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TMC: Investing energy in original thinkers

‘Ten years ago, there were five or six people working in the office, and 100 Employeneurs at customer sites. Right now, we have circa 900 people working at TMC. The scale of the company has increased dramatically, but the intimate atmosphere hasn’t changed. We still learn from each other. How? By constantly keeping the conversation open, constantly sharpening each others’ talents. And just by doing really cool stuff.’

Sander Lieftink started working as Account Manager at TMC in 2005. This December, he was appointed as TMC’s new Commercial Director, a role that, if possible, excites him even more than the ones he’s had before. Sander’s great pleasure in his work is evident in everything he says.

‘I’m so glad that every day poses a different challenge. I would really hate it if I could map out my day beforehand. But in everything I do, my key responsibility as Commercial Director is to listen to the customer very carefully, determining what he or she really wants, and making sure that we have a good, transparent working relationship. The other key aspect of my role is to make sure that our time, energy and resources are used in the best possible way.’

Sander isn’t the kind of leader who doesn’t tolerate failure. There’s always the possibility that a project won’t turn out as planned, but that might be a great learning opportunity. The thing Sander will never tolerate is a lack of spirit and focus: ‘Doing 100 things half-heartedly usually results in zero outcome. You’ve got to stay focused, keep finding the right energy among all of the possibilities around you. Then you have to operationalize this energy.’

This is easier said than done, and it requires a lot of discussion, especially since most of TMC’s employees are entrepreneurs and original thinkers, ‘and therefore quite stubborn,’ Sander says affectionately, proudly. ‘We invest quite a lot of time and energy to get all of our ships sailing in the same direction. It takes a while, but in the end it always results in the best ideas.’

Both the discussion and the co-operation between the different parts of the company have intensified greatly over the past 10 years. It’s one of the most important changes Sander has experienced: projects becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, instead of monodisciplinary.

Sander: ‘At TMC, we work within different specialist “cells”. At the beginning, there were five or six cells. They were relatively far apart. But as we kept on growing, the distances between the cells grew as well, and then we had to bridge those gaps. That’s partly what makes the work so enjoyable: usually, the most exciting projects take place in the grey area in between the cells. At this intersection, new fields, new cells, emerge.’

During his 10 years at TMC, Sander has been through some tough times, economically speaking. But even the tough times have to be put into perspective. Sander says there were moments ‘when we didn’t grow as rapidly as we wanted’. It’s a description that makes him laugh and then immediately reflect: ‘We didn’t grow as rapidly as we wanted. That’s the type of problem a lot of other companies wouldn’t mind having.’

TMC isn’t done growing yet, and this growth forms one of the biggest challenges for Sander as Commercial Director: ‘700 of our 800–900 Employeneurs work in The Netherlands, we are ever expanding in the country – in the high-quality technological labour market. It’s one of the reasons behind our success: that we serve that niche so consistently well. But I also foresee far greater international potential. If we keep investing in customer relationships, if we keep on being critical of ourselves, we will keep discovering new niches, both domestically and internationally.’

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