Theo van Stuijvenberg
What is the most important thing you learned as a student?
“Because I studied two very different subjects simultaneously I learned to take in a lot of information over a very short period in time, distilling what was most important immediately. Applying focus and having the all the time in the world allows one to learn almost anything-even Einstein’s theory of relativity. The biggest limiting factor is time. That is why I combined both my graduation projects with a job in Romania, in which I set up an offshore Business Unit for a company. That commercial outlook of mine was there from a very young age, both when it comes to substance, as well as on a personal level."
What were your dreams growing up?
“I wanted to become a business doctor when I was young. My career started off with Corporate Finance at KPMG, but I got offered a job at IsoTis very quickly, as Financial Controller, a startup that developed bodily tissue. Great product, wonderful dynamics, but after three years I wanted to chase my dream of working in business recovery.”
How did you end up at Annalise?
“I got talking to someone at an M&A Boutique, who worked on mergers and takeovers. There were no job openings there, so I said: ‘I’ll resign and work for you for free.’ After six weeks he told me there would be no future for me there, but he did have something else in mind. I was to take over research bureau Annalise. I decided what I wanted within half a day. It has become my best learning experience to date, but from a financial perspective it was my worst ever purchase. It cost me 1 euro to end up with a debt of 400,000 euros."
400,00 Euros worth in debt? How did you cope with that predicament?
“Once we monitored the personnel’s output more closely, everyone left within a year. But that was long overdue, because it was like Jiskefet (Dutch sketch show, like The Office). Annalise had a number of ongoing contracts with wonderful clients that paid for a retainer, but used the service only occasionally. That is how I was able to clear our debt over the first year and started over with five others. I was putting in eighty hours a week of a hard work, but we did pull it off.”
What was your client's take on that?
“Of course I went to our clients as soon as possible, in order to introduce myself and to explain what was going on. Half of our clientele left. The other half was interested in hearing about our new proposition, and they stuck by us, some have done so for over twenty years.”
What did that new proposition entail?
“When Annalise was founded in 1983 it was actually just like Google, on paper. A place where corporate libraries could find information in hard copy. When I took over the company thirteen years ago it was clear that the concept was going to be short-lived. I wondered why the clients did not terminate their subscriptions when they no longer had a need for it and the answer was very simple: fear of the unknown, the future, the world which was changing around them. That fear rules individuals, but also holds true for companies. It is a negative main driver, one for which I wanted to find a positive substitute. So when a company fears the outside world, Annalise helps them gain insight into it. We look into what happens at the competition, what technological innovations there are, what drives the clients and what the shareholders want. That entire Umfeld has traditionally been Annalise’s business. But the methodology needed to be spruced up and clients needed the addition of a reason behind wanting these insights. “
How would you describe the new method?
“That depends on what the clients ask for. We try to assemble hard facts, but sometimes we are forced to resort to the collateral method: when you cannot say anything about A, but you can about B, C and D, then you know what A is not and what it could be. In traditional desk research the client comes to us with a clearly delimited question, for instance what companies in the Netherlands involved in the sustainable dairy market have a market share that exceeds 5%. For us that particular fact is only a piece of the puzzle. We try to fit the available pieces together as well as we can, in order to be able to learn what the contours are of the ones that are missing. But our method is still developing.”
Does that mean Annalise has become more strategic?
“Because corporate libraries have been shut due to cuts we find ourselves more closely situated to strategy - we work for Business Unit Managers, Business Development Directors and others on that level who need to make strategic decisions. We help them understand the facts and their perception, and make building blocks of those, based on which we are able to define a new strategy together with the client."
In what way is it different from strategy consulting?
“Strategy firms also look at the internal organization. They discover for instance that by optimizing logistics there could be a 0,1% increase in profits. We don’t concern ourselves with that. We only look at the outside world and open the windows to it for companies. We often use the tried and tested Ansoff model. Do you want to grow through existing products and existing companies, existing products for new clients, new products for existing clients or new products for new clients? All these assignments take place within that quadrant. I have been very focused on our clients from the beginning. We aren’t just in existence in order to answer questions, we are there to help our clients. It makes us happy to exceed expectations.”
Did the takeover proceed as planned?
“I was hoping to solve all our problems within six months, but it eventually took me three years to be able to take up my profession again.”
What did you focus on when trying to find your own replacement?
“I have had three successors, and all of them were exactly what the company needed at the time. The first one needed to understand our discipline and be able to generate business. He made sure we grew exponentially as a business. In order to keep up we needed someone who was strong conceptually, someone to sharpen our proposition and help clients find the questions that needed asking. It was someone from McKinsey, who was very proficient at that. A couple of years later we needed a team player who could work at relationships within our team and build those with the clients. That worked out well too. That is why we now have wonderful clients, a clear proposition and a solid team. Now I am looking for a ‘macher’ with vision and power, someone who can take us to the next level, in order to make something which is good grow bigger."
What is your take on progress at Annalise?
“We now have a team consisting of eight people, who are very flexible in terms of where we are able to place them. I am convinced we can go in even deeper by expanding our specific practices. If for instance someone with a background in chemistry spends 80% of his time working in chemistry, we would be able to switch gears more quickly and achieve even better results."
How would the three former Managing Directors describe you?
“If you come to him equipped by a good story with sound reasoning behind it, he will let you do whatever you want. You sometimes need to communicate on a meta-level what it is you are trying to convey - when for example you are about to make a daring move, you should label it by saying you are being intuitive and gutsy. And you are going for it, giving it all you’ve got.”
How involved are you in Annalise at the moment?
“The MD has basically been left to his own devices, because I am working on my own business fulltime. My business is focused on two things: participation and advice. I have ten companies in which I participate at present, but Annalise is still very dear to me. Food is nice, weather stations are cool as well, but Annalise embodies my own way of thinking. I get to live and breathe the concept to the fullest.”
2006 – present
Managing Partner, Van Stuijvenberg & Co + Business Recovery
2006 – present
Shareholder & Chairman Advisory Board, VSB Investments
2003 – present
Associate Partner, Navius Corporate Finance & Strategy
2000 – 2003
Managing Director, Annalise Market Intelligence
1997 – 2000
Financial Controller, IsoTis NV