Feline - Father of Sam and Viv

Bas Brinkman: possibility to choose
Arie asks Bas if it was natural for him to enter the business as a Brinkman. Bas has always been given all the space to choose by his parents. He himself did want it from the moment he can remember. "Back in the old days, it used to be the case that a Brinkman went into the business, but that wasn't the case with me." Bas studied Business Administration at Erasmus University in Rotterdam but says he learned most on the job. Before the age of 16, his parents did not allow him to work in the business, something he found very annoying at the time, but he later understood very well. He had several jobs in greenhouses and worked in peppers, gerberas, and potted plants. Especially in the peppers, he got a good idea of what things are like in greenhouses. Arie: "I experienced Brinkman's 100th anniversary." "Oh, that party, unfortunately, I wasn't born yet," Bas says, laughing. Arie: "Yes, that was absolutely great. Mies Bouwman was the host, and Brinkman received the Royal Predicate from Mies. It was one big party with growers, suppliers, and customers."

Royal Brinkman corporate and personal
Bas is only 37. That sounds young for what he does, but he simply grew up in an entrepreneurial family. So his 'education' started when he was a young boy. He grew up with the business and automatically got a lot out of it. When he finished his Business Administration studies and just started at Royal Brinkman, he was convinced that he could do his best as a salesman. He then learned that when you are managing a sales team, the effect of selling is many times bigger than when you do it alone. And if you can teach salespeople to do even better, the effect is even greater again. In 2022, Bas joined the management of the Royal Brinkman Group. He soon realized that it is only then that you really have an influence on where the company is heading. Bas says that you never know exactly what will come your way. Last year, for instance, he never thought an opportunity would come up at Berg. He always knew it would be Brinkman, but if it was no longer a family business, he might not have done it. So, the fact that it is still a family business is a big plus for him. Bas is now part of the 5th generation of Brinkman in the company and is very proud of that.

Bas: "Royal Brinkman has existed for 137 years and to continue contributing to that in order to be able to move forward for another 100 years, that's fantastic."

"Besides work, private life is at least as important. My wife, Feline, and I have two wonderful children. Above all, later, I want our children to think: that father of ours was a great guy. And not that they only think: our father was only working," says Bas.

"But let's put health first and foremost. Without health, you are nothing, really nothing. I saw it with my own father. He was working hard, living life to the fullest. He had a lot of ambition, but from one day to the next, at 55, the work was done because his health no longer allowed it. So yes, health is everything. And I am also very conscious of that."

A mighty company
Royal Brinkman bought Berg Hortimotive in 2018. The former management stayed for a while, and then a new director arrived and stayed until mid-2022. Like many companies in horticulture, all sorts of things happened in 2.5 years that affected the market: Corona, further development under laws and regulations, and a war with all its component problems. In short, times were not on our side. When the previous managing director announced his departure, it made Bas think. "I have always found Berg a mighty company. It is a tremendously strong brand worldwide, and Royal Brinkman has been selling the Berg range for years. Then I thought: if I can do my bit to help Berg move forward, I'm going to do it," says a determined Bas.

Combining two busy jobs
Arie: "Like me before, you decided to combine two busy jobs. How did you plan to do that?" Bas understands Arie's question very well, as it was the most frequently asked question when he started the Berg adventure. In fact, in 's-Gravenzande, Bas has been running Royal Brinkman Technical projects for several years. This branch of the Royal Brinkman Group mainly deals with large high-tech projects worldwide, which, as the name suggests, involve a lot of technology such as water and electricity and the entire project management around it.

Arie: "Yes, that seems difficult to me sometimes because then you don't know 100% what actually happens per company, do you? I walked through the factory every day, and when I saw someone welding, I would say: why is that pipe crooked? It should be straight. You just see things like that. But when a company grows, it naturally becomes increasingly difficult to maintain control." Bas tells Arie that's exactly it and explains that his role at Berg is set up differently from Arie's at the time. Bas's role is corporate, and doing it 100 percent is simply not an option now because he also has this other job. "So my role is business-oriented, but I see what a customer needs. So, I divide the tasks within Berg. We have a Management Team that looks after their departments on a daily basis, and we meet regularly to go over current affairs. That way, everyone knows from each other what we are doing," Bas explains to Arie.

