Telecom company CM.com encourages its staff to think like entrepreneurs. There are no managers: ‘The members of our team do what they are good at. New ideas? Let’s hear them!’
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Listening was not one of Jeroen van Glabbeek's favourite pastimes as a young boy. So he was regularly punished at the strict schools he attended in Breda. Strangely, school seem to be a place where you had to spend time on things that you were bad at. He could not understand the logic. He showed signs of his entrepreneurial spirit at an early age: his small business in stocks and shares brought in a monthly salary when he was still at secondary school. Gilbert Gooijers, the classmate who became his best friend in secondary school, was also a budding entrepreneur: he bought and sold old mopeds.
In addition to his stocks and shares activities, Jeroen also set up a second profitable business: “I made voice-response systems to bring together landlords with rooms to let and possible tenants.’ The two friends both decided to study Engineering Management at Eindhoven University of Technology. Jeroen: ‘We didn’t study much; we were always working. We also liked to go out a lot. We must have visited every discotheque and nightclub in town.”
Gilbert and Jeroen gladly rose to the challenge when they heard of New Venture 2000, a project in which the Ministry of Economic Affairs and management consultants McKinsey challenged students to write a business case for starting up their own company. Regrettably, their idea of sending paid group SMS messages on behalf of discotheques (to keep visitors informed of activities) did not win a prize.
"Even although we had been unable to convince the New Venture 2000 people of the value of our idea, we wanted to try it anyway. We had nothing to lose.” In 1999, the two friends set up ‘ClubMessage’ for a discotheque called Highstreet in Hoogstraten, Belgium. “Mobile phones had just been introduced and not many people owned a mobile phone at the time. But we simply worked our way through the queue at the discotheque’s entrance: ‘Can I have your number please? We will keep you informed of fantastic upcoming parties.’ The discotheque paid us €0.20 per text message.” The two students had no idea that this activity would later grow into an international business with a turnover of several million: CM.com.
Jeroen: “We thought the first text message we sent was sensational; like sliding a note into somebody’s trouser pocket from miles away” Nothing could be more personal. We had a gut feeling that this technology would open up a world of opportunity. But we had no idea of how things would develop.”
Two years later, ClubMessage had a customer base of more than 1000 discotheques and the telephone numbers of thousands of young Dutch and Belgian party goers and festival visitors. “Things were hectic: school during the day, programming during the evening, and then promoting our products and services in the discotheques at the weekend … But we had a hell of a time. We were able to take a peek behind the scenes in those discotheques, knew everybody and made good money as well. CM.com is still a round-the-clock company! Somebody is available 24 hours a day to support our customers all over the world.”
How did these two young men manage to keep their company on the rails during this period of meteoric growth? Jeroen compares it to a computer game: “Once you understand how things work, you can progress to the next level. You grow and learn at a level that you can manage.” CM.com soon started to focus on many other types of organisation and roll out its services internationally. In 2011, they developed mobile payment methods. Multimedia, apps and voice services followed a few years later.
Today, Gilbert Gooijers holds the position of Managing Director of CM.com and Jeroen van Glabbeek is the CEO. They still learn something new every day, from customers and fellow businesses (in Brabant) such as ASML – “they set the bar really high for themselves” – or Aalberts Industries, which, like CM.com, regularly acquires other businesses in order to grow steadily. “You have to follow the globalisation trend in order to remain relevant in the market. But we also find the human dimension very important. And retaining our company culture.”
Jeroen and Gilbert apply an ‘anti-school system’ in their company: “We let our people to do the things they enjoy and are good at. Nothing else. We encourage personal entrepreneurship and that inspires them to always want to do the right thing - for the company, for themselves, and for society. No managers, just multidisciplinary teams made up of people with complementary skills. At our company, you can wake up with an idea one morning and have it operational by the end of the day” That degree of freedom is important: in this age, in which people compete with computers and robots, we must differentiate ourselves through human qualities - and creativity.”
That the head office of their international company is still located in Breda is no coincidence. “Gilbert and I have strong ties to this city. We want to provide employment for at least 300 people here in the future.” Brabant also has a different mentality compared to the other Dutch provinces in Jeroen's opinion: “More unassuming. And I believe that Brabant has relatively more family businesses where people typically work long hours and everybody feels responsible.” Furthermore, Brabant does not believe in hot air: “We deliver on our promises.” The proverbial conviviality of Brabant is reflected by CM.com's habit of drinking a beer on Friday afternoon. “We also celebrate carnival together.” CM.com is very much involved in everyday life in Breda. In its role as the main sponsor of football club NAC, and also as a company where schoolchildren can spend a day learning about its activities. “We are becoming increasingly global – and increasingly local at the same time.”
CM.com is a multinational based in Brabant and active in the field of messaging, mobile payments, apps and voice solutions. The company helps businesses all over the world reach their customers. Although CM.com grew spectacularly from day 1, it has never lost its unique (Brabant-style) company culture. The company is still owned by the two founders, Gilbert Gooijers and Jeroen van Glabbeek, and has a flat management structure. Employees are allowed a great deal of freedom to put their ideas into practice.
Jeroen van Glabbeek is the chairman of VNO NCW Brabant Zeeland/Breda and recently accepted a position as one of the ambassadors of Brabants Besten.
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