Ed van de Weerd

What was your first commercial experience?

“We lived above my father’s specialized pet store in Veenendaal. It was during the seventies and he sold coral for fish tanks. That was still allowed back then. His stock was stored in the corridor next to the shop. So one day, a customer entered the shop with a huge chunk of coral, so my dad asked where he got it. ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘down the road, there's a little boy selling them for a quarter a piece.’ I was five years old at the time and I thought I had struck gold! So my dad shooed me in and gave me a lesson on sales and purchase prices.”

Did you ever contemplate taking over your father's shop?

“I did growing up, but I was a good student and the first one in my family to go to college. During my degree in Technical Business Administration at the university of Enschede, I discovered that my parents’ world was too narrow for me. My father is my role model, because his work has always been a source of great joy for him. But he did do pretty much the same thing every day, with the same products in the same shop, with the same people from our village. I did follow him into commerce, but my horizon is a tad broader than his."

Your first job was at Procter & Gamble.

“Yes. During a job interview at Unilever, I asked them who their biggest competition was. I had actually never heard of Procter & Gamble, so I went there to take a look. It turned out to be the most important move in my career, because I ended up working there for eight years, in both marketing and sales. I learned all there is to know about Pampers - how the edges for the legs and absorbers are placed, how often and how much little ones pee at different ages, you name it. So guess what happened when my niece was born and my sister handed me a diaper. I put it on backwards! A practice doll is a walk in the park compared to a squirming baby, haha.”

What did you take away from your time at Procter?

“They are very accomplished at creating a sense of togetherness. I could pick up the phone and call every former Procter employee in the world. Once I tell them I used to work there, there is an instant connection, even though I never met them. During my time at Albert Heijn, there was a logistical problem with Nestlé, which I could not figure out with the local management. So I sent an e-mail to Paul Polman, the CFO, who also used to work at Procter. Within eight minutes, I received a friendly reply and the problem had been solved. Your first job also puts a specific focus on your career. Switching to a different sector is very difficult after that.”

Yet you went to Vodafone in 2000, a completely different sector.

“Yes, it was called Libertel back then, by the way. Because of the combination of commerce and technology, I figured telecom would be my hotspot. As sales manager for all Dutch retailers, I was hardly involved in the technological side, but it was a very exciting time. Mobile phones suddenly became very popular and the company hadn’t been prepared for that. The fact that everyone owns one now wasn’t on the cards in the nineties. At the time, they were seen as something work-related, destined for the happy few. If you ever get the opportunity to experience a completely different industry early on in your career, I would recommend doing so. The grass always seems greener, until you learn it is fake.”

Why did you go to Australia?

“The head office in England sent a new CEO to the Netherlands. Unfortunately, we didn't get on at all. So when I was selected for the prestigious Global Leadership Program, he said: ‘How the hell did you get in?’ The program consisted of an MBA and spending some time abroad as an expat. During one of our conflicts, I said to him: ‘If you want me gone, why not make me leave as soon as possible.’ The next day, I received a phone call from Sydney. I was made responsible there for Premium SMS for a period of two years, until I got transferred to the head office in the UK. But that turned out not to be my thing. Operational responsibility is.”

How did you end up at Ahold?

“During my time at Procter, Albert Heijn was my client. Apparently, I did something right, because five years later they called and asked me whether I wanted to come work for them as Unit Manager on sustainable products. Retail seemed like a great idea, due to its short cycles. If I do something today, I can see the results in the shops tomorrow. That was probably the best thing I ever did in my career, because both the pragmatics and pace of retail fit my personality perfectly."

What struck you most about your switch to Retail?

“Client dynamics are very different from telco. When clients get a contract for the duration of two years, the provider gets away with delivering service that is continuously below par, as long as he manages to seduce the client into signing a new contract as soon as it ends, by offering them a new phone. Supermarkets don’t have that same luxury, because the customer gets to walk away at any point in time if they don’t like the price, the service or the assortment. That makes retail a very competitive and client oriented business by definition.”

Of what use is your experience at suppy-side within Retail?