Horticulture: always in motion
When Arie asks Bas what he likes about horticulture, Bas gets a smile on his face. He thinks what growers do is very cool. Helping them move forward gives him great satisfaction. Because inside of that greenhouse, there is a lot going on: technology, chemistry, biology, fertilizers, water, the plant that grows, and the product that comes from it. Bas finds it amazing to be able to contribute to that as a company! The fact that horticulture is always on the move also suits Bas very well. Whether in the field of technology or automation, in the Netherlands, or on the other side of the world, there are always new challenges that need to be solved.

Bas: "So, like you Arie, I have a solution-oriented attitude towards growers and their business processes."

Bas loves to travel and did so very regularly, especially at the beginning of his career. He visited North America a lot. "But I traveled with a purpose," says Bas. "In my case, that means visiting growers to offer a solution to their questions so they can take their business operations to an even higher level." Arie: "Then that's where we differ, Bas because I have never traveled the world." In retrospect, Bas asks Arie whether he regrets that. Arie says: "No, that wasn't necessary, they came to me naturally. We had one girl in the office who did the bookkeeping and telephone. Whenever someone came who spoke English, she translated it for me. Because yes, I had never had English in school."

The current board of Royal Brinkman

Staggering numbers
Berg stands for quality, you hear that worldwide. "If you buy it, in any case, it's good. There are still trolleys from the 70s, 80s, and 90s driving around." Bas: "Take the BRW150 we were talking about earlier! I looked it up, the nameplate of the last made BRW150 shows the following number: 13,869. So, 13,869 have been made since 1975. And if you add up the numbers of all types of BeNomics, you come to 26,303 units. Isn't that cool, Arie! That's your invention!"

Arie: "Yes Bas, they don't call me the Gyro Gearloose of De Lier for nothing."

The benefits of mother company Royal Brinkman
When Berg was bought by Royal Brinkman, it had advantages. Looking at Royal Brinkman's distribution network, sales opportunities increased enormously.

Bas: "For Berg, it is an advantage that Royal Brinkman has branches all over the world, so there is always service around the corner. That's not something many other suppliers can say."

The power of 'together' for Royal Brinkman means that you are the manufacturer of the products together with Berg. So you have actually taken out a piece of the chain in between. The by-product is that you can work from a shared service idea and save on personnel. They now do this successfully with various departments, from Finance to Marketing and from HR to Purchasing.

Becoming happy with what you do
Arie asks Bas the following question: "Suppose you can go back in time, who would you like to talk to for a few hours?" Bas: "I would say, Henry Ford, the car manufacturer. I thought that was an interesting man. He simply said: you can choose any color, as long as it's black. He created a whole new car brand from nothing, which I find very cool. But I wouldn't necessarily want to be him for a day or so, I think that's nonsense. I'm actually very happy with what I'm doing. How nice is that," Bas says, laughing.

Asking is free
"Bas, know that you can always ask me for advice. Whether it's about automation or a new type of pipe rail trolley, you're always welcome," Arie tells him. Bas indicates that he certainly will because he knows how much knowledge Arie has. "Are we still going for a walk in the garden or photo books first?" Arie asks. On the table are a number of Berg's photo books, which Arie is eager to show Bas. All neatly kept and pasted in by his wife, Hennie. "First, a walk through the garden, and then we will go through the photo books together. I’m very curious about all the stories!"

For more information:
Berg Hortimotive
Burgemeester Crezeelaan 42A
2678 KZ, De Lier
[email protected]

Royal Brinkman
Postbus 2
2690 AA, 's-Gravenzande
Tel.: 0174 - 446 100
[email protected]

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