“I hit the ground running, and haven’t stopped running ever since.” Wilbert Lek has had an eventful ten months as director of Rotterdam Partners. Time for a moment of reflection. We spoke to him about the impact of the corona crisis on the work of Rotterdam Partners and why a change in the organisational structure is necessary.
The corona crisis turned the world upside down. How is Rotterdam Partners doing and how has the corona crisis affected your work?
‘Corona has impacted all of us, both personally and professionally. Because of all the measures implemented and travel restrictions, our work has changed drastically. International companies cannot or may not travel or are delaying opening their new office. The same applies to conference and exhibition organisers who, due to the lack of perspective, have postponed planned events and decisions about new ones. Our acquisition employees have, therefore, had to shift the focus of their work from recruiting new business to retaining as much existing business as possible and supporting local partners and companies.
It also took some adjustment in the field of marketing and communication. At the beginning of the lockdown, we had to tell quite a few tourists in the city about the safety measures. We’ve provided continuous (bilingual) information about the various corona measures from the start and have adapted our socials and websites to keep everyone up-to-date. We had to temporarily close our Rotterdam Tourist Information locations, but, luckily, they opened again a few weeks ago. Fortunately, with all the safety measures at the locations, we are now able to offer our quality service again. I’m proud of how the employees of Rotterdam Partners dealt with this. The atmosphere has remained positive and everyone has been fully committed.’
What initiatives did you initiate during the lockdown?
‘Soon after the lockdown started, we developed the “Rotterdam Zet Door” platform – a bundling of Rotterdam initiatives that arose during the lockdown – to inform Rotterdam residents of the possibilities and to provide encouragement to all small businesses. We also developed a summer campaign. Normally we focus on attracting international visitors and tourists, but because of the limitations, we changed our focus to regional and national tourists and day-trippers with the “Ga Gewoon Zelf” campaign. This is our way of contributing together with our partners in the city and the Municipality of Rotterdam. Ultimately, the impact of corona affects our partners the most. Every day they feel the decreasing numbers of tourists, visitors, events and conferences. Our mission is to continue to work hard every day to limit the damage as much as possible, which means each tourist and every event is valuable and deserves our best efforts.’
In the meantime, behind the scenes, you are working on a new organisational structure for Rotterdam Partners. Why is this change necessary?
‘The old structure dates from the period when Rotterdam Partners was founded and, despite all the good results in recent years, was due for a major overhaul. Several points for improvement emerged from various discussions with partners and an internal satisfaction survey. Points like cooperation amongst employees and the use of each other’s expertise arose, and partners felt that we should be even more attuned to local needs and circumstances. The latter in particular is an important point. Rotterdam Partners is not here for itself, but to profile the city and thus ensure sustainable economic growth in the Rotterdam region. We must, therefore, look outward every day, understand what motivates international organisations to come to Rotterdam and use our networks for this and connect them. We hope the change in our structure will give substance to this.
What does the new organisational structure look like?
‘Our new structure is clear and simple. We have formed various expert teams that are led by a manager who, besides managing and coaching, will also be active in implementation. We work together on a project basis to achieve the same result and we ensure internal and external coordination. The teams are particularly goal-oriented and customer-oriented, flexible and, due to their relatively limited size, also easier to manage. We should, ultimately, spend less time managing and invest that time in our marketing, acquisition and promotion work. The aim is that it shouldn’t actually matter who you speak to at or on behalf of Rotterdam Partners. We all work with the same focus and drive, like to think and work with partners in the city and make necessary connections within or outside Rotterdam Partners. One team, one goal. That’s what the change will hopefully deliver.’
What phase of the change process are you currently in?
‘We are well on the way but have certainly not yet reached our goal. We adapted and implemented the formal organisational structure in April and then appointed the various managers. The management team are now going to further develop the new Rotterdam Partners together with our colleagues. We aim to achieve this before the end of the year.’
You have been director of Rotterdam Partners for ten months now. How do you look back on this period?
‘I can best describe this with the expression “I hit the ground running, and haven’t stopped running ever since”. I started in a turbulent period for Rotterdam Partners after the departure of the director, and because of corona, we also found ourselves in the middle of another storm. Despite the hectic pace, I have enjoyed every day in my new role. It’s a privilege to work with people who work passionately every day to make Rotterdam more beautiful and better and to convey this to others. I’ve also noticed the trust of all stakeholders outside Rotterdam Partners. In all the chaos, the Municipality of Rotterdam and our Supervisory Board have always supported and encouraged us. In short, I would like to stay awhile and continue this wonderful and honourable work!’
What’s your best memory so far?
‘Promoting Rotterdam abroad is so much fun. I have been lucky enough to visit many countries and while profiling the city in other cultures is sometimes a challenge, it’s also a privilege. I have a lovely memory of the mission to Shanghai last year, where we celebrated the 40-year sister city relationship. On the first evening, a picture was taken of all participants, and whenever I look at it, it makes me smile from ear to ear. Led by Mayor Aboutaleb, there was an impressive delegation of companies, including Erasmus MC and Erasmus University, the universities of applied sciences, Havenbedrijf, Feyenoord, the Rotterdam Philharmonic and many others. All working with the same goal: putting Rotterdam on the map in an even more convincing manner. That gives me energy!’
What message would you like to convey to the entrepreneurs in Rotterdam?
‘We find ourselves in extremely difficult and complicated times, especially for small businesses. There is still little prospect of improvement, and that is mostly out of your control. Still, my message would be to persevere and work with us to realise the light at the end of the tunnel. The foundation built in recent years by entrepreneurs, together with the city and Rotterdam Partners, is solid and durable. Our partners abroad confirm this every day in the conversations we have with them, and they remain interested in working together and developing new business together. Rotterdam Partners is here for you and the realisation of your goals. That is our drive and ambition, and you can count on us in the coming period!’