“I'd recommend to anyone that they experience both sides. The biggest trend break is that there is little room for doubt in Retail. A Category Manager spends all day taking decisions, big or small, short and long term. Eight out of ten should hit the spot. The two that don't should be altered somewhat, and you learn from that. Suppliers cannot imagine the unbelievable pace at Retail-side. They want to spend an afternoon brainstorming together. Great idea, but I have a thousand suppliers, so that just isn’t going to work! It hasn’t sunk in yet that suppliers and retailers have switched places in negotiations. When I was little, the Dutch TV-channels Nederland 3 and RTL did not exist yet, so a STER-commercial for a product was seen by the entire country. That made the position of the supplier a very strong one during negotiations with the many players in the fragmented landscape of Retail. Over a short period of time, the number of channels and touch points has increased immensely, while there are just three large players in the supermarket business - Jumbo being one of them. The way to gain access to the shopper, is through the shop floor. Shopper Marketing is still on the rise because of it; if I were still working for a supplier, I would put my money on that.”

Why pick Jumbo?

“I was being deployed to the Czech Republic as a Commercial Director by Ahold. After two and a half years, my eldest became twelve. We wanted him to go to secondary school in the Netherlands, so Jumbo’s search came at the right time for me. During my meeting with Frits van Eerd and Colette Cloosterman, it became clear to me that they run the company with a view to creating the ideal supermarket for customers. I really wanted to chip in, building such a special company."

There isn't a commercial company that does not claim their customer is being put center stage.

“Yes, but what company actually does that? There is no other supermarket that offers guarantees to their customers and actually lives with its consequences. Every supermarket says they will open another till if the queue is too long. With us the fifth customer gets their groceries for free. This ensures 100% discipline in the shop. Moreover, we don’t just use data from the registers to offer better service to our customers, but we also share this with suppliers, in order to enable them to meet their clients’ needs to the best of their ability. The company has come a long way on intuition, but it is important to combine that with the facts. At some point, you become blind to society as a whole, because your friends, neighbors and co-workers are all the same kind of people. My acquaintances often tell me to stop selling fast-growth battery chickens. What’s interesting is that every time the Dutch ASPCA (Wakker Dier) mentions Jumbo in one of their campaigns, our sales numbers for poultry increase. Apparently, it 's what people want, and all these campaigns do is remind them."

What is it you really do as a Commercial Director?

“In a nutshell, I am responsible for everything to do with products. First off, I determine the direction the company is taking - for instance that we want more unique products on the shelves, or how we work with suppliers. I make sure everyone in my department understands the strategy and remains motivated to be part of it. I also make sure there are enough people in every team and I help them whenever they can’t figure something out themselves. ‘Envision, Enable, Empower’ is what we used to call it at Procter. The results really show. We have is a large map of the Netherland at HQ. and every time a new store opens, the staff comes to Veghel to literally put it on the map with a large yellow tack. That's a wonderful ritual, each and every time. When I started her,e there were 209 tacks. In two weeks from now, there will be 400."

What's your advice for young professionals within FMCG or Retail?

“Ten years ago, it seemed I was more focused on my next job than my current one. I made it from assistant to account manager in a year and four months at Procter. Well, that certainly brought me status! Normally, it would take at least a year and a half. But what’s two months in an entire working life? You should ask yourself what you consider to be progress. In a corporate environment, it means getting ahead yourself. In a family business, it means taking the business to the next level and helping yourself make progress because of it. That nuance is a world of difference. Take Wibo, for instance. He has been Unit Manager for eleven years. But eleven years ago, he was Unit Manager at a company that owned forty shops. Today, there are nearly 400. He grew, alongside Jumbo. I truly respect the people that made the company into what it is now, and I am proud to be contributing to its future development.” Text: Deborah Klaassen

2011 – present
Commercial Director, Jumbo

2009 – 2011
SVP Marketing, Format & Merchandising, Ahold

2006 – 2008
VP Merchandising, Ahold

2003 – 2006
Executive, Vodafone Australia

2000 – 2003
General Manager Indirect Sales, Vodafone Netherlands

1993 – 2000
Team Leader Customer Business Development, P&G


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